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If you order soup and salad from a restaurant, they could serve you just about anything, including a bowl of cereal and a Bloody Mary.

A salad is, According to Merriam-Webster, “any of various usually cold dishes: such as a) raw greens (such as lettuce) often combined with other vegetables and toppings and served especially with dressing, b) small pieces of food (such as pasta, meat, fruit, or vegetables) usually mixed with a dressing (such as mayonnaise) or set in gelatin.”

The words “usually” and “especially” are doing some heavy lifting here. By this definition, salads are sometimes hot and sometimes without dressing, and if you really want to stretch it out, almost any food with two or more ingredients could be seen as salad. A bowl of mixed nuts is a salad. If you throw some pineapple into your Jello, it’s a salad. If you slather some blue cheese on your chicken wings, it’s dressing on small pieces of meat—in other words, a salad.

In the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart was asked to define a similarly nebulous term: “hard-core pornography.”

“Under the First and Fourteenth Amendments criminal laws in this area are constitutionally limited to hard-core pornography. I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.” And so it is with salad. You know it when you see it.

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