The Worst Food Writing Words

Nov 152010
 

The most overused word in the food writer's lexicon.

While chatting with Brooke Burton of Food Woolf, she mentioned that L.A. Weekly gave her a list of words freelancing food writers are not to use. She reeled off a few from memory:

  • farm fresh
  • sustainable
  • local
  • yummy.

If I wanted to see a good list, she suggested, I could read these blog posts: Top Ten Foodie Words We Hate: Starting with Foodie, and a follow-up generated by the response to the first article, Part 2. Written by Amy Scattergood, L.A. Weekly’s food blog editor, the list of 20 words mixes fad terms like “iconic” and “mixologist” with bland, boring terms like “offering.”

Brilliant! Somehow I missed this list. I like it because it branches out  from the usual vague adjectives I’m always going on about: delicious. wonderful, and tasty. I’ll add a few more:

  • authentic: a hotly contested word, because no matter where you travel, there is never just one version of Spaghetti Bolognese or Pad Thai.
  • orbs: When tired of saying “grapes,” do not substitute “orbs.” No one talks that way.
  • toothsome: Not sure what this means. Chewy? If so, use a word we all understand.

Now it’s your turn. Which words make you cringe or see red? Do you disagree with Scattergood’s or my choices?

Share Button

  107 Responses to “The Worst Food Writing Words”

  1. I loved the original two posts, though I don’t agree with all their picks.
    But local? I do want to know if food is local. What’s the replacement word to provide that information?

    • Yeah, “in the vicinity” just doesn’t have the same cachet. Probably the editor meant that the word local is overused.

      • in Italian there’s a new way to say this, which is “zero km”. If something is “zero km”, it means it comes from very, very near you (in theory, at least). I don’t know if it could work in other languages, though.

  2. Oh my. I’m loving the article “Top Ten Foodie Words We Hate: Starting with Foodie”. That’s awesome. (I hate the word “Foodie”. It’s ridiculous.)

  3. How timely. I just finished teaching my annual food writing course and we started a list of clichés to banish forever from our food writing. They are: mouth-watering, toothsome (agree with Scattergood), eatery, tasty, yummy (couldn’t agree more with you), decadent (overused), sinful or sinfully good (overused, blah!). Looking forward to more of the worst. Great post topic. J

    • Hey Jennifer! Funny that when we use decadent and sinful we are usually talking about dessert. A “sinful” salad just doesn’t make any sense, although some might be just as caloric.

  4. I have to agree with Catt and Jackie on this one. I do want to know if my food is local and I absolutely cannot stand the word “foodie”. “Resto”, “rezzy” and “yummy” are also up there on my list of dislikes.

    Fun and useful post — thanks!

  5. Hmm, toothsome is one of my favorite words! meaning chewy, making your teeth happy, appealing. But then I like silly antiquated words.

    What I hate is when food writers have a list of things and rather than give you the full range just say “and more.” Don’t know why that bugs me.

    • Sorry about that, Ken. “And more” is rather vague, isn’t it? While it solves the problem of carrying on too long with a list, it’s pretty useless.

  6. Hehe. Well, I did just change my blog name to Life as a Foodie. Oops.

    I don’t know. While I get the point it’s one of those things where; in my opinion, if you’re only doing this for fun or a hobby then why be all snobby about the words we use? Just smacks of elitist nonsense. Why can’t we have fun (even when paid) rather than pick apart certain words or attempt to banish them from our writings?

    Some don’t even make sense. Eliminate farm fresh? Sustainable? Local? Really? Where do people come up with this? It’s fine to reduce their usage if a writer overuses them or lacks the capability of coming up with better descriptive words but to suggest banishment is pushing it in my opinion.

    • I don’t think we’re going to eliminate those words anytime soon. It’s just a question of reducing their usage, and trying harder to find something original to say.

      Hey, if you don’t mind being called a foodie, there’s no problem.

    • Kim,

      My online handle has been “Foodie Princess” since 2006 and there have been times when I’ve contemplated changing it because of the “Foodie” backlash but I prefer to let my work speak for itself and not my “nickname” that a very dear and well known food professional gifted me with. Best of luck with the new blog “Life as a Foodie”

  7. I agree with Catt and would add sustainable, too. I know here in Vancouver (BC), there are a lot of conversations happening around sustainable agriculture and local food. You can find substitutes for those words, but then you’re running the risk of creating the next mixologist or smackdown.

    • Hah. Sustainable is another overused word, although it’s a kind of abbreviation for what might be a long conversation otherwise about farming, the environment, transportation, “and more.” (Just said this to bug Ken.)

