27 October 2015

The Language of Food

On 26 October, under the occasional rubric The Art of Persuasion, FT columnist Sam Leith signed a piece entitled Restaurant menus can teach you how to project confidence. Sam is also the the author of You Talkin’ to Me?’ Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama.

As usual, Sam raises fascinating questions regarding language and word choices. And, while he writes in English about language and word choices in English, most translators will quickly see how relevant every point is to improved insights into why original-language documents are written the way they are and how to translate them more effectively into their target language.

Restaurant menus can teach you how to project confidence reviews Dan Jurafsky’s The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu.

Some quotes (my bold):
How was that sandwich? Handcrafted with unpasteurised aged cheddar from grass-fed heritage cows and accessorised with ripe heirloom tomatoes and fleur de sel butter from Normandy? Or was it a doorstop sarnie on thick-cut white bread with real mayonnaise and juicy, fresh sliced tomatoes just the way you like it? Or was it, y’know: essentially a cheese sandwich.
“Filler words” — such as tasty, mouthwatering, scrumptious, zesty, rich, golden-brown, crispy, crunchy, ripe and real — infallibly garnished the menus of mid-priced chains while absent from Michelin-starred gastro-joints. Why?
Restaurant language also bears on what rhetoric-heads call ethos, aka the way a speaker positions him or herself with an audience.
Menu-writing is a branch of persuasion like any other. Food is deeply involved with social status, which is deeply involved with ego. The appeal to the gut — a visceral form of persuasion — is a microcosm of the importance of word choice and, through it, positioning of the speaker, in a persuasive strategy.
 From the website on The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu:
Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu? In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. 

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