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Profanity in food writing


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#1 Laurie Woolever

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:33 AM

I recently received a complaint from a reader who was extremely offended at the inclusion of the f-word in a quote from a chef featured in the summer issue of Art Culinaire. In this time of Bourdain and Ramsay, I'm wondering how other food media enthusiasts feel about the topic of profanity in the context of an article about a chef -- should a chef's quote or anecdote be censored to protect the easily-offended? The reader suggested that we append some kind of warning in the front of the magazine, rather than exposing them to an accidental reading of the offending word or phrase. Thoughts?
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#2 rich

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:43 AM

Profanity is the norm for people who have no other way of "colorfully" expressing themself. It's an old comedian's trick - when in doubt get a laugh by using profanity or referring to sex. That type of behavior is normally present in people who have low self-esteem.

I don't think a warning label is necessary - it would just attract more attention. X & R rated movies experienced a boom market when labels were added.

Edited by rich, 10 August 2006 - 11:44 AM.

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#3 Jaymes

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:47 AM

Profanity is the norm for people who have no other way of "colorfully" expressing themself. It's an old comedian's trick - when in doubt get a laugh by using profanity or referring to sex. That type of behavior is normally present in people who have low self-esteem.


I, too, miss the olden days when people were forced to call upon the services of a wide array of colorful, descriptive adjectives.

Rather than just the one.

:cool:

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#4 Oyster Guy

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:48 AM

I recently received a complaint from a reader who was extremely offended at the inclusion of the f-word in a quote from a chef featured in the summer issue of Art Culinaire. In this time of Bourdain and Ramsay, I'm wondering how other food media enthusiasts feel about the topic of profanity in the context of an article about a chef -- should a chef's quote or anecdote be censored to protect the easily-offended? The reader suggested that we append some kind of warning in the front of the magazine, rather than exposing them to an accidental reading of the offending word or phrase. Thoughts?

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I feel that to remain true to the interview process and journalistic integrity that censorship is not the way to go.
If in this day and age of massive media exposure that the reader is not aware of how chefs really talk, they are showing an amazing amount of naievity.
However, in the interest of not losing loyal (and overly sensitive readers), the idea of a brief warning makes sense from the point of view of the publisher.
But never censorship. I mean, you gotta be f------ kidding! :laugh:
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P.S. I have never had a chef that didn't use the F word
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#5 Gifted Gourmet

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:49 AM

Haven't we all 'grown up' sufficiently to read and ignore some of these exceptions?

How can one read a Bourdain book and not see those words, yet read for content, wisdom, and humor?
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#6 Csaville

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:50 AM

I think it depends on the context of the article and the editorial philosophy of the publication/website in question. However, to censor the person being quoted is not giving the reader the true essence of how they responded to something. Bourdain would not be Bourdain without some of the language. It's part of the persona and that's it. Take it or leave it...
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#7 Tess

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 11:52 AM

To me, a warning would be terrible overkill if it's just a single incidence of the f-word. The rest is a matter of taste, but I think you should edit quotations according to your overall style, e.g. if "fuck" would be very jarring to the expectations the house style and/or the style of the article raises, use f*** or something. The overall goal is readability. If you are quoting someone who uses expletives in every sentence, I don't think you have to reproduce all of those faithfully any more than you have to represent regional accents by writing out words phonetically, or preserve every grammatical mistake. You should probably indicate that they speak with profanities (or whatever), but there are ways and ways of doing it.

#8 JohnL

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 12:03 PM

Haven't we all 'grown up' sufficiently to read and ignore some of these exceptions?

How can one read a Bourdain book and not see those words, yet read for content, wisdom, and humor?

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I agree with you.
Profanity is part of our language --like it or not.
It can be used "artfully" or it can be abused.
It is used in everyday conversation.
Some people use it to good effect others abuse or
over use it.

I find it hard to believe that today--anyone is shocked by it.

However--good editing is often a plus and good editing is not censorship.

#9 Tess

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 12:11 PM

However--good editing is often a plus and good editing is not censorship.


I think it's all about editing. You don't want to make Anthony Bourdain sound like Mr. Rogers; on the other hand a single "f***" in print has more of an effect than a fleeting f*** said with a certain lilt, and three of them in a row is going to read like an awful lot.