  8. I guess I’m the odd man out; I don’t understand saying words are “worst”. Overused? Sure. But like a designer with colors or a chef with spices, with the correct use almost any word can be good (or made bad by lazy writers!)

    • Maybe. I suppose if you were writing a play about the kind of person who would say “rezzy” instead of “reservation,” it would be appropriate. Ooh, I think I just thought of a new writing exercise.

  9. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Alison Sherwood, Jenn Cuisine, Dana Nahai, Dakin Farm, Dianne Jacob and others. Dianne Jacob said: What are the worst food writing words? New post @ http://bit.ly/afIGMY [...]

  10. Blacklisting words in food writing has been a hot topic lately. I personally feel that good writing is good writing. Worry about the usage and not the identity of the words.

    • That’s a good point, Ben. Now you’ll have to explain to me the correct usage of the word “yummy.”

      • I think of it this way: Take one of the biggest menu cliches, the chicken caesar salad. Banning the chicken caesar salad will not make TGIFridays a better restaurant. However, Chris Cosentino, for one, has taken this cliche and transformed it into some very provocative dishes, some of which include chicken-fried pork belly and cockscombs.

        Can a writer find an effective use of the word “yummy?” Perhaps I can’t, but I’m not willing to close the door on a great writer proving me wrong.

        • I don’t think a great writer would use that word, unless, as I suggested earlier, it’s part of describing someone’s character or voice.

          Very good point about TGI Fridays. It will take a lot more than that.

  11. “Tablescape” drives me crazy and “food table” as well – makes me think of a trough.

    • Tablescape! What on earth does that mean? And food table — is there a word missing? Wow. Hadn’t heard of those.

  12. “No one talks that way.”

    Must food writing be contained within the confines of colloquial speech? People say all sorts of things: awesome, fabulous and stellar are just few among hundreds of clichés that people use in everyday speech. One of the joys of writing, IMHO (oh god, an InterWebs cliché!), is the capacity to transcend the mundanity of idiomatic speech, and emerge in the ethereal, the timeless. Then again, idioms can be used like so much salt and pepper in one’s writing, to great effect.

    • True that I am much more likely to use words like “delicious” in everyday speech than I am to put it in writing. In writing I am much more careful. But typically food writing is conversational, unless you’re writing a paper.

      • “Food writing is conversational.” Do you feel it ought to be? And if so, why?

        • Most writing is conversational. That’s why, when you read books about writing, one of the standard tips is to read your work out loud, so see if it flows.

  13. Amazing. No… I mean the use of the word AMAZING in writing and speech today. Kill it, please.

  14. There’s a seasonal cycle to these words, and the lists of naughty words compiled by the oligarchs of food writing. They’re a reflection of terms that have been beaten to death in an attempt to jump on a bandwagon, tweak one’s SEO, garner links or hit Google News (er, same thing). Eventually, the next bandwagon appears and everyone jumps off the old one only to hop back onto the new one. Rinse and repeat.

    I’d had it out the ass with “local,” “sustainable” and “artisanal” three years ago. Now, it seems, everyone else has too. Why? Because certain big name publications have featured rants about these topics by well-respected writers, which means everyone now has permission to view these terms with an air of cynicism or even post–modern ennui. No lock-step uniformity of thought here.

    • You were ahead of your time, then, Shelly.

      I think I have just been condemned. I’ve been a cynic for years, so you’ve got me there. Don’t know about “post-modern ennui,” though. I’m not even sure what it means.

      • Er, no, I wasn’t condemning you :). You make a clear distinction between stating your opinion and perception, as opposed to declaring that which is permissible and forbidden.

        By post-modern ennui, I was flippantly referring to a sort of jaded attitude that is sometimes affected by people regarding a trend that has gone stale.

  15. Ha! I feel like the Times’ objection to writers rhapsodizing over the “bounty” is aimed directly at my Crisper Whisperer column. And do you know what? Point taken. In general, though, I agree with Matt and Ben. It’s how we wield our words that counts.

  16. Agree with Matt’s remarks. Any word in the right context and written with the right pen (or keyboard) can be good. I definitely don’t agree with your “toothsome” statement. Why dumb down language; why not challenge readers to use a dictionary?

    • Most writing is dumbed down. Newspapers are written for an 8th grade comprehension level. The goal is to communicate, not to impress.

  17. My main peeve are false cognates; “gourmand” as synonym for “gourmet” (both used indiscriminately to mean “upscale” or “fancy”). And I’ve only rarely seen it in food writing, but the one that absolutely drives me up a wall is the misuse of “infamous”. It is not a synonym for “famous”, thank you very much.

