Let’s Take the Baby Talk out of Recipes

Dec 102013
 

Cute-BabyOh em gee! I am so tired of baby-talk words in recipe writing, especially:

  • Yummy
  • Sammy, and
  • Tummy.

While editing a cookbook manuscript for a publisher, I decided the author must have been a Rachael Ray groupie. How else to explain her use of these three terms, not to mention “easy-peasy” and exclamation points in almost every recipe headnote? At least she didn’t add “Yum-O.”

I’m wondering, is this “motherese?” Do men write like this? Would a man write “num num” and still be able to face himself in the mirror? (Apparently yes, because a man came up with this name for a sauce.)

Even worse, “sammy” is making its way into popular culture. Quizno’s has a line of flat-bread sandwiches called Sammies.

Some experts think there’s a benefit to baby talk. According to two researchers:

“…baby talk helps to create loving, emotional connections, allowing grown-ups to stop being grown up and become vulnerable, nurturing, endearing and silly. They say that baby talk shows that couples have “let their guard down, and are no longer afraid of being embarrassed around each other.” It becomes an intimate, exclusive language shared only between the couple.”

Maybe in the privacy of your own home. But please, not in food writing.

Do you agree or would you like to mount a defense?

(Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net)

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  78 Responses to “Let’s Take the Baby Talk out of Recipes”

  1. Agreed, except for easy peasy perhaps – I consider this more of a common British-ism, which I’ve managed to pick up subconsciously from reading lots of Jamie, Nigel and Nigella.

  2. I buy cookbooks (and read blogs) more for the writing than the specific recipes, so I would just close it and walk away. As an editor, you don’t have that luxury.

    Now if it’s geared to 2nd graders….

    • No I don’t, you’re right. I did take it upon myself to delete almost all of the exclamation points in that manuscript, because I knew the copy editor probably would not. I bet even second graders have their limits.

  3. OMG, what a great point, Dianne. I would so love to never again have to hear the words “delish” and “yummo.”

    • I think with Rachael Ray, that is her brand, and how she really talks. I don’t want to be a hater. So I’m giving her a pass. I just don’t like it when other people copy her.

      And thanks for “delish.” I forgot about that one.

  4. It all depends on the audience. It works fine for 8 year olds and they like all the exclamation points too. On that note, when I was doing my undergrad in Writing, every document I wrote that had an exclamation point on it – I had to vouch for every one of them when they crossed my writing teachers desk. They had to be ABSOLUTELY necessary and I had to have ruled out all other possibilities before using one – ever.

    So – no to !!! No to easy-peasy (not that British to be honest), no to Om nom nom (I hate this) no to yummy, no to tummy (unless for kids) and no to sammy …. what is that anyway? Short for Sandwich? We use Sambo here or if from the boonies they say ‘Sangwich’ with emphasis on the ‘g’.

    One might, however argue, that ‘voice’ is crucial when writing, so if the author truly does speak fluently in this manner, their writing might appear very stifled if they were to delete all that jargon …

    As always, though provoking chat here Dianne. Last exam for me today then final semester starts in January .. can’t wait to be all done with college and get back to work and writing.

    Happy Holidays from Ireland!! (those exclamation points are necessary)

    • You are allowed those exclamation points, Mona. Congrats on getting through your studies, and I hope you can relax over the holidays.

      Yes, target audience is critical to figure out. Unless someone is actually targeting their writing at children, the target is usually other adults. So while voice is a critical part of writing, I suggest that “motherese” might have developed from talking to children, not to other adults.

  5. YES. Please, let’s get rid of all the infantile language in food writing and recipes. I wrote about this three years ago and so did you.

    I am guilty of exclamation point abuse in my personal communications because I’m a super spazzy person but in my serious writing I am super conservative with them.

  6. So agree! I wrote an article for Rachael Ray’s mag once and the word “sammie” got edited into the piece. I was happy about the clip, but found it very embarrassing.

  7. Thank you, Diane. Among the several hundred books on my shelves and stacked on the floor, there are some original manuscript and printed cookbooks from the 18th and 19th centuries, and none of them talk down to their users. Even the cookbooks targeted at children address them as interested, literate readers. I think the difference is that those cookbooks were written as instruction manuals, not as fluff entertainment. I make no attempt to cook from every one of my books, but I have read them all.

  8. Agreed. Dianne you got my day off to a humorous start with this hilarity! I’m still chuckling. Also, though I did not comment on your Post last week I wanted to thank you for the informative links. I’m especially fond of the Headline recommendations site, a focus requiring improvement on my end.

