The secret (emotional) language of food
August 29, 2014
This article from Dan Jurafsky (based on his book The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu) is fascinating. He researched restaurant reviews…that’s right…over 900,000 of them relating to 6.500 individual restaurants; he also reviewed the language on the back of food packets plus restaurant menus, and the results were fascinating.
But food writing, to a linguist like me, isn’t just about food. The words you use when you write a restaurant review say as much about your own psychology as they do about which dish to order.
His findings include:
We found that when people write a “1-star” review, they use the language of trauma…
Reviewers of expensive restaurants relied on multisyllabic words such as “commensurate”, “unobtrusively”, “sumptuous” and “vestibule”, and wrote long-winded reviews to depict themselves as well educated or sophisticated.
…positive reviews of cheap restaurants and foods instead employed metaphors of drugs or addiction…
High-status restaurants want their customers to presuppose that food will be fresh, crisp and delicious. The surfeit of adjectives on middle-priced menus is thus a kind of overcompensation, a sign of status anxiety, and only the cheapest restaurants, in which the tastiness of the food might be in question, must overly protest the toothsomeness of their treats.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to order from a menu or read a restaurant review with quite the same detachment in the future.