For reasons that should be fairly obvious, I’ve been thinking lately about story construction and distinguishing characteristics of science fiction. I’d like to share some of the results of that thinking. Nothing really profound here, but those of you prone to psychological analysis of authors through their works (I’m sure that sooner or later somebody reading this will resemble that remark) may find it helpful.

I’m of the opinion that there are three elements that must be present in a science fiction short story. (The jury is still out on the question of how much this applies to other genres as well. It’s also still out on whether publishers agree with my opinion: we’ll settle that one when I get a story written and find out if it sells.) There’s a lot more that needs to go into a story to make it a story (characters spring to mind, just for starters), but without these elements, it’s not SF. For purposes of discussion, I’ll call them the “device”, the “motivator”, and the “resolution”.

The device is the central idea, the “what if” that is the reason the story exists. It doesn’t need to be an actual “what if”, but it has to be the question that puts the “speculation” in “speculative fiction”. For instance: “What if the stars only came out once in a thousand years?” “How can I build a mansion in the space of a one-room shack?” “What if tying buttered toast to a cat’s back generated a significant amount of energy, even if it’s not a perpetual motion device?”

The motivator is the problem that the protagonist must solve. The motivator derives from the device. “What are stars and how do we keep civilization from collapsing when they come out?” “Whoops, the house collapsed into the fourth dimension and I’m trapped inside.” “With the world’s butter supply tied up by the energy industry, what do I put on my english muffin?”

The resolution is the answer to the problem posed by the motivator. It too needs to derive from the device; otherwise you’re straying into deus ex machina territory. The Greek playwrights got away with it, and frankly, so do far too many modern authors. Yes, it can be done well, but I think if you go there you’re more likely to cbe heating your readers by giving them only two-thirds of a story. “Oh, that’s what a star is. Oops, there goes civilization.” “Jump out of a window and hitchhike back to LA. But this gives me a great idea for the next house I design!” (Clearly it doesn’t have to be a happy ending or a resolution that solves the problem, but it needs to bear some logical connection to the device.) Marmalade could work, but it’s probably going to be a “well, duh!” moment for our English and Canadian readers. Margarine is a bit better, since it’s a manufactured product that was probably produced using energy from the buttered-cat generators. Kind of boring, though. How about we go for the tragic ending, and have our protagonist, despondent over the lack of butter, commit suicide by spreading his muffin with some of the huge surplus of obsolete fuel oil?

Hot Buttered Cats

As has been discussed previously, the most popular posts on this blog seem to be those about butter and cats. Not that this comes as any particular surprise, given the general popularity of cats artery-clogging. Clearly, then, the next step to a massive increase in readers is to combine the two. (“You got your cat on my butter!” “You got your butter in my cat!” “Two great tastes that taste great together.“)

WordPress tells me that this blog has 47 followers. Despite my comments last week about the uselessness of badges, there is something emotionally special about hitting round-numbers. I don’t expect this one post to jump the blog over 1,000 followers, or even 100, but I’d like to see it get past 50. If it does, I’ll share the badge with y’all. And if it does get past 1,000, I’ll certainly share the pony too.

Moving on. Cats and butter.

I’ve already dealt with the popular notion of using buttered toast and cats to create perpetual motion machines, so I’ll need to cover something a little different this time. Let’s talk about the idea that when you move, you should put butter on your cats’ paws to prevent them from wandering away and getting lost.

I’ve seen the idea put forth seriously in discussions of keeping cats safe when moving to a new home. I find it difficult to believe that there are people who believe this works, but then again, there are people who believe that prayer cures all illness, so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised. Let’s break this down a bit.

