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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 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. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist. Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like "rich" and "crispy," zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips. The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky's insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world. From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.


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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 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. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist. Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like "rich" and "crispy," zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips. The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky's insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world. From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.

30 review for The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    I enjoyed this book. It's very US-centric and the US is all about never losing an opportunity to sell someone something. In this case food. Sometimes it is done with onomatopoeic words like 'cracker', say it and you can feel how crisp that wafer is in your mouth. The best known example is the breakfast cereal that goes Snap, Crackle and Pop (no one mentions it goes soggy in the milk). Or what about the cheese 'bubbling' on the pizza with it's thin, crispy crust as you sip your fizzy soda? Sometim I enjoyed this book. It's very US-centric and the US is all about never losing an opportunity to sell someone something. In this case food. Sometimes it is done with onomatopoeic words like 'cracker', say it and you can feel how crisp that wafer is in your mouth. The best known example is the breakfast cereal that goes Snap, Crackle and Pop (no one mentions it goes soggy in the milk). Or what about the cheese 'bubbling' on the pizza with it's thin, crispy crust as you sip your fizzy soda? Sometimes it is by associating food with sex. Think of the ads for chocolate, or even the fashion pics, where the model purses her lips in a kiss shape and then open them to lick an icecream cone or a strawberry. It has just as many phallic associations as the waiter in an Italian restaurant coming around with a gigantic pepper mill to spray over your food! And where would we be without the orgasmic, "Death by chocolate cake"? Selling words can be used for methods as well. Food can be described so it sounds more upmarket than it is and can be priced higher on a menu. "Blackened salmon" says one thing, "burned on the outside salmon" or even "grilled salmon" isn't the same thing. "served with a caramel drizzle" v "sugary syrup squirted on top", "marbled steak" v "meat with a lot of fat running through it" etc. All this calling food by seductive names has been going on a long time. In 1066, when the Normans (who were originally Norsemen) defeated the English, they brought with them French, which became the language for the upper classes. But everyone soon adopted these upscale words for food - pork, not pig, boeuf - beef - for cow, mouton - mutton - for sheep. Latterly we say 'jus' rather than gravy, and often 'cuisine' rather than cooking. A menu written in French will be presumed to be of higher class, better cooking and more expensive than a similar one in English. It's all quite interesting and very manipulative. Now I'm off to have a cafe latte with sable aux chocolat. White coffee with a choccie biscuit doesn't quite do it, does it? _________________________ "All innovation happens at interstices. Great food is no exception, created at the intersection of cultures as each one modifies and enhances what is borrowed from its neighbors. The language of food is a window onto these “between” places, the ancient clash of civilizations, the modern clash of culture, the covert clues to human cognition, society, and evolution." I love that. I hope the book lives up to this quote from the last paragraph of the introduction.