  18. Blacklisting certain words does not solve the problem of weak writing. Just like having a healthy diet – you don’t succeed by eliminating all junk food or only eating celery sticks. You succeed by crowding out your diet with garlicky-roasted-broccoli, Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, and pan seared tilapia with home made corn and poblano salsa.

    Likewise, to be successful at writing we shouldn’t think about what we need to take away, but what wonderful things we can add! I believe one can use a occasional well-placed delicious here and there, but the fun of writing is in the crafting of prose. M.F.K. Fisher anyone?

    A larger problem, I believe, is that to write well, one has to read well. Great food writing exists, but there is a proliferation of food network magazine/30minute meal recipe focused cooking, rather than well written head notes and Gourmet magazine article writing. I have a feeling that people simply aren’t reading enough.

    As a side note – there was an article in the Guardian this week which makes reference to Nigella Lawson’s word choices: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2010/nov/10/nigella-kitchen-nigella-lawson

    • Hi Sam, that was a fun read. Certainly can’t accuse the woman of being boring. Just put it on my Facebook page.

      You make several good points. Weak writing would still be weak by excising all the words on that list. And yes, we all place a “delicious” here and there, and MFK did that a lot, actually. You are a testament to someone who must read well, working part-time in a cookbook store.

  19. It seems to me that the overuse of particular words stems as much from a lack of choice of words in the first place as much as sloppy writing. If we had as many words for ‘delicious’ as the eskimos have for snow, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this problem of overuse. Maybe in time our food lexicon will grow as discussion of food becomes more and more culturally important. Just a thought.

    • We do have lots of words that indicate that food tastes good, but they are specific and actually give readers information, such as crunchy or velvety. Or people who actually think up similes. Take a look at the Nigella Lawson article linked below.

  20. i think much of our food writing vernacular has come from soundbites originating on FoodNetwork. I agree with Sam (above) ” to be successful at writing we shouldn’t think about what we need to take away, but what wonderful things we can add! ” So instead of continuing the conversation on what words to avoid…how about someone coming up with a list of new and/or alternative words? Let’s spread that.

    • See page 161 of the new edition of Will Write for Food. I haven’t listed them all, but it’s a start. Also let’s try to get away from adjectives and be witty or beautiful with metaphor and simile, and use contrast…oh, I could go on and on. Actually, I did.

  21. Guilty as charged. But what do I do now? Change the name of my site altogether?
    BAH!
    The little food addict.
    For some reason foodie has a more positive connotation, don’t you think?

    Mostly I hate the words awesome and amazing, because I catch myself saying them about 10,000 times a day.
    I’m working on it. Maybe if I wasn’t drooling over so many food blogs I could wipe my lip and find something intelligent to say.

  22. The next time some writer says, delicious/yummy/tasty bits of porky goodness,” I may go postal.

    • I’ll make sure not to whisper that in your ear the next time I see you. Porky goodness is very trendy these days.

  23. I think that if I have to hear someone on “that” network tell me one more time that they are just going to “pop” something into the oven I may end up popping their chops! It is like a fingernail on a chalkboard! Aargh! And don’t even think of popping whatever it is onto your plate and then popping it into your mouth! Up north Pop is something they drink from a bottle or a familiar loving nickname for dear ole Dad.
    Time to pop back over to the laptop and dial up the Internets!!
    Karen

    • I never thought about that until you said it. I guess I don’t watch enough Food Network shows to mind.

  24. Karen, I feel the same way about EVOO, and “Sammies”. I am guilty as charged about calling something yummy, while it may be sublime, sometimes for me, yummy is completely descriptive.

  25. 1. Sexy
    2. Yummo

    • I see a theme developing here about the iconic (word on the list) words of a certain Food Network star.

  26. Food writing is no different than any other kind of writing…Show, don’t tell. If I write “he walked…” I have to add a myriad of adjectives that would make my sentence cumbersome and heavy. But I can write “he strode”, “he wandered”, “he shuffled”, “he sauntered”, “he roamed”, “he traipsed”, “he advanced”, “he trekked”, etc. and keep my writing precise, crisp, and light.
    Food writing follows the same rules. Give me the the word that describes the food, its texture, its taste, its smell. Bring me into your world by choosing the right vocabulary.
    I do not write to impress. But I write a notch above the way I speak, and I do not dumb down anything I publish. I do not aim for quantity, I aim for quality, and picking the right words is extremely important.
    In the end, there are no “bad words’ and “good words”. There is “bad writing” and “good writing”.