  9. It’s funny that you mention this particular food star, I cannot watch her for this very reason. I become annoyed with the campy language. Not that I am above using slang occasionally, but the constant baby talk as you describe it, just seems sloppy. Maybe it’s thought of as branding or voice like Emeril’s “oh yeah, babe”, I don’t know (though that never annoyed me). As much as it doesn’t appeal to me, it obviously does to others.
    Oh, and the exclamation mark — stop the yelling! ;)

    • I watch Ray occasionally, just to see what she’s up to and to marvel at the empire she’s built. Maybe you are not the target audience. I suspect she is encouraged to build her own language to make it memorable, and people really do know who came up with EVOO and some of her other terms. Definitely, it’s branding, as you say.

      Re exclamation points, they are perceived as yelling but usually the person is trying to convey excitement. I fall prey to that on Twitter sometimes. 140 characters is not a good place for subtleties.

  10. I agree. I have probably even been guilty of this in the past. I just can’t read blog article after blog article with this kind of language. It wears me out. Thanks for taking a stand.

    Jodi

  11. I have this problem on the Internet, but honestly I didn’t realize it was so prevalent in print. Maybe I don’t even notice it any more, Dianne! Oh how I really hope that’s not the case.

    I have this issue on the Internet and (even more so) in email these days. I don’t really feel pressured to use ‘baby talk,’ per se, but to use enough exclamation points and smiley faces to avoid seeming dour or, worse, angry. I find the whole business to be completely exhausting! My editor and I have spoken about this many times. I find it is so important to seem accessible to my readers since I am asking them to bake their way into unfamiliar territory (especially with my most recent book, about gluten free yeast bread, which tends to terrify), but I don’t want to ever infantilize them. Baby talk is OUT (and I’m not even tempted, happily). But exclamation points and other somewhat folksy language is sometimes necessary. Thank goodness my editor is of a similar mind, so she helps me balance it all.

    All of this is to say that, although I think I get why people do it, there are better ways than baby talk to make your writing (and speaking) friendly. For crying out loud, I never even spoke like that to my kids when they were babies!

    This is a good one, Dianne!

    Nicole

    • Oh yes, it’s not just online. It’s crept into headnotes. I don’t mind the occasional exclamation point. But honestly, this writer included them in about 2/3 of the headnotes. Even with terms I really don’t like, such as “perfect for every occasion.” Why does that need an exclamation point? Because it’s such a cliche and she wanted to liven it up? Maybe.

      Good for you for not speaking that way to your kids.

  12. Thank-you. A person who interviewed me once quoted me as saying “Awesome this and awesome that.” I had him take it out because I never say that word except in jest. So I feel for the person above who had “sammie” edited into her article. I read food blogs for the writing. I tend to gravitate to blogs that don’t have a plethora of “yummy.”

    • Someone added the word “awesome” to your interview, as thought it was your own word? Wow. That is super not-awesome.

      For this book, I took out her mentions of “sammie” and replaced them with “sandwich.” Maybe the author thought she was being cute. She was very perky. But I just couldn’t take it.

  13. Amen. Amen. Amen. Thank you for writing this post, Dianne.

    • Hah! I didn’t think of this post as a prayer, but perhaps if enough people prayed for the end of baby talk, it would help. Thanks.

  14. As a food blogger and recipe creator, I completely agree with what you’re saying. Another word that make me cringe in the food world is noms…you are not the Cookie Monster, please don’t say this. When I am jotting down a recipe on my index card, at home, for my own personal use, I do write EVOO for extra virgin olive oil, H2O for water and so forth. When you are typing out the recipe on your blog or for your manuscript, please take the time to write these out. Although, I know what you mean, to me, it feels like you want to share a recipe but cannot be bothered to write it all out. Just don’t. Thank you. I think this is a great post!

    • Thank you Laurie. “Noms” is another baby talk word. I couldn’t bear to include it. Do food bloggers actually use it in posts? I suppose is it a variation on “num nums.” Oh gosh I’m making myself naseous.

      Yes, it’s fine to use abbreviations in notes, but people do get confused these days, even over whether T means tablespoon. Seriously.

  15. It’s so unnerving when we’re addressed in “mother-ese” or “stupid-ese” or as simpletons. It would take me one recipe with one of the ridiculous “ummies” for me to drop the book, hopefully not on my toe, and revert to my old classics. If the author has to spruce up the recipe by making it cutesy, the recipe will surely be too cute for us to waste our time.
    All of this sent me back to one of my favorite treatises on food in Delia Ephron’s How to Eat Like a Child–proof that you can be entertaining without sounding infantile and dumb.