There are several different explanations given for why buttering a cat’s paws will supposedly prevent it from straying:

  • Cleaning it off gives them something to do until they get used to the new house. Cleaning up the butter isn’t going to take more than a few minutes. I’ve been living in my current house for more than seven years, and I still find myself flipping the wrong light switch or fumbling for the door knob. Is five minutes really going to accustom a cat to the house? That seems unlikely. I’m willing to grant the possibility that cats are more adaptable than I am, but this just seems excessively optimistic. As a counter-example, I’ll note that when we moved in, Velcro spent the better part of two days hiding behind the toilet before he felt comfortable enough to explore the house. (No, I didn’t hide behind the toilet–maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be fumbling for the doorknob now.)
  • While cleaning it off, they pick up the scent of their new home so they can find their way back. Variations on this idea include bringing some of the outside dirt in and using the butter to stick it to the cat’s paws or applying the butter just before letting the cat out. Again, how much are they really going to pick up in the five minutes they spend grooming? And given some of the noxious substances they clean off of themselves, I’m convinced that cats have the ability to turn off their noses while grooming. OK, maybe not literally, but if you had to clean yourself with your tongue after using the toilet, wouldn’t you do your best to not smell what you were doing? More seriously, do you really think your next-door neighbor’s yard smells significantly different than your own, especially if you’ve just moved in and haven’t started spending hours spreading your scent around while gardening? Even more seriously still, if you want the cat to stick around, why are you letting it out in the first place? (I’m not even going to get into the statistics on the lifespan of indoor cats as opposed to indoor/outdoor or outdoor-only cats.)
  • It makes their paws too slippery for them to walk. This is just plain silly. Haven’t the people suggesting this ever heard of carpets? Leaving that aside, even if the cat is on a hardwood, tile, or linoleum floor, spreading the butter so thickly that they can’t walk is going to use a hell of a lot of butter, much of which is going to get spread over your floor, your furniture, and probably you when you make a futile attempt to keep the cat off the furniture. Even if it worked as intended, what would the value be in getting the cat all pissed off and over-excited? Isn’t the point to make them feel better about the new place?

The bottom line is that buttering a cat’s paws to keep it from straying is useless at best, and counter-productive at worst. The best way to keep them from straying is to keep them indoors. If you have to let them out, at least keep them indoors for several days to a few weeks after moving to get them thoroughly used to the new house, and then supervise their first trips outside using a harness and leash.

Oh, and there’s no reason not to give your cat a little butter now and then if they like it. Many people use it as a treat. We use it to encourage them to take pills, and Dad has used it to lubricate the passage of aluminum foil through the feline digestive system*. Note though, that unless there are medical considerations involved, the key word in the first sentence of this paragraph is “little”.


* I’ll say it for you all: Blech! But Dad did assure me that everything came out right in the end.

Butter: The Encore

Because there’s always room for more butter, I present Butter: The Encore.

When last we spoke about butter, we talked briefly about the origin of the word “butterfly”. I didn’t even think to mention the buttercup (the flower, not the character from “H.M.S. Pinafore”, the character from “Powerpuff Girls”, or the character in “Princess Bride”. Our friend Wikipedia suggests that the name derives from a folk belief that the yellow color of butter comes from cows eating buttercups. That seems like an over-complication to me: I’m inclined to suspect that the name came from the color of the flower before the story was formed.

I’m more interested in the children’s game of holding a buttercup under someone’s chin to “see if they like butter”. On a sunny day, it’s an impressive effect for a young kid, but why do kids around the world seem to feel the need to out the rare butter-hater? Aren’t there enough, more obvious “outsider” groups to tease? (Note, by the way, that science has established that the buttercup’s effect on chins has no relation to the chin-owner’s fondness for butter, and quite a bit to do with the flower’s own skin.

Dad’s comment on the last butter post pointed out that I forgot to talk about butter poetry.

A keyword search at Poetry Foundation turns up 174 results (though only three poems appear to be named simply “Butter”. PoemHunter turns up 880 poems referencing butter (including, it appears, butterflies, buttercups, and peanut butter), of which three are named “Butter” – yet they are a different three than Poetry Foundation’s. That’s a lot of words devoted to butter. Makes me feel much better about devoting six posts to this ancient food.

Arguably the best-known butter poem is A.A. Milne’s ditty “The King’s Breakfast” (my favorite line: “But marmalade is tasty, if / It’s very / Thickly / Spread”.) Don’t want to read it? The Muppets enlisted Twiggy to perform it in 1976.

