The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu

Free The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky

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Authors: Dan Jurafsky
standardisation in your sales talk. If you find yourself one fine day saying the same things to a bishop and a trapezist, you are done for.
     
    Ogilvy had a lot of experiences with different (and tough) audiences; as a young chef in Paris he cooked for the president of France and met Escoffier but also remembered “the night our chef potagier threw forty-seven raw eggs across the kitchen at my head , scoring nine direct hits.” And he even specifically discusses when (and when not) to use two-dollar words. In his 1963 book Confessions of an Advertising Man he says, “Don’t use highfalutin language” when you’re talking to a non-highfalutin audience.
    At the minimum, Ogilvy’s advice is to distinguish at least two audiences. The non-highfalutin audience is focused on family and tradition. The wealthier, middle or upper class audience is focused on education and health and striving to be unique and special, like Ogilvy himself, with his cape and his ketchup. Fitzgerald may or may not have been right that “the rich are different from you and me” but potato chip advertisers certainly think the rich want to be different from you and me, echoing food historian Erica J. Peters’s dictum that what people eat “reflects not just who they are, but who they want to be.”
    Politicians use metaphors linked to the desire for traditional authenticity and interdependence when appealing to country or working-class audiences, emphasizing traditional American foods, locales, and values. And they use linguistic devices associated with country too, with phrases like “strugglin’ ” and “rollin’ up our sleeves” that make use of the more country or working-class –in’ suffix . The use of the –ing form associated with educated or upper-class speech, or the use of fancier words in general, and a focus on the language of health and nature, are an equally frequent political tactic for appealing to more upscale voters concerned about the local food supply, natural and nonartificial ingredients, and the health of our diet.
    Whatever they might claim, politicians can’t really eat healthy, because they have to prove their authenticity by eating cheese steaks in Philadelphia or wings in Buffalo or donuts or hot dogs pretty much everywhere. Here in San Francisco that means the politicians eatChinese food at the Chinese New Year Parade, tamales at the Day of the Dead parade, and in a classic San Francisco mash up, dim sum before the Gay Pride parade.
    But this ability to use different selves with different audiences is not just an ability of politicians, and these two ways of being are not just associated with differences in income. In their book Clash! cultural psychologists Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner show that these two audiences are related to two aspects of our personality, two ways of viewing the world that we make use of at different times and in different amounts. What they call the interdependent self is our focus on our family, our traditions, and our relationships with people. The independent self is our focus on our need to be unique and independent. Each of us has an interdependent self and an independent self, sometimes focusing more on our need to be authentic, unique, and natural, and sometimes more on being rooted in relationships with our family, our culture, and our traditions.
    In other words, like Warren Hellman, we are all fluid categories, combinations of these two models of our nation and our selves—models written on the back of every bag of potato chips.

Twelve
    Does This Name Make Me Sound Fat?
    Why Ice Cream and Crackers Have Different Names
    SO FAR, WE’VE seen a lot hidden in the language of food. The Chinese history of ketchup and the Muslim histories of sherbet, macaroons, and escabeche tell us about the crucial role of the East in the creation of the West. The way we use words like heirloom , a la , delicious , or exotic on menus tells us about how we think about social class and

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