  2. 4 out of 5

    karen

    good gravy. between putting this book down and losing it in my stacks to triumphantly finishing it after months and months of not knowing where it was only to have it be potentially compromised by the bedbug invasion which necessitated it be locked up in a bag for a month, it has now been over a year since i first picked this thing up and i am only now able to review it. and it's not even 200 pages long. take out the pictures and the recipes, and it's practically a magazine article. i am the wor good gravy. between putting this book down and losing it in my stacks to triumphantly finishing it after months and months of not knowing where it was only to have it be potentially compromised by the bedbug invasion which necessitated it be locked up in a bag for a month, it has now been over a year since i first picked this thing up and i am only now able to review it. and it's not even 200 pages long. take out the pictures and the recipes, and it's practically a magazine article. i am the worst at reviewing. but i really enjoyed this book, despite how long it took me to come to that conclusion. food and etymology are both inherently fascinating to me, and i still think with fondness of my undergrad etymology class and wish i'd studied it more in my academic career. even though the book is brief, there's a ton of useful information in it. for example, i finally learned why it's called pain perdu. i mean, i knew the words meant "lost bread," but for some reason i'd never made the (incredibly obvious) connection that you make it with bread that has gone stale. i always assumed it was "lost" under the rivers of butter and syrup i poured upon it. there's basically two different avenues explored here. one is tracing food through time and place and learning how it evolved into the food we know today, both in name and ingredients. the second focus is the one that really got my brain juices a-stirring, and it's more about food and language with an advertising slant. one of the chapters focuses on the language used in menus throughout time and a mini-study on the relationship between the language used and the average price of the restaurant's meals. so many subtle manipulations at play - the length and number of the words used, the use of french terms, the inclusion of the protein's birthplace, the occurrence of "filler words," the level of complicity the diner has in their own meal (i.e. - "your way" or "your choice.") it's fascinating stuff. one of my assignments for library school was to research a local archive collection of my choosing and i chose the buttolph menu collection at the nypl. was i drawn to it because it had the word "butt" in it?? probably, but also because it was food-related, and i thought it would be really cool to handle old menus. the collection consists of more than 25,000 menus collected by the wonderfully eccentric miss frank e. buttolph, and it's an amazing historical resource to study both menu design, menu writing, and the gustatory delights of the past. you can see the collection in digital form here: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/c... so that chapter resonated with me even more for having had that experience. there are other chapters in this vein covering the language used in junk-food advertising, the linguistic logic behind the names of things like "crackers" and "ice cream," and how the words we use for certain kinds of foods mimic the way they feel in our mouths. (i will not say "mouthfeel." i will not say "mouthfeel.") and the most interesting (to me) chapter studies the words used in yelp reviews of restaurants, which looks at word-occurrence by gender, by type of restaurant, and by entrée vs dessert. the most revealing finding is that words with a sexual connotation: succulent, orgasmic, sumptuous, sensual, seductive - are most often applied to food at expensive restaurants while words with drug connotations: addictive, fix, "like crack", "drug of choice" - are used for inexpensive foods; for guilty pleasures that we crave even though we know they are bad for us. and also that dessert and sushi are among the foods resulting in the most sexxytime words - again describing the way they feel in the mouth. and i still won't say "mouthfeel." it's fantastic stuff and very easy to read. there's a bit too much of the personal anecdote dropped in, and it is very san francisco-centric, but there's at least one entertaining, thought-provoking fact in each chapter, which is pretty good for a book about something as niche-y as food and linguistics. and for all the instances of a groan-inducing pun: The language of food helps us understand the interconnectedness of civilizations and the vast globalization that happened, not recently, as we might think, but centuries or millennia ago, all brought together by the most basic human pursuit: finding something good to eat. You might call it "EATymology." (you might, but you mustn't.) and the wide-eyed optimism: I'd like to think that the lesson here is that we are all immigrants, that no culture is an island, that beauty is created at the confusing and painful boundaries between cultures and peoples and religions. I guess we can only look forward to the day when the battles we fight are about nothing more significant than where to go for tacos. there are some unexpected, appreciated connections. i mean, how often do you think tupac turns up in linguistic tomes? Libations are still around too. Modern hiphop culture has a libationary tradition of "pouring one out" -- tipping out malt liquor on the ground before drinking, to honor a friend or relative who has passed away - - described in songs like Tupac Shakur's "Pour Out a Little Liquor." (It's especially appropriate that malt liquor, a fortified beer made by adding sugar before fermenting, is itself another descendent of shikaru.) it's definitely a good read for those of you who have an interest in the subject matter. you will learn about the connections and differences between macaroni, macaroons, and macarons and you will learn an awful lot about bread. and what "semantic bleaching" is. and why we use words of anglo-saxon origin for the animals we eat, like "pig," "cow," "hog," "sow," but words of french origin for the resulting meat: "veal," "beef," "pork." language is SO COOL! 3.5 stars rounded up for the really good parts. ******************************************* oh my god - THAT'S where this book has been all this time!! resuming reading of it... NOW! come to my blog!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    2.5 an interesting though unevenly written look at the history of some of our foods. Also how a look at a menu can determine the price of the food charged in a restaurant. Some parts were fascinating, some parts were not. A good skimming book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Good bus book. Not as deep as I was expecting from the NPR stories. I suspect there’s a deeper book on the cutting room floor. On the penultimate page of the main text there’s a great paragraph about the “implicit cultural norms” embedded in food and an assertion “that a cuisine is a richly structured cultural object, with its component flavor elements and its set of combinatory grammatical principles, learned early and deeply.” (184). Our author wraps up by musing that the bacon fad comes from Good bus book. Not as deep as I was expecting from the NPR stories. I suspect there’s a deeper book on the cutting room floor. On the penultimate page of the main text there’s a great paragraph about the “implicit cultural norms” embedded in food and an assertion “that a cuisine is a richly structured cultural object, with its component flavor elements and its set of combinatory grammatical principles, learned early and deeply.” (184). Our author wraps up by musing that the bacon fad comes from breaking the American culinary grammatical rule that savory is savory and sweet is sweet. But aside from alluding to the fact that different cultures structure meals different ways and different cultures have different attitudes towards The Raw And The Cooked (which is alluded to, but not in a deep way), there’s not a lot of insight into how those richly structured cultural objects play. Good bus book. Definitely an appetizer, not an entrée.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Evinpinar