While we’re on literary matters, let us remember Dr. Seuss’ “The Butter Battle Book“, and ensure that we always eat our bread butter-side on the side, so as to avoid another arms race.

How about rocking out to Butter? We’re too late to catch Hot Butter, but there’s still a chance for Bread and Butter. Oh, and let us not forget to Butter The Children (because every child should be slippery occasionally).

Here’s a cooking idea I missed earlier: Brown Butter. Sounds like it would be very tasty as the base for garlic butter on pasta. I don’t think my arteries are up to it, but if you give it a try, let me know.

Eat too much butter and need to work it off? You could try “Buns of Butter“.

Still interested in making your own butter, but think cows, sheep, and goats are too boring? Yak butter is made with yak milk. Likewise, buffalo and camel butter are made with buffalo and camel milk. Hippie butter, however, is not made from hippie milk – nor is it recommended for ingestion. Hyena butter is made by hyenas, and is definitely not to be ingested.

Williams-Sonoma, by the way, will be happy to sell you a butter-making kit with “all the essentials you need” (except the cream). They don’t say whether it’s been tested with buffalo, camel, or yak cream.

Finally, if you think all this butter talk has gotten too complicated, you can always go back to the basics. Feel free to omit the sugar; I know I will.

Butter V – The Final Chapter

Welcome to the final day of Butter Week. It’s been a high-cholesterol trip, and it’s only going to get worse from here.

What else can we do with butter?

Well, before we leave the area of eating it, how about swinging by the Iowa State Fair for a stick of butter on a stick. Dipped in cinnamon honey batter. Deep fried. And then sugar-glazed. Makes Paula Deen’s Fried Butter Balls sound healthy by comparison.

I’d also suggest that you avoid watching Butter. (No, I haven’t seen it myself; the summary sounds hilarious, but based on the reviews it doesn’t sound either so good or so horrible that it shouldn’t be missed.) And while we’re skipping butter-and-movie-related things, let’s also skip the usage made famous in “Last Tango In Paris” – there are safer alternatives available. Easier to clean up, too.

How about sculpting butter?
This is rather impressive. So is this (check the full-sized image). This is somewhat so. These rather less impressive, but amusing. These are quite amazing. And… um… Didn’t I say we would skip that use? And besides, that’s not a butter sculpture so much as a buttered sculpture (though I will admit to liking the last sentence of this article about the piece.)

Still not satisfied? We could trade in it, stage a revolt over it, or just run out of it.

Or we could use it to generate power.

For what it’s worth, my own experiments showed that the bread only lands butter side down about half the time, which would rather limit the amount of power generated. This video suggests that we might do better with grape jelly, but that’s taking us away from butter. A more scientific enquiry into the mystic cat/buttered toast generator is here and worth a look. A side note: even if you can get the bugs out of the process, you’re going to need to keep your generators well separated or risk a generator breakdown due to feline interlingual interference (translation: if they’re too close together, the cats will lick the butter off each others’ toast).

That said, I should note that butter has been used as an alternative to oil in lamps for hundreds of years, and at least once as a source of methane to power a farm.

But I suspect most of you don’t care about that. I know which side of my bread the butter is on. You don’t have to butter me up to get me to make with the snarky remarks. Let’s face it, snark is the bread and butter of this blog. (I think we’re descending a slippery slope here…)

The point is that butter has been part of just about every culture since the dawn of agriculture, and it’s worked its way into our language, even into places where it doesn’t make sense. Case in point: nobody is quite sure where the name “butterfly” came from. The name apparently goes back to Old English (“butorflēoge”), a combination of “beater” and “fly”; it may later have merged with the belief that butterflies eat milk and butter (as always, thanks to Wikipedia), but that’s highly speculative.