    • Okay. I get your point, Lana. However, I would love to see you write a stellar sentence using words like yummo, sammies, rezzie and resto.

      • In my opinion those words are akin to LOL and OMG – baby talk and abbreviations. While certainly not reflective of my style of writing, they might reflect someone else’s style of writing. It all depends on who we are choosing for our audience.
        It is obvious that Rachael Ray has a vast following, and I am certain that there are a lot of food blogs out there that emulate in writing her mode of speaking, with all the “yummo”, “sammie”, and “delish”. And good for them. We all choose how to write and who to read. The literary world has embraced the styles of Hemingway, Cormack McCarthy, Proust, Danielle Steel, and Clive Cussler.
        Individual words are not clichés, but the way we use them can be.

        • I guess if Rachel Ray wants to use all those terms in a book, she can laugh all the way to the bank while people like us object. But I doubt that the authors you’ve chosen would use any of those words, Lana.

          • Dianne, I think that you are missing my point. I am not inferring that Cormack McCarthy would use the word “yummo” in his writing (although it would be hilarious to find out he had:)
            I am just trying to make an analogy and point out the need for a variation of writing styles.
            There are seven billion people on this earth. The majority of the ones who read would pick Clive Cussler and Danielle Steel over Proust or Hemingway, just like they would prefer to read Rachael Ray to Harold McGee, if they are interested in food.
            I do not object to RayRay laughing all the way to the bank. She has found her niche. But I choose not to read her books, just like I choose not to read Clive Cussler’s or Danielle Steel’s, even though i do not object to the people who enjoy them (and I read a book or two by each, just to give them a chance – not my cup of tea, to use a cliche:)
            There is room for so much diversity in this world, and just like we need Hemingways and Harold McGees, we need Clive Cusslers and Rachael Rays, “yummo” included (and I cringe at the word, too)

    • I totally agree with you, Lana. Thanks.

  27. The word “foodie” supposedly dates from around 1980. I think it’s time to start using another word. Let me know if you have any ideas.

  28. I purposely named my newsletter (circ. 19,000) the Yummy report, because when I wrote for the SF Chronicle, the blue pencil demons always edited out the word “yummy.”

    Sometimes a dish is just plain yummy. GAW

    • So that’s the origin of the name! That’s funny, GraceAnn. I always new you had a subversive streak.

  29. Mouthwatering. Tasty. Flavorful. Wonderful. Terrific. Zesty. Fragrant. Great. Nice.

    • Those are good ones. I edit them out all the time, and I’m sure you do too, Harriett. I suppose “zesty” is more specific than the rest, but I just don’t like it. Too jaunty or something.

  30. I am guilty of watching TFN and CC way too much, but not without complaints about words used there like Sammy, EVOO, yummo and schtoop (stew and soup mixed together) that have been brought to our attention by ever perky and over-saturating Ms. Ray, but I do have a few others I’m not crazy about such as mouth-feel, which goes with your prior word of toothsome – what do these words mean that you can’t describe in another way? Oh, deliciousness is another. Is that even a word? Ok, Merriam-Webster has that listed as a noun, but it swear I never heard it before the culinary boom we’ve had of late.

    • Good ones, Roze. I wonder if these people on Food Network are affecting our vocabulary as food writers. You are one of several people to bring this up.

  31. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Layne Mosler, Wendi Mosteiko. Wendi Mosteiko said: @diannej considers The Worst Food Writing Words http://bit.ly/cIVTf6 [...]

  32. ugghhh Deliciousssss
    anything flowery where the writer’s head is in the clouds with how Wonderful the meal was makes me sick.

  33. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dine Magazine, Barbara Ramsay Orr. Barbara Ramsay Orr said: RT @DineMag: The worst food writing words. What would you add to the list? http://diannej.com/blog/2010/11/the-worst-food-writing-words [...]

  34. Fare.
    Eatery.
    And, God help us, drinkerie.

  35. What a fun read, Dianne! If we could eliminate drool-worthy from the food writing vocabulary, I would be most grateful. It is used so often, but tells us very little about the food itself.

  36. Dianne -
    Instead of writing a blog post as I should be right now, I am sitting her contemplating all these words that are making us crazy. What I am wondering now is if these words came about as the utterances of particular personalities because that is the way they actually talk, or were they “made up” to look cute and make us immediately think of their authors. It seems that many, if not all, of these words are reflective of a certain level of sophistication of thought and performance. There is a difference in the written word of an established, well-educated professional and the kindergarten level funster (there is another one to hate) type author. Maybe the words are being used for decorative effect and as an enhancement to their professional personalities just as Lady GaGa uses her glasses and get-ups. Doesn’t mean we have to read them, listen to them, or like them. Also doesn’t mean we have to use them. Argh!
    Karen

    • I hope you will get back to that post, Karen, and I bet you will not use any of these words. I don’t know how some of these words came about. It would be fun to find out.