    • I think authors think this is fun writing! But they’re wrong. Also it makes them seem infantile and people may take them less seriously. You are doing that right now, thinking the recipe will not be worthwhile. I don’t blame you.

      And I love Delia Ephron, sister of the goddess Nora. Thanks for bringing her up.

  16. Okay, so I went to the Urban Dictionary to figure out what a “sammie” was (because I didn’t get the initial connection in the Quizno’s reference), and not only did it not define it, it added more: veggie, taters, nanners. maters. I understand the first two, and assume “maters” refers to “tomatoes.”

    This goes back to a basic tenet in publishing: who’s your primary audience? Who’s your secondary and tertiary audience? Are you trying to entice people in or shutting them out by showing how smart you are? It’s not smart to shut out readers. They’ll move on.

    • Good lord. What the heck is a “nanner?” I can’t even figure it out. And why on earth would someone call a tomato a “mater?” This is scary, Howard.

      I suspect that even if a blogger’s primary audience is mothers, they are actually adults and not children, and should be addressed that way.

      • I’m superlate, but if you never found out, a “nanner” is a banana. Both that and “mater” for “tomato” are from the American south. They’re things my grandparents said, though if you’re not at least a 65-year-old person from backwoods Appalachia, I’d prefer they not be used.

  17. Great post! It’s about time someone called the baby-talkers to it. Even in real life or every day conversations, I cringe when adults baby-talk to kids or pets. Thanks for this article, Dianne! Happy holidays to you :-)

    • Thanks Betty Ann. I don’t mind the talk to children or pets. I just mind it in print, to adults.

      Happy holidays to you as well.

  18. Yes! I’m so embarrassed for the guests on her show when she high-fives them at the end of a segment. It makes me want to stick my head in a pot of her “stoup!”

    Best,
    Alice

    • Hilarious.

      I don’t mind that she calls it “stoup,” actually. It’s clever and people immediately know what she means. And whenever they hear that word, they think of Rachael Ray. Pretty smart.

  19. Ha! Funny, I am more put off by the use of words like Squee. I find those trying so hard to be folksy, genuine and overly self deprecating come across as the most disingenuous of them all!

    • Oh gosh, I forgot about “squee.” Or maybe I was trying to blank it out. I have enjoyed the word when used ironically in high drag by gay men, though.

  20. Yes Please! I really don’t get it, unless you are specifically aiming at children I find it extremely irritating. I usually avoid books that use such language and would never use such terms on my blog.

  21. I so enjoyed this post, Dianne. I don’t mind some slang in food writing, but am not a fan of infantile language. I work at keeping the tone of my blog breezy, occasionally witty, but always intelligent (I hope). I use slang sometimes and take some liberties with grammar in the name of voice, but I don’t use baby talk in my speech or writing. I just did a search of all my posts and found exactly one “yum” and (whew) zero occurrences of “yummy.” That said, there’s room for all manner of styles out there. I just won’t read them all.

    • How funny that you searched your blog for baby words as a result of this post! Thankfully you are on solid ground, Marlene. You probably already knew that.

      I suppose I can’t stop someone who wants to write in an infantile manner. But I’d like to.

  22. There is a lot going on here with this post in regards to language and how we communicate about food.

    I think Howard makes a good point about audience.

    Although I don’t use “those words” you reference, it is more than common these days in Social Media-Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and certian types of blogs.

    To answer your question, I agree. I’m glad you are editing out Dianne. Whether this type of slang is meant for a specific audience, or not, it’s not professional in my opinion.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking content, as always.

    • Oh yes, the language on social media is much more casual and full of exclamation points. That’s fine. I just don’t want to see it in print, or even in blogs.

  23. I think it comes down to demographics, frankly. Speak to your audience. If chefs or food writers were my demographic, I would use proper English. My recipes would be well presented, clear and concise. However, if I’m writing a recipe geared towards a group of panicked 30-somethings, toddling into a kitchen for the first time, I’m going to take on a very conversational tone. I’m going to embrace the social vernacular of today. On one level, I grimace every time the words “nom nom” … on another level, I know that this is a cute and harmless term that millions love, enjoy and perpetuate. Rather than working to “rise above” and risk boxing those people out, I’ve adopted a fun and whimsical voice deliberately geared towards getting people back into their kitchens!