    "The linguistic and culinary habits of our own tribe or nation are not the habits of all tribes and nations. Yet all languages and cultures share a deep commonality, the social and cognitive traits that make us human. These facets - respects for our differences, and faith in our shared humanity- are the ingredients in the recipe for compassion. " "The linguistic and culinary habits of our own tribe or nation are not the habits of all tribes and nations. Yet all languages and cultures share a deep commonality, the social and cognitive traits that make us human. These facets - respects for our differences, and faith in our shared humanity- are the ingredients in the recipe for compassion. "

  6. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Battistella

    In thirteen (a baker’s dozen) readable chapters, Stanford linguist Dan Jurafsky shows what happens when linguists study the language of food. Combining etymological research and contemporary linguistic theory, the book offers a readable history of such staples as ketchup, turkey, salad, sushi, macaroni, sherbet, and even broader concepts like entrée and dessert. His well-researched vignettes provide something for readers to chew over, while the computational insights are surprise ingredients. We In thirteen (a baker’s dozen) readable chapters, Stanford linguist Dan Jurafsky shows what happens when linguists study the language of food. Combining etymological research and contemporary linguistic theory, the book offers a readable history of such staples as ketchup, turkey, salad, sushi, macaroni, sherbet, and even broader concepts like entrée and dessert. His well-researched vignettes provide something for readers to chew over, while the computational insights are surprise ingredients. We learn about the etymological relationship between salad, salsa, slaw, sauce and salami, for example, and between macaroons, macarons, and macaroni (and how the famous line from “Yankee Doodle Dandy” came about). Beyond the etymological, we gain the insights phonetics and computational linguistics have to offer to the language of food and food marketing. Chapter 12 explains the sound symbolism of front and back vowels—why some foods sound thin (Triscuits) and others richly rotund (Rocky Road). In chapter 8 We learn about the descriptions of potato chip bags of various prices and, in chapter 1 (drawing on a data base of 6,500 menus), how expensive, moderate and inexpensive restaurants use language to shape our tastes: sides cost less than accompaniments, French more than English, and longer adjectives more than shorter ones. Point of view is important too: if you get the chef’s choice it’s likely to cost more than having it your way. The book is salted (but not peppered) with historical and contemporary recipes, including Emily Dickinson’s recipe for coconut cake. Jurafsky ends with the evolution of dessert (naturally) and suggests a “grammar of cuisine” which might describe what counts as a meal in various cultures and eras. Together with earlier efforts such as Adrienne Lehrer’s book Wine and Conversation and the recent collection Culinary Linguistics, the grammar of cuisine is well into the main course.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Hester

    Initially, I gave this 4 stars, on the grounds of the subject matter, trying to ignore the atrocious writing. Alas, it's so bad it overshadows the good parts. And there are good parts. Whenever Jurafsky addresses his own research, things are fine--even if I don't think he quite understands how a regression analysis works. The writing, though. So bad. There's misspelling the name of your hometown (p. 66). There's ridiculous turns of phrase, like "it was here that the main industrial production oc Initially, I gave this 4 stars, on the grounds of the subject matter, trying to ignore the atrocious writing. Alas, it's so bad it overshadows the good parts. And there are good parts. Whenever Jurafsky addresses his own research, things are fine--even if I don't think he quite understands how a regression analysis works. The writing, though. So bad. There's misspelling the name of your hometown (p. 66). There's ridiculous turns of phrase, like "it was here that the main industrial production occurred (p. 57)." Since when does production just "occur?" There's Janet, who is mentioned (p. 50) because her father grew up in China. It turns out later that Janet is the author's wife, but that still doesn't explain why we need to know this. In fact, it would've been nice if the author could have stuck to a writing style. The informal and personal is not one that he can pull off--he over-explains "jokes" so maybe leave that to those who have the gift of words. But by far the worst, and the reason this book shall never be seen by my students, even though I teach a course on food, and the subject is fascinating, is what "occurs" on p. 14. "[...] we then studied the additional affect of individual words on the prices. " Unforgivable.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bastard Travel

