This post on the Village Voice about words it hates and this post on epicurious about food cliches set off an obsession, turning what was once this bloggy list of ten words into an exercise in "wordspotting." I love collecting little rain droplets of haterade, so please do leave your (un)favorites in the comments, then go over to the Delicious Dictionary to make suggestions for the better.
Let’s discuss the art of writing, shall we? More specifically, let’s talk about writing a food blog. If you’re getting all fussy about the details of the syllabus, then the lecture topic for today is vocabulary, and if we’re going to drill right down to the core, we’re going to list words you should never use when writing on your food blog.
No, they include neither "cinnamon" nor "nutmeg." "Vanilla," however…
don’t skip ahead!
** note ** If your food blog consists only of pictures and recipes in standard listed, numbered format, ignore me. I’ll ignore you too, because that’s boring.
I'm Not a Writer. I Just Play One on My Blog
I have absolutely no business writing a post about how to write a food blog, or how to be a good food writer, or how to write at all, for that matter. I have no education, certification, formal training, or experience in anything remotely related to writing or to food. I was an economics major in college. Not the intellectualization for Domestic Goddess, home economics, but the widget-producing, consumer surplus-ing, policy arguing economics economics. I crunched numbers and played with models, and they weren’t even the pretty, dumb ones that I could “tutor.” In grad school, I only learned how to edit “I’m the best of breed in this 800-pound gorilla so you should monetize the ground I hit running before I paradigm shift my high-ROI value propositions to another category killer that won’t take my bandwidth offline” to just…"MBA." (I wanted to, but just couldn’t, work “synergy” in there.)
As far as professional writing experience, I have none. My first real job was consulting wherein the only writing I did was bulletized onto whiteboards so I could be in ur powerz, pointing ur pointz! Currently, I’m in marketing, and as you know, marketers make up words expressly because they can’t write. Let’s do some namestorming, ‘k? And food? I didn’t cooooome (close)…to Chan Dara.
Wow. If ever I actually did want to pursue a career in food writing, I should totally use this post as my resume!
Eating and Reading - More than Just a Rhyme
If anything at all, I am a fabulously talented food reader, and these are my thoughts from that perspective.
If you cook, then you know that one of a cook’s ultimate goals is to produce a dish or meal that is at once flavorful, colorful, creative, and accurately expresses whatever emotion or experience the cook was trying to achieve through food.
A food writer is like a cook. Words are the ingredients and the final result should be something just as colorful, vibrant, flavorful and creative as a gurgling blue cheese-blanketed blood red filet that weeps its rare grilled history onto the plate or a pristine piece of poached halibut lying anxiously like a virgin on a bed of pureed fava beans. (Ew. Yes, that was trying a little too hard.) Even with the most mundane of ingredients like tomatoes, basil and cheese, cooks look for the freshest, the brightest, the ones that will have the most impact on the plate. The cook wants to re-create an experience with food, and so too should someone writing about food pick words to re-create the experience in a reader’s mind. It’s not enough for a cook to present just a tomato, and it’s not enough for a writer to say “good.”
Given that I will probably be excommunicated from the food blogosphere for such an audacious post, such flagrant intellectual arrogance, as if I were some celebrated food blogger who has the authority to write on such matters, I’m…totally going to get started!
Top 10 Words You Should Avoid in Your Writing as a Food Blogger
(Because They're Too "Vanilla")
- good – This is just about the most generic word, food-related or otherwise, ever penned by man. Good? Good could mean it was outstanding, it could mean it was average, or it could mean you didn’t develop dysentery. If “good” is all you have in your arsenal of words, at the very least, use its comparative form “better” against something that was not as good. For example, don’t say “The coffee at Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. was good.” So the fuck what? At least say, “The coffee at Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. was better than Starbucks.” Just make sure they weren’t serving Starbucks.
- bad – If you’re going to throw out “good,” then go ahead and handcuff it to its opposite, “bad” before you hurl them both into the toilet. Bad is not only a generic negative term that could mean everything from slightly flawed to “may cause death or disfigurement,” but it has the added problem of having a positive connotation in an urban context. Just ask MJ. He’s bad, and in this case, we’re not talking about his cosmetic surgery gone awry. And don’t ever let me catch you writing “not good” to replace bad.
- best – Good is bad, better is better and the superlative form “best” is just nonsense, if that makes sense. There is no such thing as “the best” anything. Is it – whatever “it” is – really the best, as compared to say, Martha Stewart’s? Of course not, because Martha Stewart is the best, duh. I don’t care if your mother makes “the best” lasagne. Says who? You? You’re fickle. Tomorrow, of course your mother-in-law makes it better, and then what? What’s better than the best? Nothing! “Best” by itself to describe a thing is stupid because it doesn’t describe anything in detail. How is it the best? Is it the best looking? Best tasting? Don’t use “best” unless you add some qualifiers.
- flavorful – Everything you put in your mouth is flavorful if you can taste it. Hell, even water is flavorful. Mine is full of the flavor of Clorox boiled in a cast iron skillet.
- bland – The pasta was bland. Gee, really? You mean the kitchen went against every thing they’ve ever learned in cooking school and decided to serve it without a trace of sauce? In fact, they made the pasta themselves? Out of air? Wow, I guess it was bland. If it wasn’t salty enough, say “it wasn’t salty enough.” If it tasted like chicken broth straight out of can, say “it tasted like chicken broth straight out of the can.”
- tasty – Tasty is the same as “tastes good.” See number 1, and try again.
- delicious – This is my word. I made it up. I don’t care what Merriam, Webster, or any other etymologist says about chocolate covered
crickets. Don’t use “delicious.” It’s mine.
- spicy – You can’t use this word without at least explaining whether it was spicy with respect to spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, or spicy in terms of heat like registering so high on the Scoville Richterometer that you had firrhea for three days. They are different. You can’t just say “the coffee cake was spicy” because you could have made it with Tapatio and no one would know. P.S. Cholula is so much better than Tapatio.
- juicy – This is a powder blue terry cloth track suit, not a descriptive word that should be used to describe fruit, steak, or eggs. In either case, fashion or food, give it to Goodwill.
- mouth-watering – If it makes your mouth water, you’re one of Pavlov’s dogs. Try again.
Unlearn these words. Today. Use a thesaurus. It won't bite.
Oh, and by the way, while we’re talking about the finer points of effective food writing, you should never, ever try to weave a story about a restaurant or café into some pathetic post about blogging on your food blog. I mean, look at how unsuccessful I have been in my attempt to associate a list of too-generic food words with Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. in Studio City. First of all, there is absolutely nothing generic about Aroma Coffee and Tea Co. Secondly, the fact that you can linger over delicious coffee that you’ve flavorfully flavored with spicy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and enjoy a tasty piece of cookies and cream cheesecake while reading a book you’ve purchased from the bookstore with which the cafe shares a charming little patio is a stretch. And when I say “stretch,” what I’m really saying is that I probably won’t be going back to Aroma Coffee and Tea Co, even though it’s good, because it’s in Studio City.
P.S. By writing this post, I am in no way implying that I am a good writer, nor am I claiming that I have never used these words before. You know what they always say. Those who can't do, write on a blog.
Aroma Coffee and Tea Co.
4360 Tujunga Avenue
Studio City, CA 91604
Who Else Had Words with You at Aroma?
~ 38 Yelpers give it a collective 4½ stars out of 5
~ Six more Yelpers were just confused by the name
~ You can take your dog there
~ A Calendarlive reader calls it a "quaint little gem"