Lost for words – Food phrases that you can’t stand

By October 28, 2010 Rants 13 Comments

How would you evocatively describe a delicious, juicy steak? Give it your best shot. There you go. It’s just that: juicy and delicious, right?

While some food can lend itself to poetic description, epic imagery, moving metaphors and ground-shaking word-smithing, most other food is what it is, and there’s no point in trying to be overly articulate in describing how it tastes. The downside, however, is that your description may come across as clichéd, repetitive and outright boring. And if you are a food blogger or a food writer, your worst nightmare may be an image of your readers falling into a deep, peaceful coma while reading your article.

But colourful language can become a cliché too. I feel certain that the first man who described pork crackling as “earth-shatteringly crisp” is turning in his cholesterol-rich grave (I apologise for that clichéd term as well). How about phrases like “wonderfully tender”, “moist and succulent”, “meltingly soft”, “cuts through the richness”, “match made in heaven”, “make room for”? We’ve heard them all a million times. Sure, sometimes we may struggle to come up with an original way to describe a flavour or a dish. I’m sure I’m guilty of food description crimes as well, but still, there are some phrases that just annoy me. I’ve shared some of mine, so how about you? What food descriptions are your pet hates? Leave a comment and let me know.

13 Comments

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  • I’m glad you brought this up. Writing for me can be one of the hardest things…I can take a few hours just to formulate what I want to say. When it comes to food descriptions it just gets harder! Dare I say, “food for thought”! LOL!

  • Moya says:

    I guess that’s the secret of being a good food writer (or any kind of writer I guess), being able to write evocatively of your taste experience without resorting to cliches or really long winded metaphors! Personally, mouthgasm is becoming really annoying but I haven’t seen a professional food writer use that one yet!

  • I have never thought of this really, but then again I don’t recall reading much restaurant reviews or food reviews. Although sometimes a cliché can convey a meaning better than any new formula because of its familiarity, as long as it is used in the right place. OK, I kinda used this from poetry writing, but aren’t food reviews gustatory poetry?
    On the other hand I can imagine hating words, I do have a weird relationship with words, I can fall in love with them or just be unable to stand them.

  • I’m probably guilty of some of these – I think finding an alternative to ‘tender’ quite a challenge unless you want to come over all metaphorical, which I rarely do. But how about desserts that are “to die for”. That’s my biggest hate. Eeek!

  • Amanda says:

    I couldn’t agree more about the use of cliché’s in food writing. In particular, the over-used word “passion” in any sentence about food or cooking is one that I try to avoid.
    Did you see this article about a plea for some new foodie language – http://tinyurl.com/28r8wuq -?

  • Angie says:

    Hi Fouad – where shall I begin?
    I generally hate: ‘friendly’ service, anything that’s ‘to die for’, anything ‘tasty’ or ‘good’. I think the key is using words that actually conjure an image, rather than just rate something. It’s more important to tell readers what something is like rather than whether or not you like it. I’m not totally against ‘melt in your mouth’, ‘tender’ and some other oft-used words, because at least they say something about the food, but any time you can find a different way to say the same thing is good! Ideally, a review should entertain as well as inform. I think it’s particularly important, too, to choose your words very carefully when saying something not entirely positive.
    But as if you don’t know this – you’re a super star!
    Angie

  • Fouad says:

    Peter, you crack me up! Food for thought indeed!

    Hiya Moya. Jesus! Are you serious? Mouthgasm? Let’s stick to cliche’s! LOL

    Hello Viviane. Is there much of a restaurant reviewing culture in Lebanon at the moment? Are there any guide books or good websites to see? I don’t remember seeing any when I was there and I used to work in a bookshop/newsagents…

    Hi Stephanie. Thanks for visiting and for taking the time to comment! Lovely to have you here. Tender is a tough one I agree. I don’t mind it on its own, but calling something “soft and tender” or “sweet and tender” kills me 🙂 Like describing the love of your life, right? I think “to die for” requires the writer to die for the wrongs they bring to this world.

    Hi Amanda – Yes, passion. Here’s a link you’ll love, on the topic of passion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bz2-49q6DOI

    Angie!!! Yay! welcome, come in 🙂 Totally agree on all points. Did you know I’m colour blind? I struggle terribly with red and green. Makes it hard to be describe when you are never certain about the colour. Ok. here’s one for you. What about “aloft”? I love saying things negatively. I once wanted to write “spiced, poached quince layered with Kryptonian pastry made seemingly indestructible by the power of our yellow sun” but didn’t think it would fly with Jx…

  • Things are still the same as far as I know. When my friend was about to visit me from USA, I tried to look up sites to see some reviews, what you see is only about an individual effort and usually not quite reliable for they portray more of a personal taste than a reliable review: stuff like “they have the best pasta i ever tasted”.
    I noticed the lack of professional or at least objective reviews and we still lack them unfortunately! Though really weird for a place where food is a great part of the culture AND of every day’s life!

  • Angie says:

    Thanks Fouad.

    Aloft? I’d put it with atop and whilst as ok if you’re trying to subtly suggest a place is super posh, and maybe aloft is ok, too, if you’re describing a particularly heavenly dish? Words have underlying connotations – they fit in sometimes but should not be all-purpose.

    I didn’t know you were colour blind – that’d put an interesting spin on things. (oh, yeah, interesting is another ‘doesn’t really say a whole lot’ word. haha!)

    Kryptonian pastry – nice. One I was tempted to use once, but didn’t: ‘I’ve had parking tickets that were better value for money.’

  • Fouad, you’ve hacked into my drafts 🙂 I’ve been holding off posting an opinion piece on that same subject for some time now. I’ve already done it on the travel writing cliches to good effect.

    There are way too many to mention here but I’ll pick one expression about food that I would love to see die a painful death: food porn.

  • Jobe says:

    Good post. Coincidentally I’m also working on a post about cliches in food writing (which will probably be unintentionally cliche-laden in itself).

    I think the problem food writers have is that there are only so many ways you can describe an item of food like steak. And with so many food blogs, you soon get a sort of phrase lethargy when you see 40 people in a day write something like “melts in the mouth”. The challenge to write in an original way is essentially impossible because you have so many people constantly writing about the same thing. Unless you go all obscure or something, in which case no one understands you.

    The cliche that irks me the most, without fail is “gossamer thin”. It was good the first couple of times, but now it’s absolutely cringe-inducing because no one says that in real life.

    I’m also starting to really dislike reviews where it starts with a phrase and ends with a comment on that phrase. IE if there was a review written on Melbourne Cup day last week it would start with something along the lines of “Today I learned that there is no such thing as a ‘sure thing’ in betting.” Cue story about going to dinner to drown sorrows. Finish with “each dish was amazing. This place is a sure bet.”

    A good writing technique, but starting to become too overused.

  • Fouad says:

    Hey Vivianne. Maybe an opportunity there for someone interested in food and writing to approach The Daily Star?

    Angie – LOL. Maybe we should start a book called “The Outrageous Guide to Sydney Food”… or something to that effect. We shouldn’t let our metaphors go to waste.

    Hey Corinne – There’s room for more than 1 post on the topic. Just make sure you don’t use any of the same words I did hehehe. “Food Porn”. Terrible. What’s next? Munsterbation? Sorry 😛

    Hey Jobe – Great to be introduced to your blog. I use gossamer thin almost on a daily basis 😛 Totally agree on all the points you make. I don’t mind the “tie back” but agree, it’s terrible when it’s used just for the sake of it, and adds nothing to the significance of the writing piece.

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