    A more accurate title would be "The Language of A Bunch of Six-Hundred-Year-Old Recipes for 28 Gallons of Vinegar-Meat Stew". I learned a few new words and fun tidbits, but by and large, it was just a guy talking about how great California is for the first quarter of the chapter, then slapping up a recipe for a gross and/or uncookable food, then explaining the (chiefly Arabic) origins of the word. Ketchup comes from China. The word, too. Looks German, doesn't it? Used to be a fish sauce. England s A more accurate title would be "The Language of A Bunch of Six-Hundred-Year-Old Recipes for 28 Gallons of Vinegar-Meat Stew". I learned a few new words and fun tidbits, but by and large, it was just a guy talking about how great California is for the first quarter of the chapter, then slapping up a recipe for a gross and/or uncookable food, then explaining the (chiefly Arabic) origins of the word. Ketchup comes from China. The word, too. Looks German, doesn't it? Used to be a fish sauce. England started putting tomatoes in it sometime in the 1800s. Weird. It was okay, but didn't really deliver. C'est la vie.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alex Hammel

    We get it, dude. You live in San Francisco.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Anita

    A book about words and food what's better than this! FOR EXAMPLE: "As part of this French invasion, sometime in the thirteenth century, a word spelled variously flure, floure, flower, flour, or flowre first appeared in English, borrowed from the French word fleur, meaning “the blossom of a plant,” and by extension, “the best, most desirable, or choicest part of something.” [...] “Flower of wheat,” ... meant the very fine white flour created by repeatedly sifting the wheat through a fine-meshed clo A book about words and food what's better than this! FOR EXAMPLE: "As part of this French invasion, sometime in the thirteenth century, a word spelled variously flure, floure, flower, flour, or flowre first appeared in English, borrowed from the French word fleur, meaning “the blossom of a plant,” and by extension, “the best, most desirable, or choicest part of something.” [...] “Flower of wheat,” ... meant the very fine white flour created by repeatedly sifting the wheat through a fine-meshed cloth. Each pass removed more of the bran or germ, leaving a finer and whiter flour." This is the best fact that I've learned maybe all week?? I spent 10-20 minutes trying to explain how cool it was to my manager and he nodded and said "Good for you" and kept telling me about New York Times news alerts so I guess it is probably not for everyone but as I said, A book about words and food! What's better than this! Also I don't know anything about linguistics except for every few days googling "[word] etymology" so it was great that Jurafsky introduced linguistic theories/terms/foundations in digestible (!!!!!) ways throughout. I don't think it is intended to be a robust academic review of every linguistic study and maybe that will make some people angry. But I am also not looking for a robust academic review, I just want to read about words and food (sorry)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    My daughter-in-law combines her professional knowledge of medicine with her academic knowledge of classic literature to produce her sagacious and erudite self. But her greatest savvy is the ability to choose books to give to her father-in-law which he is highly likely to enjoy. Dan Jurafsky's "The Language of Food" is a double delight: a feast for word nerds and a feast for foodies. Jurafsky is a linguistic anthropologist, interested in the secrets contained in the ever-evolving language used to My daughter-in-law combines her professional knowledge of medicine with her academic knowledge of classic literature to produce her sagacious and erudite self. But her greatest savvy is the ability to choose books to give to her father-in-law which he is highly likely to enjoy. Dan Jurafsky's "The Language of Food" is a double delight: a feast for word nerds and a feast for foodies. Jurafsky is a linguistic anthropologist, interested in the secrets contained in the ever-evolving language used to describe food. The text is academic, interesting, well-written and light-hearted. This is a good book to read with Steven Gilbar's "Chicken A La King And The Buffalo Wing, Food Names And The People And Places That Inspired Them" (Cincinnati, Ohio: Writers Digest Books, 2008) and Martha Barnette, Ladyfingers & Nun's Tummies: A Lighthearted Look at How Foods Got Their Names (New York: Crown, 1997).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Creda Wilson

    I liked the book - there was a lot of interesting content about the history of food and language. However the style was sometimes a bit weird - could have done without the personal tidbits throughout.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David