  37. The words passionate and foodie always do my head in!
    On the other hand, I am loving the word “fouchebag” from a Grist article – http://www.grist.org/article/food-2010-10-27-an-artisanal-plea-from-a-fed-up-foodie
    Very descriptive!

  38. As a self-titled “foodie” I clearly take no issue in being called one. For me it sums up who I am in one simple word a food writer a blogger a recipe developer a stylist and a food lover- I hate being referred to as a chef or worse a home economist! For a long time I thought #FF on twitter meant “favorite foodie”! Whoops! I personally hate the use of the words “simple and easy” when describing recipes because it’s a relative thing. Not everyone is a knowledgeable “foodie” afterall!

    • We tend to use those words with abandon, don’t we Anna? Part of our sales pitch to convince people to make stuff. And you’re right, what’s easy for us is not always easy for others.

      Fine with me if you don’t mind being called a foodie.

  39. I read through most of the comments left here before going off to the links (and haven’t yet) but I would really have to agree with the baby words (sammies, evoo, drool-worthy, etc). Just plain idiotic, if you ask me, and as someone in my house would say, “They’re cute! And you know how we feel about cute!”.

    I will say that yummy would work when talking about kids’ food – silly animal-shaped cupcakes could very well be yummy!

    But as for words like delicious, decadent, sinful I must say that for all the blogs that I read I would much prefer someone describing something simply as delicious or mouth-watering than attempting to pull up a fancier, more precise or orginal word from their Thesaurus if it was the word they are most comfortable using. So many bloggers try and upgrade their language when it just doesn’t fit, it sounds forced and unnatural and that, I find, is even worse than using any of these over-used words. Of course, if talking about professional writers or even food bloggers who are considered better, more mature/experienced writers (and I don’t mean their age!) then we can expect more from them, but we really have to put this in context of who is doing the writing. And sometimes I do use these words if there is just not a better one for what I am trying to describe. – And once again I am agreeing with Karen and she says it so much better!

    • Jamie -
      I just read your last blog post – what a delight! And I was so surprised to read that your son has just returned from my part of the world. I grew up in New Orleans and now live about 75 miles up the Interstate. Such a small world this is! I hope that he enjoyed his stay and I know that New Orleans and especially the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward appreciate what he did while he was there. Thank you for including the link so everyone can read about it.
      Karen

      • Thanks so much, Karen! He is actually home until Saturday then will be returning to NOLA to round out his year and hopefully a bit longer. He absolutely loves it and I’m so proud of what he’s doing. The residents really love the group and so appreciate what they do. Small world indeed! We would love to visit before he leaves.

    • Yes, there’s no reason to use forced and unnatural language either. That goes to the point I was making earlier about writing the way you talk.

  40. First of all, I’m loving reading all the comments. (Drinkerie! Fouchebag!) I’m guilty of using toothsome too much, because I just can’t think of another way to describe something that just has bite to it. You know? Like an al dente pasta. (Well… I think I might have just found a simile.) I also overuse decadent, lush and fabulous, but I try to be conscious of it and swap them out for something that’s more specific. Like: What makes this specific food so lush or fabulous? It’s hard when my mind’s telling me, “This is good. That’s it.” I guess the key is to keep trying.

    • They are great, aren’t they? The best part of this blog is definitely the comments.

      Definitely keep working on it. That’s the key. And you’re aware of it, so that’s a step in the right direction also.

  41. [...] Update: Another article on this subject has been written on one of my favorite food writing blogs Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob, The Worst Food Writing Words [...]

  42. Savory. This word is a pet peeve of mine. Unless you’re referring to the herb, it simply means “without sweetness,” but its use as an adjective and stand-in for “flavorful” is rampant. (Flavorful. Another word that tells me nothing. Burnt toast is “flavorful,” isn’t it?) “This bacon is so savory and delicious and flavorful and yummy.”

  43. Dianne,
    I have really been enjoying watching all the comments roll in and see what people have to say. There are just so many words to say…I think it’s important to have words that you are aware of, just so you can try to use another. Matt is right, there are no bad words. Just lazy writers. Great post!

  44. [...] And yes, I know these aren’t things that most food bloggers talk about (and in truth, I would never use the words “deliciously yummy” anyway, I learned that in the past year!). But I feel like I can’t ignore [...]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.