BreakThru News, Ep. 38: 'The Language of Food'


By Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein

Everyone eats food, and everyone speaks a language. Professor Dan Jurafsky, a linguist at Stanford University, set out to study the overlap of these two universal experiences. The result was the recently published book, The Language of Food. It just so happens that a lot of history, culture, and science can be dug up from our culinary terminology including an explanation as to the redundancy of “tomato” ketchup labeling, why we “toast” people, as well as the name shared by a country and a choice form of poultry. Some hints: fermented fish, wassail traditions, and Portuguese foreign policy.

The stories behind “macaroni” and “sherbet” are windows into our past of human encounters and exploration the world over, but Professor Jurafsky also uncovers current phenomena about our relationship to food using computer-based analysis and the abundance of online restaurant reviews. While everyone has had a nightmare meal at a restaurant, for example, few would consider such an event traumatic. And yet the language used to for one-star ratings online is that of collective trauma victims. Meanwhile, we tend to describe delicious food in terms of drugs or sex, depending on whether it is cheap or expensive respectively.

This week, BreakThru News (BTN) talked with Professor Jurafsky about his findings, as well as his observations on current shifts in food language. The final question: what does Professor Jurafsky make of the term “foodie”?

Video Credits
Host, Writer – Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Video Editor – Andy Morell

with guest – Dan Jurafsky