Everyone who writes about food has certain words and phrases that they hate. New York Magazine critic Adam Platt lists “toothsome” and “cornucopia” on his list of forbidden clunkers; Sam Sifton doesn’t like when people “source” ingredients; and New York deputy editor John Gluck says “enrobed” makes him think of Hugh Hefner — a decidedly unsavory thought. The time has come to publicly shame these terrible words and constructions and eliminate them from food writing forever.
We’ll be the first to admit that Grub Street isn’t immune to an ill-timed “toque” reference or an especially forced pun. But this ends now. Help us eradicate the scourge of references to “mouthfeel,” “foodies,” and, God help us, “sammies.” Sound off below with the things that crush your spirit a little as you read them.
We’re even going to get this gravy train rolling: Below, you’ll find Grub Street’s newly minted, official list of verboten words and phrases, things that will, in theory, never again grace the screens of Grub Street’s readers. It’s a start, but we’re … hungry for more. That’s why we’re asking you to help — and giving away prizes. Scroll down to see how you can aid the English language and pick up some food-writing swag in the process, but first, check out our list:
Addictive: Food isn’t a drug, despite what Crack Pie might make you think. Let’s please stop calling things “addictive” and/or “habit-forming” when what we really mean is “very good tasting.”
Artisan: It lost its meaning related to food the second Domino’s co-opted it.
Approachable: As in, “the most approachable dish on the menu.” When did food become so standoffish?
Bill of Fare: Let’s just say menu, shall we?
Boasts: While we’re on the subject of menus, why do they always have to “boast” items? All they actually do is “display” them.
Cooked to Perfection: Grub San Fran’s Jay Barmann: “We should all know better than to use this.”
Cornucopia: Only if you’re writing about Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving. And even then, don’t.
Decadent: It’s the word fat people use to rationalize eating oversize desserts.
Delectable: It sounds like a word a James Bond villain would use.
Eatery: Per Grub Philly’s Collin Keefe: “It makes restaurants sound like some sort of mechanized chow line.”
Enrobe: See Hef ref, above.
Epic: Lord of the Rings is epic; dinner at Per Se is not.
Foodies: The ne plus ultra of words (and concepts) that society needs to forget immediately.
Fusion: It’s not “fusion,” it’s “Asian-Hipster.”
Luscious: Sounds like the name of an R&B; singer from 1997.
Meltingly Tender: Why is this the only way people can describe a dish’s tenderness? (And why is the dish in question almost always braised short ribs?) There are other adverbs out there.
A Miss: As in, the dish was “a miss.” What was it even trying to hit?
Mouthfeel: The blow-job-iest of all food words.
Nibbles as a Noun: Ditto “bites,” “victuals,” or even “tipples” if you’re talking about drinks.
Nom (or Nom Nom Nom, etc.): Under no circumstances.
Pillowy: Often used to describe gnocchi or ravioli. As Grub Boston’s Kara Baskin notes, it sounds porny.
Sammies Instead of Sandwiches: For all the obvious reasons.
Savor: It sounds like something only old people do.
-Tastic: If a meal or restaurant focuses on one thing excessively well, the knee-jerk description is always “pork-tastic,” or “carb-tastic,” or “fat-tastic.” The overused construction is completely hack-tastic.
Toothsome: It’s just the worst, and it conjures up images of dentists.
Toque: It refers to the hat that chefs wear, not the actual chef. Let’s just avoid the confusion by never using it again, ever.
Unctuous: People use this to describe food that’s “rich” in a good way, but the word really means “oily” in a bad way. And, as deputy editor Gluck points out, it sounds vomitous.
Velvety or Silky: Have you ever seen soup? Have you seen silk? The two are not similar, at all. So why does everyone call a great soup “silky smooth” or “velvety soft”? More to the point: How gross would it be to actually eat a spoonful of silk?
Yummy: Just don’t.
This list is but a small example all the terrible food verbiage floating out there. So, we’d like your help in sussing out anything we missed. Tweet your best (worst?) obnoxious food writing sentence using words from our list, as well as any we didn’t think of. Up for grabs are five copies of Best Food Writing 2011 to assist in the mission to eradicate “unctuous” and its ilk from the world. Here’s how to enter:
• In 140 characters or fewer, craft your most clichéd food-writing sentence you can, using a combination of our banned words and your own pet peeves.
• Make sure to include the hashtag #bannedfoodwords.
• Tweet it by 5 p.m. EST today.
We’ll pick the best — and by best, we mean worst — five and reward them accordingly. (Click here for the complete rules.)
Let the pretentious gastronomic gloating begin!
Update: We have winners!