Keeping things close to where we started (eating – isn’t that one of the basic human drives?) it appears that most butterflies are edible, though reports suggest that the taste may be less than fabulous. The few pages I was able to find suggest that you skip the wings, and one also suggests skipping the antennae and legs. Oddly enough, I was only able to find one recipe for butterflies. Perhaps it’s the difficulty of gathering enough for a serving. After all the work of catching them and removing the various appendages, a drink may be in order. How about a Black Butterfly, Kapalua Butterfly, Butterfly Nipple (since when do butterflies have nipples?), or a… Oh, come on, who names these things, anyway?. Better yet, have one of each while you’re cooking. I suspect that would improve the taste of the main dish significantly.

Butter IV

(That’s Butter 4, not butter delivered intravenously. What’s the point of that? You can’t taste it that way!)

You know, I really hadn’t planned to do a whole week of butter-related posts. I hadn’t planned to do any kind of themed posts. But since it’s come up, I might as well run with it.

Today let’s take a look at some things you can do with butter other than just spreading it on bread.

How about making your own? WebExhibits looks like a good place to start. But there are a lot of websites out there that will tell you it doesn’t count if you don’t milk the cow yourself. Better yet, you should raise the cow yourself. I’m sure the HOA won’t have any complaints about that if we explain that we have to make butter the right way. Maybe something smaller would be advisable. Goat’s milk butter seems to be fairly popular, and my HOA is looking for a new source of goats for landscape maintenance. Oddly enough, sheep’s milk butter doesn’t seem to be nearly as popular, at least on the English-speaking part of the Web, though I do see some hints that it’s big in Greece.

Once you’ve got your butter, whether you made it the “right” way or not, what to do with it? Flavored butters are a good place to start. They concentrate flavors nicely and can take any recipe that calls for butter in interesting directions. Easy to make, too. The basic technique is to bring the butter to room temperature, then mix the ingredients by mashing with a fork or pulsing in a food processor. Keeps for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator or several months in the freezer.

There are (according to Google) well over 17 million hits for flavored butter. One would hope there would be some interesting ideas that go beyond the standard dill, garlic, and/or “herb”, and in fact there are.

How about Maple Butter? Excellent for pancakes and waffles, I’d think. 1 cup butter to half a cup of maple syrup.

Even better: Chocolate Butter. 1/2 cup unsweetened butter, 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted.

Moving away from sweets: Horseradish Chive Butter. 3/4 cup unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons drained bottled horseradish, 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives.

(The above are all courtesy of “John” at Taste of Home Community)

They all sound tasty, but they’re not that much of a stretch. Let’s see if we can push the envelope a little.

Local Foods at About.com has several ideas, including an Avocado Butter: 1/2 cup butter, 1 peeled and pitted avocado, 1 clove of minced garlic, 1 to 2 teaspoons lime or lemon juice, and salt to taste. Was it really necessary to specify that the avocado should be pitted? Peeled, yeah, OK, I could maybe see someone tossing the peel into the food processor, but the pit?

Cooks.com has just the thing for your next burger: Cheese and Bacon Butter! 1 pound of butter, 1/4 cup grated cheese, and 1/2 cup bacon bits. If you use cheddar, it would probably work very nicely as an addition to potato soup, too.

Tony Rosenfeld at Fine Cooking suggests a Chipotle-Cilantro Butter for steaks, sweet potatoes or steamed corn. 1/2 cup butter, 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1 minced chipotle chile from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, 1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce, 2 teaspoons lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

As an alternative if you don’t like cilantro, here’s a variation from Lucy Vaserfirer’s “Flavored Butters” cookbook (yes, a whole cookbook on nothing but flavored butters): force 4 chipotles in adobo sauce through a fine-mesh sieve to remove skins/seeds. Blend the puree with 1 stick softened unsalted butter, 1 clove garlic, grated, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and a generous pinch toasted, ground cumin.

My nominee for the winner in the “My God, I Never Would Have Thought Of That” category is this little charmer from “The Endless Meal”: Sriracha Butter. 1/3 cup butter, 3 heaping tablespoons sriracha. Quick and easy. I guess I can see the potential, but not on grilled cheese sandwiches for me, thanks. And definitely not the variation suggested by Make Me a Damn Sandwich: Grilled Cheese and Apple Sandwiches with Sriracha Butter.

