Rhubarb. I have loved it for years. And why not? It's a tart, refreshing, and completely extraordinary thing when handled properly.
Of course, it is also highly seasonal. It's one of the first bits of produce to show up in markets when the ground warms up in the spring, it hangs around in the summertime, when the living is supposedly easy, but it has a predictable habit of disappearing when the weather gets rough. It's a fair weather thing. And, though most commonly lumped together with fruits, it is, in fact a vegetable-- a truth I've found very difficult to grasp over the past few years.
When you slow down long enough to really notice the word, when you break it down into its two syllables and sound it out, it just seems like a really bad idea. "Rue," as a noun connotes sorrow. As a verb, it means to regret. And barb? It can mean any sharp protrusion that points backward, like a hook or an arrow. It is something that prevents easy extraction. When you put the two pieces of the word together, however, it evokes freshly baked pies and springtime. Or, of course, it can conjure up some sad, sorrowful thing that pulls you in and won't let you go. Take your pick. I have been historically attracted to both, but that is one for my therapist. I can just see the silhouettes of the Electric Company's Oscar-winning duo, Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno, sounding it all out for me. Rhu. Barb. Rhubarb. They make it sound like so much fun.
The Latin name for the plant, Rheum rhabarbarum, should give one pause. At its base is barbarum, which indicates that the plant was, for the Greeks and Romans at least, from some place other. In the case of the rhubarb plant, this place was the Volga river-- an area at the time populated by what the "civilized" Mediterraneans considered barbarian: bearded and coarse, with a language totally incomprehensible to their own.
And Rheum? From the Latin rheuma, it means "a watery discharge from the mucous membranes, especially the eyes and nose." Charming.
The Greek word bárbaros, by the way, refers to the sound of random, incomprehensible noises one hears when listening to a language one cannot understand. The sound they made to mimic this was "bar bar." The terms "babble" and "blah blah," may be derived from this. One usage of the word "rhubarb" certainly is-- it is one of the words chosen by stage actors to chatter repeatedly in order to provide indecipherable background noise in crowd or party scenes.