The Language of Food

The Language of Food

A Linguist Reads the Menu

Book - 2014
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WW Norton
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.
2015 James Beard Award Nominee: Writing and Literature categoryStanford University linguist and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky dives into the hidden history of food.

Baker & Taylor
Explores the history of culinary exchanges and how this food history affects the way modern people talk about food.

Book News
This book is an entry into the growing genre of popular food and travel writing for armchair travelers. The author is a professor of linguistics and computer science, and particularly in the early sections, the book will appeal most to readers with some academic intellectual background or interests (for instance, a chapter on how restaurants write their menus to appeal to various levels of snootiness goes into detail on how the data was analyzed). However, the book is filled with interesting facts and appealing stories, and the style becomes more informal as it goes. It will appeal to educated general readers with broad interests, or special interests in the culture of language or food. Annotation ©2015 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

A linguist delves into the world of food, describing the true meanings of descriptive words like “rich” and “crispy” when they appear on a menu and tracing how traditional and favorite dishes spread and changed through colonial shipping routes. 25,000 first printing.

Publisher: New York :, W.W. Norton & Company,, [2014]
Edition: First edition
Description: 246 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780393240832
Branch Call Number: 641.3009 Jur


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Harriet_the_Spy Dec 07, 2016

This is a great book for people who love food and words. If you're the kind of person who has ever wondered why a turkey has the same name as a country, or wondered where the word ketchup comes from, you will be truly happy to have read this book. You'll also find out the connection between foods that seem unrelated (English fish & chips / sushi), and will find yourself wishing to be invited to Jurafsky's house for brunch.

LPL_EliH Aug 28, 2015

Full disclosure: food is a passion of mine, and etymology is not far behind. So I might be a little biased in how much I loved this book. Jurafsky is a (non) classic triple threat: linguist, historian, and gastronomer. He delves into the rich, world-spanning history of thirteen different foods and culinary traditions; the result is a fascinating, in-depth explanation of how what's on our plate got to be that way. It will stimulate your mind-- and your stomach.

Dec 18, 2014

Yes I agree. This is one of the most interesting non-fiction books I've read recently.

Nov 08, 2014

While this topic might not sound appealing, Jurafsky makes the linguistics of food rather engaging.

He makes a solid link between a Chinese fish sauce of the Middle Ages and our own modern favorite, ketchup. Sound interesting? Did you know that fish and chips, the British delight, originates from a vinegary meat stew from Persia?

A quick read, this book is sure to make you think a little bit more about what we eat.

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Harriet_the_Spy Dec 16, 2016

Harriet_the_Spy thinks this title is suitable for 12 years and over


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