Butter Week Continues

Continuing this week’s discussion of butter and butter-related matters…

I’m reminded of some things I learned recently in browsing through Ellen Prager’s “Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime”. Prager devotes a couple of pages to lobsters. Interesting creatures, lobsters. I wrote a report on them in elementary school, but somehow missed most of the facts she reports.

Lobsters – specifically, Maine lobsters, the ones most Americans think of when the crustacean comes up in conversation – are vicious fighters. There’s a reason they have rubber bands on their claws when you buy them live. They’re highly territorial, and competition for the best dens is fierce. Not too surprising when you consider that the den isn’t just shelter. It’s also the ultimate swinging bachelor pad. No den, no hot lobster babes.

What’s a hot babe if you’re a male lobster? Apparently, it’s one that’ll pee on you. Yup. Lobsters are big on golden showers. Female’s urine contains chemical constituents that not only signal readiness for reproduction, but also temper male aggression. Definitely necessary, as the female needs to molt in order to make her reproductive equipment accessible. One reason why the male needs a den to attract females – a recently-molted lobster is wobbly and unprotected. Without a den to hole up in, the female would likely get eaten by something before her new shell could harden.

As a side note, Prager points out that lobsters often eat their discarded shells after molting as a way to quickly restore their calcium levels and harden the new shell. She also notes that after mating the male will often eat the female’s discarded shell. That may just be the ultimate version of “barefoot and pregnant” in the animal kingdom. Hmm. Do you suppose there’s a market for edible underwear among lobsters? “Here, you eat these. I’ll eat my own damn shell, thank you very much.” Heck, if I were a female lobster, I’d probably be willing to trade the bum for something to wear. Not like I’d need him again any time soon – female lobsters can conserve sperm for (depending on what source you believe) 15 months to three years.

The whole peeing thing gets even better. While female urine is an aphrodisiac (for lobsters, anyway), male urine is a fighting tool. Yep. Lobster fights are literal pissing matches. They have special “pee jets” on the tops of their heads that can shoot a stream up to five feet (that’s seven times their own body length). In a way it’s too bad humans can’t do something similar: I’d think shooting a jet of pee 40 feet into the face of a would-be mugger or rapist would be an even better defense than pepper spray.

Studies have apparently shown that the lobster who pees first and whose pee smells the sweetest tends to win fights; presumably there wouldn’t be much of a market for asparagus among lobsters. Hey, ever wonder why “the first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club”? It would have been a very different movie if humans fought the same way as lobsters.

Given their fighting ways and penchant for unsavory uses of waste fluids, it’s perhaps unsurprising that early Americans considered lobsters to be trash. I think I’ll refrain from speculating on possible societal changes that might have accompanied the lobster’s rise to the top of the prestige food chain.

One final note on lobsters: I had known that they were capable of regrowing most body parts – a useful talent given how often pincers and legs are lost during fights – and I even knew that trick doesn’t work for their eyes. What I hadn’t known was that it’s not that eyes don’t grow back, it’s that other body parts grow in their place. Lobsters that lose eyes tend to wind up with extra walking legs instead. Needless to say, there isn’t much of a market for glass eyes among lobsters.

Side note for Bill: Imagine what it would be like among humans if we had the same regenerative capability as lobsters: not only would the blind carry white canes, they’d probably wear white shoes on their extra feet. Or would they have to wear a different color of shoe after Labor Day?

I hope the above discussion has killed your appetite for lobster. That will, after all, leave more for me. With plenty of drawn butter, of course. See, it does tie in with our theme.

Strange Butter

Several people have noticed the phrase “butter strange butter softly” in yesterday’s post on the butter grater. It has, as one commenter mentioned, a haunting quality.

Have you ever had a word or phrase get stuck in your head – the non-musical equivalent of an earworm? Clearly this is a prime example. But where did it come from?

