Friday, September 12, 2014


When Justin was in school he and I often found ourselves on Lake Street between Route 2 and Massachusetts Avenue in Arlington. There, just as you turn left onto Mass Ave, is the Arlington Bakery, advertising Italian and Greek pastries.

Above the name on the sign is an intriguing Greek word: ZAXEROPLASTEION. Justin and I wondered idly on many occasions how to pronounce it, and what it meant. In the absence of any information on the subject, he blithely pronounced it phonetically: ZAX-ER-O-PLAS-TI-ON, the A’s as in “cat.”

Then a day came when for once we weren’t in a huge rush to get home. The other issue had always been that having turned onto Mass Ave we were a bit too far up to stop at the bakery. This time, surrendering to curiosity, I turned up a side street and doubled back.

We bought some things that looked good, and weren’t disappointed. I would have looked for an exotic concoction that I hadn’t seen before; Justin probably opted for the kind of regrettable pastry that kids favor. I’ve patronized that bakery from time to time since, usually when driving west on Mass Ave and thus on its side of the street.

The proprietor explained that the word on the sign means “sugar store” and is pronounced ZA-CHER-O-PLAS-TI-O(N), A as in “father,” CH as in “Bach,” E as in “feta.”  O(N) is the final nasal vowel that also occurs in Portuguese, as in “Sao Paulo.”  I can’t reliably produce that sound in Portuguese or in Greek.

I have since tried to do justice to the Greek word and pronounce it as nearly correctly as I can.  Justin has no patience with that and shamelessly sticks with  ZAX-ER-O-PLAS-TI-ON.