Some years ago I was in an upscale grocery store and noticed the following sign:
The irony was as delicious as the fruit cobbler (presumably), and while the sign suggests enjoying it with ice cream, I prefer to enjoy it with you: of all the words to mess up, perfection is the worst one. Our word perfección/perfection comes straight from the Latin stem perfection-, derived from the past participle of the verb perficere ‘to achieve, carry out, accomplish.’ That in turn was a compound of the important verb facere ‘to do,’ the ancestor of the equally important Spanish hacer. The prefix per- added a sense of thoroughness or completion, and as a result perfección/perfection is a state in which something has been done so thoroughly and so well that nothing can surpass it. Incorporating the same stem as the noun is our adjective perfecto/perfect. English perfect, with a shift of stress to the second syllable, doubles as a verb, while Spanish makes its verb perfeccionar not directly from the adjective but from the noun perfección. The opposite of perfecto/perfect is imperfecto/imperfect, a good description for this sign, which not only left the r out of perfection but also mistakenly turned the past participle topped into the bare verb top.
But back to food: having spoken of cobbler and ice cream, I find myself with a perfect opening to add that English has the doublet parfait, the French cognate of perfect. A parfait is a dessert made with layers of ice cream, fruit, meringue and syrup, all topped (not top, the grocery sign’s second fall from perfection) with whipped cream. Whether you find the parfait to be the perfect dessert is a matter of preference, of course; as the French say, Chacun à son goût, Cada uno a su gusto, Each to his own taste.
© 2010 Steven Schwartzman