Let’s take a little trip through computer translation. There’s an urban legend that early attempts to use computers to translate between Russian and English resulted in the aphorism “The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak” becoming “The vodka was good, but the meat was rotten.” Snopes has a nice write up on the legend. The key here is that early machine translations worked on a word-to-word basis with no examination of context. As computer technology has improved, translation software has also gotten better. It now considers common phrases as well as the words in proximity to each word and phrase in the source document.

The result is typically something that conveys the original meaning, though grammar can suffer. As a quick test, I fed “The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak” into Google’s translator The resulting Russian (Дух бодр, плоть была слаба) I then fed back into the translator and it came up with “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh was weak.” Pretty good.

To really give it a workout, I asked for a Thai translation of the Russian version, and then pushed that (จิตวิญญาณก็จริง แต่เนื้อหนังยังอ่อนแอ) through Hebrew (רוח היא אמת. אבל הבשר חלש) and back to English. The result? “Spirit is truth. But the flesh is weak.” All things considered, that’s not bad at all.

As a follow-up, I thought I’d try using Google to translate some of the words of J.S. Bach’s latest incarnation into something he would understand. So a few lines of one of Ms Spears’ works went into Czech, German, Italian, and then back to German. The details are at the bottom of the post[1], but in short, the essence definitely comes through. One interesting note, though: if you compare the original English and final German versions, you’ll note that Google recognized a certain phrase and declined to translate it. Right in line with the notion of working in terms of phrases instead of individual words.

As I mentioned earlier, grammar tends to suffer in machine translations; that can have significant impact when moving between languages that have very different grammatical rules. Note that English and German have a lot in common (English is, in fact, considered a germanic language), and English also borrows heavily from French, giving it ties to fellow romance language Italian. So Czech was really the only wild card in our language test (and even then it should be noted that there’s a significant German minority in the so-called “Czech lands”). Perhaps not so surprising that the translation chain worked as smoothly as it did.

Things get a bit less clean when going between unrelated languages, as can be seen in our English/Russian/Thai/Hebrew/English example. Another example along the same lines. Plugging a phrase from the description of a popular app into Google’s translator to go from English to Japanese and back gives us this sequence:

  • Facebook is only available for users age 13 and over.
  • Facebookはユーザーが13歳以上のためにのみ利用可能です。
  • User is available only for age 13 and older Facebook.

I suspect Facebook’s legal staff wouldn’t appreciate the implication that Facebook is in the business of selling its users, but if pressed, the marketing department would admit that it’s a reasonable summarization of their business model.

So what happened with “butter strange butter softly”? What the heck did the original Japanese say?

I tried several different machine translations to see if I could shed any light on the matter. In all cases, I pasted in the relevant sentence from the website: ふんわりバターは不思議なバター

Google: Butter strange butter softly

Babylon: Butter is a mysterious fluffy butter

Microsoft: Mysterious fluffy butter butter

SYSTRANet: Softly the butter the strange butter

I can’t help but appreciate Microsoft’s translation; it’s almost as enigmatically memorable as Google’s. But none of them give anything hugely intelligible in English, though there are a couple of common elements: the doubling of “butter” and the emphasis on “mystery” or “strange”.

In a last-ditch attempt to make sense of it, I paid for a human translator to take a look at the critical sentence. (Yes, Erin, the pizza is on me next time I’m in town.) Her translation: “Fluffy butter is marvelous butter.” OK, that explains the double-butter, but where did the mystery go?

And frankly, I have to argue with that characterization. Anyone who has accidently left an uncovered butter dish out in a house that contains cats will tell you that not only is fluffy butter not marvelous, it’s downright disgusting.


  Quote from website Musical Selection
English (B. Spears) You’ll never see it my way, because you’re not me.

When I’m not with you

I lose my mind

Give me a sign

Hit me baby one more time.

English (B. Marley) N/A N/A
Czech (P. Haas)

Nikdy neuvidíš to svým způsobem, protože ty nejsi já.