    Available as a 6+ hour audio download. I teach English. I listen to books like this as a kind of professional development that you can do on a bicycle, city bus, etc., because you never know what kind of language-related trivia may come in useful in the classroom. For example (if I remember correctly), study of a large data set shows that a one-letter increase in median word length in the description of menu items correlates with a 19 cent increase in price. On the other hand, the average number o Available as a 6+ hour audio download. I teach English. I listen to books like this as a kind of professional development that you can do on a bicycle, city bus, etc., because you never know what kind of language-related trivia may come in useful in the classroom. For example (if I remember correctly), study of a large data set shows that a one-letter increase in median word length in the description of menu items correlates with a 19 cent increase in price. On the other hand, the average number of words used on menu descriptions, when compared with price, shows a normal-curve (i.e., inverted “U” shape) distribution, that is, both the cheapest and most expensive restaurant use very few words compared to the mid-range restaurants (wordy culprits are identified as TGI Fridays and Olive Garden, among others). Trivia that I listened to but did not retain involved the long journeys of the words “ketchup” and “turkey” into English. I thought this book could also be profitably listened to by ad copywriters (if such a profession still exists) and people who are in the business of thinking up catchy name for edible products. However, I cannot really recommend this to the great number of people who are not in these lines of work. As mentioned in other reviews, the book is very San Francisco-centric. References to local restaurants and geography run rampant. Those of us who have never (to our regret and sorrow) even visited the Bay Area are at a serious disadvantage. Finally, the electronic and/or print editions of this book may come with an accompanying .pdf file, which is referred to repeatedly in the audio version even though, as far as I can tell, no such file is available to audio book listeners. The book can be understood and enjoyed without the .pdf file, but I thought that, if no such file is available, perhaps the reader or the producer of the audio version could have removed references to them.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bookworm

    Interesting but even book that would be better as a magazine long-read. Why do menus or TV ads always use buzzwords to make foods sound better (juicy cuts of steak, fresh vegetables, locally-sourced products, etc.)? What's the origins of ketchup? Why do we propose a toast?   Author Jurafsky proposes to take the reader though the origins and histories of foods. Some of it is quite interesting (the origins of ketchup for example) or looking at how someone could/should look at a menu for the quality Interesting but even book that would be better as a magazine long-read. Why do menus or TV ads always use buzzwords to make foods sound better (juicy cuts of steak, fresh vegetables, locally-sourced products, etc.)? What's the origins of ketchup? Why do we propose a toast?   Author Jurafsky proposes to take the reader though the origins and histories of foods. Some of it is quite interesting (the origins of ketchup for example) or looking at how someone could/should look at a menu for the quality or expense of the eatery. However, a lot of it really isn't.   There isn't a lot here that really couldn't have been condensed into a magazine long-read. And it could have been edited much better. As noted elsewhere, "San Francisco" is misspelled (with another "s" vs. a "c" in the middle). His wife Janet is mentioned but it's not clear who she is at the first mention and seems like a rando name dropped into the text. The writing seems disjointed and while some of the information is really interesting (the origins of ketchup) the writing really isn't very good. It almost feels like more than one hand wrote this and everything was combined together in a sloppy effort to make a coherent narrative.   Some of the information (such as the menu tricks) can also be found elsewhere. The idea overall was a good one but Jurafsky definitely didn't quite get there. I bought this as a bargain book but I'd recommend you get this at the library if you're really interested. It's not a keeper and is more of a book to skim than a good source to keep on hand.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Soobie's scared

    I first became aware of this book reading an Italian weekly magazine. Which is weird since it hasn't been translated into Italian yet. Anyway, it tickled my curiosity and I bought it. After three years I finally read it. First of all, I have a feeling this book will be way more appreciate by people living in Los Angeles. There are tons of references to places in the city. It gives authenticity but it makes it a little obscure for those who've never been to L.A. On the contrary, I didn't mind all I first became aware of this book reading an Italian weekly magazine. Which is weird since it hasn't been translated into Italian yet. Anyway, it tickled my curiosity and I bought it. After three years I finally read it. First of all, I have a feeling this book will be way more appreciate by people living in Los Angeles. There are tons of references to places in the city. It gives authenticity but it makes it a little obscure for those who've never been to L.A. On the contrary, I didn't mind all the personal references. It was interesting. It made me realize a lot of things. I mean, they've always been there but I've never perceived them before. Of course, some things make sense only in English (the longer the words, the pricier the object will be), but some of them are applicable in Italian as well. Why a sauce, for exemple, should be real, for instance. I mean, I really hope the tomato sauce the restaurant is using is real. If it needs to write it down, it makes me wonder. I also like the chapter how the Chinese dessert but the whole book was good. Maybe the author did wander here and there to convey a message but it was a good read. Or maybe I'm just in the mood for some non-fiction.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    In a medium bowl, mix equal parts of research, recipes, fun facts, and story telling. Recipe yields plenty of entertainment and information about why we eat what we eat, how foods traveled from culture to culture, and how food vocabulary affects our appetites. The author's brief bio on the back flap explains the focus of this book. "Dan Jurafsky is a professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University. One of the foremost computational linguists in the world, he is the recipient In a medium bowl, mix equal parts of research, recipes, fun facts, and story telling. Recipe yields plenty of entertainment and information about why we eat what we eat, how foods traveled from culture to culture, and how food vocabulary affects our appetites. The author's brief bio on the back flap explains the focus of this book. "Dan Jurafsky is a professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University. One of the foremost computational linguists in the world, he is the recipient of a 2002 MacArthur Fellowship and is known for his research applying linguistics to food studies, psychology, sociology, engineering, and many other fields." Indeed, this study is supported by extensive notes and references. Yes, I enjoyed the book, but it's not for everyone. The history, sociology, and etymology are extensive and, at times, tedious.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bardha