    It really bothers me that cooking skills are disappearing due to the prevalence of convenience foods. If I have to resort to endless noms, nummy nummies and amazeballs to do this, I’m willing to do this. It’s my way of injecting endless optimism and positive reinforcement. It’s a recipe and a hug, all at the same time. Honestly, at this point, I enjoy it! It’s my hope that true writing bleeds in between the awesomesauce and warm fuzzies. However, those terms are very much included to keep people feeling comforted and included.

    It would be wrong to say these terms don’t have their place. They do have an audience. They may just not be yours.

    Dianne, love your book and blog. Respectfully, it’s tOOOootally the hibz, my Boo! ;)

  24. I had to laugh at the Rachael Ray groupie comment! :)

  25. Hi Dianne, I can’t help but roll in laughter… But hold on I wasn’t too sure myself whether I’ve done the same in my blog so I searched the word ‘yummy’ and 6 posts popped up out of the 150 posts that I’ve written and thankfully all of these were in my first year of blogging. So I can be pardoned, right? No num num for me please.

    PS: 20 posts with tummy, but am certain these were used in a manner of good literature!

    • Hi Ishita! Glad this gave you a good laugh. Six out of 150 posts is not bad at all. You’ll have to work on those 20 posts with tummy in them though. I’m not sure good literature applies.

  26. I find it impossible to watch Rachel Ray because her language drives me crazy. I can’t stand “yum-o”. Although I’m guilty of having used “delish” once or twice, I’m not fond of it. And forget “sammies.” I don’t get where all this cutesy talk came from.

    • I really don’t mind her. My point isn’t to slam Rachael Ray. Re where this baby talk came from, I think there are at least 2 sources: One is how we have to reduce names for convenience now, ex. KFC. Another is moms. Are there others?

  27. I think everyone gets to write the way they want – and attract the audience that responds to their style and substance (or lack thereof). Mostly I’m tired of authorities who want to tell others what and how to express themselves. You (and I) may not respond to a specific style – but perhaps others do. So – who cares?

    • Hello Barry. Nice to hear from you. Of course people are free to write whatever they want, but typically the people who hire me, take my classes and read my blog and book are interested in improving their writing. That is why I am poking fun at people who write in baby talk. Maybe those who like this style haven’t left any comments.

  28. Dianne, I feel compelled to let you know that nanner (pronounced nar-na) is a banana. Fine for when I’m asking my 2 year old niece if she wants one, but not for a book.

  29. All of this baby talk makes me want to baaaaarf.

    ;)

  30. Agree agree agree!!! Recipe writing, blogging, writing in general except, as Mona said, it is targeted to kids. I wrote about this on my blog and talk about this in my workshops. Talking baby talk (or teen talk) is a no-no for any adult writing for other adults. It is, among other things, annoying and extremely tiring to read. It is degrading to the reader, as if the writer is saying “you have the mindset of a child”. It also does not work across cultures or demographics, so if one is blogging or writing for a large audience, just don’t do it.

    And you know something, I never ever spoke to my children like this. Ever. Which could be why they have always spoken very well, correctly and had a wide vocabulary and grasp of language. Why does an adult think that a two-year-old would relate more to nanner than banana? Sammy more than sandwich? Seriously…

    So glad you covered this topic!

    • Thanks Jamie. You bring up some good points. I wonder where all the people are who disagree with me? Only one was brave enough to comment.

    • Jamie,

      I’m so glad you said that. I never spoke to my children this way either and they have an extensive vocabulary and excellent grasp of grammar. I don’t understand using simplistic words when speaking to babies and children unless that’s the way you want them to speak as they grow up. Why say nanner to a 2 yr. old when you’re just going to turn around in a few years and teach them to say banana instead? Infantile speaking and writing drives me crazy and not just in food writing. I deplore text abbreviations…why is it so difficult to type YOU instead of U? Or your instead of ur? But that’s just me, old-fashioned I suppose.

  31. I very much agree. It is a rare occasion that a baby talk kind of word is appropriate. In a way I think some use these kind of words to cover up the fact that they don’t know what else to say. :-)

    • I don’t know, Susan. Perhaps because our language has become so casual, they just apply it to their blogs, hoping that girlfriends and maybe other young mothers will like it. And maybe lots of them do.

  32. I find it amazing to see what creeps into our vocabulary. But baby talk should be kept out of recipes! I do a lot of food writing in Spanish in South America and I’ve never seen any baby talk used.

