The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu [NOOK Book]


Stanford University linguist and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky dives into the hidden history of food.

Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University ...

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The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu

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Stanford University linguist and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky dives into the hidden history of food.

Why do we eat toast for breakfast, and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist.

Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like "rich" and "crispy," zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.

The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky's insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils that contain the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world.

From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.

Engaging and informed, Jurafsky's unique study illuminates an extraordinary network of language, history, and food. The menu is yours to enjoy.

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Editorial Reviews

Bee Wilson
“Writing with knowledge and wit, Dan Jurafsky shows that the language of food reflects our desires and aspirations, whether it’s on a fancy French menu or a bag of potato chips.”
Tyler Cowen
“The Language of Food is excellent, a fascinating read from beginning to end. From pastas to pastries, you can't resist Dan Jurafsky's insights into what we say about food.”
Deborah Tannen
“Mix equal parts fascinating history, surprising etymology, and brilliant linguistic analysis, add a generous dollop of humor, and savor The Language of Food. You'll never think of ketchup, French fries, fish and chips, or toast in the same way”
Susie Bright
“Dan Jurafksy hits the sweet spot of intellectual rigor and spoon-common interest in The Language of Food. Whether quoting from a menu item, "Dirty Girl Romano beans," or decoding the food vortex of Portlandia, Dan makes your tongue drop. The chapters on sherbet, toast, and potato chip packaging are too delicious—you'll be scanning the supermarket as Dan's new protégé. Two thumbs up, multiple hearts, five stars, and beaucoup butterflies!”
Rachel Laudan
“Delightful. The distinguished linguist Dan Jurafsky brings a battery of skills to reveal the far-flung links of many of our dishes, to reveal how potato chip advertisements work, and to give an insider’s guide to reading menus. I couldn’t put this book down.”
John McWhorter
“Why is the entrée served in the middle of the meal instead of when you 'enter' it? Why would anybody put a feather in their hat and call it macaroni? The Language of Food answers these questions and teaches so much more about a vast wing of our everyday vocabulary that we so seldom stop to think about.”
Mark Kurlansky
“Ever since I heard the phrase 'fresh frozen' I have been wondering about food language. Now Dan Jurafsky has taken on the subject with scholarship, wit, and charm, making The Language of Food a very engaging book.”
Kirkus Reviews
The evolution of the names and ingredients in popular foods.Have you ever wondered why ketchup bottles have the word "tomato" on them, why you "toast" to someone's health or why salt is used in the process of making ice cream? In this thoroughly researched book, Jurafsky (Linguistics and Computer Science/Stanford Univ.) answers these questions and many more as he explores the interconnected worlds of food and words. Combining history, geography and etymology, the author travels the world searching for the origins of ethnic dishes and provides readers with a fascinating study of how foods, and the words used to describe them, have been modified over the centuries as cuisines have been absorbed into local cultures. English, Dutch and Portuguese sailors traveled to Asia and brought back fermented fish stews and sauces that added new flavor combinations to the European diet. Spices from India and the Middle East were traded around the globe, and the New World introduced turkey, corn and avocados to the large food-trading houses in Europe. Combining history with modern computer programs to analyze data, the author examines the subtle nuances in the language used on a menu, which can help indicate whether a restaurant is expensive or not. He also studies the way negative words used in product descriptions help push consumers into thinking one brand of potato chips is far superior to another, when in fact, both brands are made from potatoes cooked in oil and covered in salt. Jurafsky also includes intriguing recipes for dishes such as a version of fish stew from 13th-century Egypt or a 1545 recipe from a Tudor cookbook called Chekyns upon soppes ("basically chicken on cinnamon toast"). A highly informative and entertaining compendium of food and word facts sure to appeal to foodies and etymologists alike.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393245875
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/8/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 59,687
  • File size: 5 MB

Meet the Author

Dan Jurafsky is the recipient of a MacArthur "Genius Grant" and a professor of linguistics at Stanford University. He and his wife live in San Francisco.
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