    Well, I had expectations, I enjoyed it, but it was not what I expected.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    There is a lot of interesting history here but the linguistics part of it, which is what I thought would be most interesting, gets somewhat lost in print. I wish I had listened to this on audio book to get the full understanding of the routes to the subtle changes in words. While some of them are just matters of simple letter transposition or slight spelling changes, most appear to have been from hearing in one language and trying to translate those sounds into another. There are also many words There is a lot of interesting history here but the linguistics part of it, which is what I thought would be most interesting, gets somewhat lost in print. I wish I had listened to this on audio book to get the full understanding of the routes to the subtle changes in words. While some of them are just matters of simple letter transposition or slight spelling changes, most appear to have been from hearing in one language and trying to translate those sounds into another. There are also many words I just had no idea how to pronounce and would have liked to hear. My other complaint is that the author very awkwardly inserts these little personal notes that don't really add anything and, in fact, make it feel a little like a vanity book written for friends. It's a shame because the rest of the book is very professional while still being readable. A good book for readers who like to dip into things here and there since the book reads more like a collection of essays. There is some slight crossover or mention of another chapter but I don't think the reader would be lost in these cases. Quite a few historical recipes are added and there are lots of illustrations that add to the education. Extensive notes and references sections for those who can't get enough.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rosario (http://rosario.blogspot.com/)

    This is a collection of articles on language relating to food. It's a mixed bag. There is a lot about etymology and word origins (Why do we "toast" someone or something when drinking? Are macaroons and macarons related, and do macaroni have anything to do with either of them?). This was ok, if not particularly captivating. I was much more interested in the chapter on the language used in menus and how it varies depending on the price point of the restaurant. That was actually quite fascinating, This is a collection of articles on language relating to food. It's a mixed bag. There is a lot about etymology and word origins (Why do we "toast" someone or something when drinking? Are macaroons and macarons related, and do macaroni have anything to do with either of them?). This was ok, if not particularly captivating. I was much more interested in the chapter on the language used in menus and how it varies depending on the price point of the restaurant. That was actually quite fascinating, and there's a related chapter that looks at a similar thing in bags of crisps. I also liked the chapter on the phonetics of different foods and how different types of sounds suggest different qualities in the foods (crispy and crunchy? Soft and pillowy?). As a book, this didn't really feel very cohesive, more a random collection of articles probably written for something else originally and just gathered together here. And the writing style was a bit variable as well. Some chapters feel quite narrative and flowed well, some felt pretty dry. Worth reading, but not that great. MY GRADE: A B-.

  20. 5 out of 5

    B. Rule

    This one was about a 3.5/5 for me. It has some really interesting etymological and historical info on various culinary practices and dishes, and it's a relatively well-written book for this genre of stuff. In it, you'll learn a little about the history of ketchup, the common origins of fish and chips/escabeche/ceviche in an ancient Persian dish, comparative sequencing/grammar of American, French and Chinese meals, and the associations of certain vowel sounds with particular flavor profiles, incl This one was about a 3.5/5 for me. It has some really interesting etymological and historical info on various culinary practices and dishes, and it's a relatively well-written book for this genre of stuff. In it, you'll learn a little about the history of ketchup, the common origins of fish and chips/escabeche/ceviche in an ancient Persian dish, comparative sequencing/grammar of American, French and Chinese meals, and the associations of certain vowel sounds with particular flavor profiles, including crackers and ice cream. However, it's a pretty short course and leaves out a lot of details that could have spiced it up. Also, I found the incessant mentions of the author's personal life tonally weird and distracting. When he first started mentioning his wife by name, I was like, "who?", and it never flowed any better in the repeated references after that. Similarly, you will feel by the end of this book that Jurafsky has a deep, possibly pathological need for you to know that he lives in San Francisco. I'm not sure a chapter went by without at least one comment about it. That said, I've read a lot worse in the pop etymology/history genre, so I'll give him a pass.

