Lynne Murphy, a UK-based American linguist, blogged recently about “British words (most) Americans don’t know”—such as pelmet, quango, and bolshy. Many of the words were unfamiliar to me, an American who tries to keep with such things but doesn’t always succeed. (See, for example, my post about tannoy.) But one of them, plaice, not only registered but brought back some amusing memories from my freelance-journalism past.
Via Fish and Kids (Marine Stewardship Council, London)
Lynne writes that plaice “is a kind of flatfish that's common at British fish-and-chip shops. The OED says ‘European flatfish of shallow seas, Pleuronectes platessa (family Pleuronectidae)’, but some other fish (esp. outside the UK) are sometimes called plaice. The name came from French long ago. It shows up in *many* punny shop names”—Our Plaice, The Happy Plaice, Park Plaice, and so on.
My own introduction to plaice came from a different punny restaurant name—possibly the original one. In 1985, a magazine I wrote for, Tables, sent me to London to interview Bob Payton, an American ad-guy-turned restaurateur who was making waves over there with his Chicago-style pizza places, a Chicago Rib Shack, and a seafood restaurant called, yes, Payton Plaice. It was a double pun.
Peyton Place was a bestselling 1956 novel, a 1957 movie starring Lana Turner, a 1961 sequel, and a TV soap opera that aired from 1964 to 1969 and introduced 19-year-old Mia Farrow to viewing audiences (and set off a trend for “Allison”—the name of her character—as a girl’s name). “Peyton Place” became a synonym, or metonym, for “small town with a lot of hanky-panky.”