The language of food

by Jaime Olguin

If you’re a foodie like me then you know the language of food. We all speak the language, but just don’t realize it. How often do you check the reviews of restaurants before you decide if you’re going to dine there? To be honest I don’t go somewhere to eat unless I have checked the reviews or I know for sure from word of mouth that it’s good. When we talk about food we tended to use very vibrant words. The words we use to describe the restaurant experience say as much about our own psychology as they do about the food we order.

A study was done at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University that examined 900,000 restaurant reviews from the web of 6,000 restaurants. To read through that many reviews would be insane, so instead they used techniques from computational linguistics, writing software to count automatically the number of words, the complexity of words, and the number of times certain words occurred.

What they found was that when people left 1 star reviews, they would use the same words used by someone writing about a tragedy such as trauma victims, for example, they use words like “we” and “us” to signify collectiveness and a sense of grief (“We waited 15 minutes before anyone took our order”, “They ignored us”). If you notice, these kinds of reviews almost never mention the food or atmosphere. They are reacting and writing based from the face-to-face interaction they had during their experience.

What was interesting was the use of words depending on the price of the restaurant, for instance, reviews from expensive restaurants typically relied on multisyllabic words like “commensurate”, “vestibule”, and “sumptuous”, the reviews were usually lengthy and the writers tended to depict themselves as well educated. Also the positive reviews of expensive restaurants tended to use metaphors or sex and other sensual pleasures.

On the other hand, positive review of cheap restaurants retained metaphors of addiction or drugs: “the wings there are so addicting”, “I’m craving a pizza right now, I must have it.”

People tend to do this often with food, myself included. We tended to treat food that is not so good for us as a drug, that we crave the need for it and we are addicted and can’t survive without it because we tend to feel guilty when we eat something we know that’s bad for us. It’s easy for us to blame something else instead of ourselves so it’s the addicting cupcakes fault, I couldn’t just have one.

Food has a very strong effect on us not only physically, but emotionally as well. You can hear it in the words we say when we talk about food, you can see it in our body language when we eat. It brings us together at the dinner table and makes us guilty when we get the munchies, the language of food speaks.

About the writer

Jaime is a tow truck driver for Auburn Tow Truck. Jaime enjoys learning Spanish on his free time and learning more about language. He is also a foodie who likes to try out new restaurants and leave constructive reviews about the food in particular.


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