  21. 4 out of 5

    E. C. Koch

    What are the two fundamental and universal elements of any culture? Language and cuisine, of course. Jurafsky breezily takes the reader through the etymologies and histories behind food words, from menu to ketchup to turkey and on and on. And I think "breezily" is the operative modifier here, because the book proper tops out at 190 pages, and even with notes and an index it doesn't quite get to 250. So for $26.95 of your hard-earned book dollars you're not getting very much book. And then also t What are the two fundamental and universal elements of any culture? Language and cuisine, of course. Jurafsky breezily takes the reader through the etymologies and histories behind food words, from menu to ketchup to turkey and on and on. And I think "breezily" is the operative modifier here, because the book proper tops out at 190 pages, and even with notes and an index it doesn't quite get to 250. So for $26.95 of your hard-earned book dollars you're not getting very much book. And then also the cover is not terribly attractive (actually I think it's really ugly), so you'll have to deal with that too. Ok, but then this was also a really fun read. I'm particularly keen on language and etymologies and history and food, so even though this was short it was immensely enjoyable. Jurafsky shows how the intersections of food and food-words resulting from the last 1000 years of globalization connects all cultures and peoples, which is refreshingly optimistic and humanistic and cool. Borrow it from the library and enjoy.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrea James

    The book feel well researched and with interesting titbits of the history of how a number of different dishes evolved as they move across countries and continents. As a title suggests, there are also explanations of the effects of words - front/back vowels, sharp (i or e) round (o or u) - on our perceptions of lightness/heaviness etc. and made me reflect on the choice of words in brand names and advertising slogans. And the book reminds us of the impact that influential people have on what we eat The book feel well researched and with interesting titbits of the history of how a number of different dishes evolved as they move across countries and continents. As a title suggests, there are also explanations of the effects of words - front/back vowels, sharp (i or e) round (o or u) - on our perceptions of lightness/heaviness etc. and made me reflect on the choice of words in brand names and advertising slogans. And the book reminds us of the impact that influential people have on what we eat - royalty in the past and celebrities/media in the present day. Like a number of the other reviewers, the writing just didn't quite gel with me. I even felt bad that I didn't enjoy more. It seemed as if the author was a nice enough guy but the inclusion of anecdotes of his wife felt more awkward than warm or personal. I'm not sure why it fell flat, it just did for me. The book was so short and had enough interesting history and linguistic insights that one could finish it but I suspect had it been a big tome I would probably have given up half way.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    This book is what you would expect from the title -- a lighthearted look at the words we use for common foods, with historical and linguistic context -- and occasionally a bit more. I really enjoyed learning about how foods and preparation techniques spread and morphed through trade and colonization. My only criticism is that it lacks cohesion and (useful) structure. The author skips from topic to topic, often following historical or cultural connections, but equally often following personal ass This book is what you would expect from the title -- a lighthearted look at the words we use for common foods, with historical and linguistic context -- and occasionally a bit more. I really enjoyed learning about how foods and preparation techniques spread and morphed through trade and colonization. My only criticism is that it lacks cohesion and (useful) structure. The author skips from topic to topic, often following historical or cultural connections, but equally often following personal associations, sprinkling in chapter breaks willy-nilly. But the material itself is so interesting that this flaw is only a minor distraction.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Chanel

    Well researched! The works cited section is steep. However, also written in a friendly tone. It never got stuffy or a drag to read. Casual, conversational anecdotes about the author's personal observations in the foodscape of San Francisco. Deep, historical evidence from 1500s-era French recipes to tales of seafaring rum drinkers. You can tell the author loves this subject and its nuances. The best part, personal opinions were confined to the epilogue, where the author argues to inspire a worldl Well researched! The works cited section is steep. However, also written in a friendly tone. It never got stuffy or a drag to read. Casual, conversational anecdotes about the author's personal observations in the foodscape of San Francisco. Deep, historical evidence from 1500s-era French recipes to tales of seafaring rum drinkers. You can tell the author loves this subject and its nuances. The best part, personal opinions were confined to the epilogue, where the author argues to inspire a worldly compassion in the reader based on centuries of overlapping, intertwined global culinary preferences, trends, and nomenclature.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    Some interesting stories about how the names of foods developed across the world and the origin of a lot of these foods.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Renee Ortenzio