Když nejsem s tebou ztrácím rozum
mi znamení
Hit me baby ještě jednou.
German (J. Strauss II) Nie sehen es auf
meine Weise, weil du nicht ich bist.
Wenn ich nicht bei dir bin ich verlieren
Gib mir ein Zeichen
Hit me Baby One More Time.
Italian (A. Salieri) Mai vedere a modo
mio, perché tu non sei me.
Quando non sono con te perdo la
Dammi un segno
Hit Me Baby One More Time.
German (J.S. Bach)

Nie sehen es auf meine Weise, weil Sie nicht mich sind.


Wenn ich nicht bei dir bin, verliere ich das
Gib mir ein Zeichen
Hit Me Baby One More Time.
English (N/A)

Never see it my way, because you are not me.


When I’m not with you I lose the feeling
me a sign
Hit Me Baby One More Time.

Moo II

For the vegetarians who had problems with the infamous “Moo” post, here’s one that might be a little easier to swallow. Sorry, vegans, you’re still out of luck here.

I seem to be changing my mind lately. First there was Friday’s change of heart about motion control of music. Today there’s the Easy Butter Former.

Allow me to quote for a moment from the Google translation of the product information page:

Turning it into a square easy butter butter, you can butter filamentous did softly. Butter strange butter softly.

Umm. A more idiomatic translation: This butter grinder lets you spread hard butter easily.

My first reaction was similar to that of Gizmodo, where I first saw a reference to this gadget: Oh goodie! Another way to make it easier to block arteries. What kind of lunatic came up with this?

But then I started thinking – somehow, this is one product I couldn’t just put out of my head – and a few advantages occurred to me.

First, it looks like it would actually work better with hard butter than soft (certainly a typical cheese grater works better with harder cheeses – ever try to grate brie?) That means you could take butter straight from the refrigerator to the grinder without needing to leave it out or warm it to soften. Faster and less messy. Looks like there’s no reason you couldn’t just leave the butter in the grinder and stash the whole thing in the fridge.

Second, as the product page suggests, grinding butter will increase its surface area, which means it will melt faster than spread butter. Handy if you’re spreading it on toast or other warm foods.

Third (and I’ll admit to being dubious about this one), the increased surface area will give it more flavor for a given quantity. That means that you can get the same amount of flavor while eating less butter. I’m dubious because you’re not tasting it while you’re grinding and if it melts more quickly, it’ll be melted by the time you get it into your mouth. I’m guessing you’ll actually wind up using just as much butter, since you’ll be eyeballing it based on the melted space it takes up. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, since they’ve actually tried it and we haven’t.

Fourth and finally, it comes in two cheerily garish colors (orange and pink). The fact that it can also be used for grating cheese and chocolate is purely a bonus.

Hey, wait a minute. If it can be used for grating cheese and chocolate, what about using a cheese or chocolate grater for butter? Well, mostly the design. The traditional “crank on the side” grater doesn’t give much control over portion size, and unless the grater is chilled, you’re going to wind up with those rapid-melting shavings dripping all over the grater just from frictional heating. Box-style or microplane rasp-style graters might solve those problems, but having to hold the stick of butter in your hand sounds equally messy.

I did a little poking around the web to see if there were any cheese or chocolate graters with a similar mechanism to the EBF. I found two: Williams-Sonoma has a “Cheese Mill” that might serve with the finer blade in place. But it’s designed for large pieces of cheese. Stuffing multiple sticks of butter in seems fraught with peril, and even if it worked smoothly, it’s still overkill. Amazon has a cheese/chocolate grater, but the key word here seems to be “mini” – I think it goes too far in the other direction, and might not hold even one full stick.

So we’ve got a product here that might actually be more than an idea in search of a niche to call its own. Clearly, some testing is in order, but I don’t think I want to try to order via Google’s translation of the website. Do I have a Japanese-speaking reader who can figure out if the dealer will ship to the US and get one headed this way (Erin, I’m looking in your direction…)?

(Start your stopwatches: I’m betting that five minutes after I post this, someone will tell me the EBF is available at Ichiban Kan.)