  33. I think sometimes it works, but personally I have never like to write YUMMY. I wrote a recipe once and an editor placed in “yummy” – I was appalled and offended as I would never say or write that. I think it really depends on the person readings preference, but I think removing that language from our vocabulary wouldn’t hurt haha

  34. Oh, I love this whole entire thread. Baby talk’s gotta go. I think it not only talks down to the reader (audience issue nothwithstanding, and everyone’s already addressed this brilliantly) but it makes the writer/blogger/personality look sort of silly and less than smart. Why are women willingly infantilizing themselves? Own it. Own your knowledge. Don’t rely on silly talk. Thank goodness for people like Dianne who are taking these things out. And as for the last poster, I can’t imagine the word yummy being inserted by a good editor. It doesn’t tell us anything specific. That’s part of the problem with descriptives like yummy and delish. They take us away from specificity; it’s like saying something is interesting. When I taught college writing (my focus was on food), I always always circled those kinds of empty adjectives and would say to students, unpack this! What do you mean? Can you describe with more precision? Your delicious may not be my delicious. What makes it delicious? And so forth. Thank you for this, Dianne!

  35. Absolutely agreed. “Yummy” especially makes me cringe. “Delish,” I’ve been guilty of once or twice myself, but I’ve reformed. :) Baby talk is the mark of an amateur, say I.

  36. Now that this thread has turned toward a discussion of baby talk, wow, do I have a lot to say. Baby talk isn’t necessary, ever, shouldn’t even be the chosen language when you speak to your dogs. If your children grow up hearing you address them in the same manner as you address each other, they will learn how to speak. What a concept!

    When my third child was born, my roommate’s husband spoke really poor English and I blamed it on his rebellious period interfering with his college education. (It didn’t interfere with his ultimate monetary success.) Then I realized that my four year-old, waiting at home, spoke better than he did. He spoke the way we spoke to him and his sisters, from the minute they were born.

    If you want to use silly talk, keep it oral, don’t write it down where it will remain forever; the terminology can become dated, but the recipe could be timeless.

    The baby term for a banana reminds me that even to Freud sometimes a banana was just a banana.

    • Joanne, you have a strong opinion! I can’t comment on whether to use it with babies and children, since I don’t have any, but I haven’t used it with other people’s kids. The point though, as you have said, is not to resort to it in print.

  37. I am with you Dianne. This silly talk has to go. It makes me cringe when it appears in print even more (if that’s possible) than when people use it when referring to, or talking to, their pets. When my kids were growing up, I remember them looking quizzical when a parent would use that silly talk in addressing them. They wondered why a grown-up would talk like a kid and I’ve got to wonder why a cookbook author, blogger, or TV personality would think it is becoming to act and talk like a 4 year old.

    • Even though it’s just the occasional word here and there, it is annoying, I agree. Re quizzical, I believe you have used it correctly. ;-)

  38. I agree. I’d also like to get rid of “veggies” please. I’m a baker, not a cook, so it doesn’t come up much when I’m baking but I love looking at all recipes and reading about food and it makes me a little nuts. Can we just call them vegetables, or be vegetable-specific?

    Tummy is not a word any adult should ever use, unless addressing a group of kids.

  39. […] Again, to be clear: nobody does this in their normal life. It is all completely contrived and fake. You know who does do this? Advertisers. Art Directors for catalogs. People who publish magazines that prey upon your insecurities, offering aspirational visions of domestic perfection, all laughably unattainable. People who want your money. They use these devices because they are powerful; they inspire desire. And yes, they drive traffic, I get it. But what are they driving traffic to? A blog that looks just like about ten thousand other ones. It’s dreadfully boring and a waste of everybody’s time. Remember in junior high, when you had to have the sneakers/jeans/band T-shirt that had been decreed as the cool kind? Same impulse, but in ostensibly adult people. As I put it in Sean’s thread, much of what I see is a bunch of grown-ass women playing dress-up and throwing tea parties for each other. It’s gross, as is the attendant “nom nom” baby talk that’s also been addressed elsewhere. […]

  40. There has to be a short way of saying “juvenilization” or “infantilization” — well, come to think of it, “dumbing down” is at least a start. Whatever you call it, there’s too much of it in cookbooks, food blogs, food magazines, etc. ad nauseam. It makes life hideous for people who just want to read non-itchy-koo writing about food by and for grownups.

    • Hello Anne! Lovely to hear from you. Yes, let’s ban “itchy-koo” writing. Maybe we should make up bumper stickers.

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