    3.5. It wasn’t a page turner, but it did have nuggets of info that excited my nerd brain.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Cheri

    Food and language, two of my favorite things in one book. Jurafsky draws on computational linguistics as well as the "EATymology" of words and other linguistic skills to look into what language and food together can tell us about such things as optimism, class structure, health, marketing ploys, and our commonalities as humans. Some of the word histories are well known (ketchup, turkey), though more richly explained here than I've seen them before, but my favorite parts are the novel ideas he ex Food and language, two of my favorite things in one book. Jurafsky draws on computational linguistics as well as the "EATymology" of words and other linguistic skills to look into what language and food together can tell us about such things as optimism, class structure, health, marketing ploys, and our commonalities as humans. Some of the word histories are well known (ketchup, turkey), though more richly explained here than I've seen them before, but my favorite parts are the novel ideas he explores. His insight into the "grammar of cuisine" took the intriguing history traced in another book I like, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, a step further for a real "ah ha!" experience. I will also add that the book is rather strangely written in some ways -- a mixture of personal history and local color that may have spurred his own interest but felt odd in a book that is 40% footnotes. At one point he mentioned "Janet" and it took me aback until I remembered that he had noted, a chapter or two before, that his wife is named Janet. He also gives his own favorite recipe for salsa verde when looking into a cluster of salt-related words. By the end of the book I found this charming, but at first I was put off because I wasn't sure how seriously to take the book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sep

    Such an interesting read! I love books where I have to look up words that challenge. Mr. Jurafsky's explains how some of the food combinations we eat today are the result of centuries of tweaking and modifying. My mother fried filet of sole that she served with sides of rice and spinach. (Carefully separated on our plates because we were a litter of picky eaters.) She encouraged us to season the fish and spinach with vinegar or lemon juice. This dinner was a 1950s descendent of a sweet and sour Such an interesting read! I love books where I have to look up words that challenge. Mr. Jurafsky's explains how some of the food combinations we eat today are the result of centuries of tweaking and modifying. My mother fried filet of sole that she served with sides of rice and spinach. (Carefully separated on our plates because we were a litter of picky eaters.) She encouraged us to season the fish and spinach with vinegar or lemon juice. This dinner was a 1950s descendent of a sweet and sour stew of beef favored by the king of Persia back in the 500s A.D. (Mr. Jurafsky has a wonderful map showing various dishes that are also descendants of this stew.) BTW the Persian king in question was Khosau. Google him. He and his family have a lot of interesting drama. The author also discusses the language of menus versus the price of the food. For along time any French words on the menu indicated expensive. Nowadays, we have other cues like organic or grass fed. If you have ever wondered about the history of ketchup or why that speech that best men have to do at weddings and scorched bread are both called toast or about macaroni, sherbet, or how the meat turkey got its name, you will enjoy this book. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Reesha

    An excellent idea with a clumsy execution. There are random parts of this book where things really get going, where the text is smooth and flows like a well-crafted béchamel (sorry), and I thought, "Ah! Here we go, now it's getting good!" Then a few paragraphs or a couple of pages later, bam, the text devolves into lists of vaguely related terms and prose as uneven as a bowl of rocky road ice cream (sorry). This book was apparently years in the making, so I'm not sure if the better written parts we An excellent idea with a clumsy execution. There are random parts of this book where things really get going, where the text is smooth and flows like a well-crafted béchamel (sorry), and I thought, "Ah! Here we go, now it's getting good!" Then a few paragraphs or a couple of pages later, bam, the text devolves into lists of vaguely related terms and prose as uneven as a bowl of rocky road ice cream (sorry). This book was apparently years in the making, so I'm not sure if the better written parts were done near the end, when the author was getting better at expressing himself, and no one went back to edit the rest, or if the worst bits were written when the author was starting to burn out and couldn't be bothered to season (sorry) his text anymore. Regardless, I have to put some blame on the editors, since it falls to them to help craft a palatable meal (sorry) out of a mishmash of potential ingredients (sorry) like this. Despite the fact that I was initially very excited to read this, it took me over four months to finish this book and I'm glad it's finally done. I'll probably donate this one to the library.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gizzard

    Love food and find linguistics interesting. This book mainly discusses the intersection of food history through food names and how both the food and words evolved. This book seemed to just sample the subject here and there. It was quick but fairly unremarkable.

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