#10 jsolomon

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 12:24 PM

I think what most of you are suggesting, bowdlerizing the offending term, is censorship, and therefore distasteful, unethical, and (hopefully, but not in America) illegal.

I don't have a problem with profanity in food writing, food speaking, or food decorating. It is true that many people have a better vocabulary than to use profanity. However, there are times when an appropriate interjection works just so. That is why we have so many words in the language. You don't say red when maroon is the word that works just so.

Also, allowing profanity provides for teaching moments for people who are so inclined to teach on profanity. Y'know the whole "timmy, if you say shit one more time, I'll wash your mouth out with soap!" Teaching moments.

But, if we are all meaning to be tolerant of other groups, there are groups that use more profanity than others, and we should be tolerant and accepting of them. If for no other reason than that, we shouldn't break into the profanity debate, except to defend it.
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#11 Grub

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 12:41 PM

While I'm not sure how this is uniquely pertinent to food writing -- and I'd hate getting caught going off topic -- it's just the English language. One should be allowed to use all the words in its vocabulary. Even the naughy ones.

Mind you, there's been some grand moments in censorship -- who can identify these ones: "This city, it's like a big chicken waiting to get plucked!" or "where did you get that scar tough guy? eating pineapple?" And of course: "This is what happens Larry, when you find a stranger in the Alps!" and to end on a culinary note, "This is what happens Larry, when you fix a stranger scrambled eggs!"

#12 Andrew Fenton

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 12:44 PM

Just to be clear: if it's an editor, rather than the government, that changes the language in a piece, it isn't censorship, it's editing. I don't think anybody has provided an example of actual censorship of food writing.

Edited by Andrew Fenton, 10 August 2006 - 12:44 PM.


#13 SuzySushi

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 12:51 PM

I agree with Tess:

...I think you should edit quotations according to your overall style, e.g. if "fuck" would be very jarring to the expectations the house style and/or the style of the article raises, use f*** or something. The overall goal is readability.  If you are quoting someone who uses expletives in every sentence, I don't think you have to reproduce all of those faithfully any more than you have to represent regional accents by writing out words phonetically, or preserve every grammatical mistake.  You should probably indicate that they speak with profanities (or whatever), but there are ways and ways of doing it.

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But an editor's job isn't easy. I once got called to task by an interviewee who, in being quoted verbatim (the interview had been taped), complained that I'd made her sound like an idiot! :wacko:
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#14 jsolomon

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 01:01 PM

Just to be clear: if it's an editor, rather than the government, that changes the language in a piece, it isn't censorship, it's editing.  I don't think anybody has provided an example of actual censorship of food writing.

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That's not necessarily true.

However, quoting people verbatim is a fantastic way to let them air their inner genius, or stupidity. That's why it is my modus operandum.
I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

#15 Andrew Fenton

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 01:15 PM

Just to be clear: if it's an editor, rather than the government, that changes the language in a piece, it isn't censorship, it's editing.  I don't think anybody has provided an example of actual censorship of food writing.

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That's not necessarily true.

However, quoting people verbatim is a fantastic way to let them air their inner genius, or stupidity. That's why it is my modus operandum.


See, an editor would change that to "modus operandi"-- or, I suppose, add a (sic). Neither of which is censorship, either.

Edited by Andrew Fenton, 10 August 2006 - 01:20 PM.


#16 srhcb

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 01:22 PM

The only place profanity has in relation to food is when you say, "Mmmmmmmm .... that's ****in' good!)

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#17 russ parsons

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 01:30 PM

1) quotes are cleaned up all the time, for the reason cited above: most of us, if quoted exactly, would sound like babbling idiots. spoken language and written language are only loosely congruent. this is not censorship, it is kindness.

2) just because your interview subject drops the f-bomb doesn't mean that you are obliged to transcribe. there are a couple of considerations: a) what is the nature of the publication? who is the readership? and b) how important was the word to the story? i can imagine times where the word would provide a necessary jolt that could not be supplied any other way, but i think those are few and far between.

3) in fact, in 30 years of journalism, I have never published a story with f*** in it, or even s***. and those words have been uttered in my presence a time or two. i don't think that the stories have been any weaker for that omission and i don't think that in any of those cases i was prevented from relaying a sense of the personality involved.

i do remember one time in my mis-spent youth as a rock writer when i interviewed ozzy osbourne and, truly appalled by the poverty of his language and imagination, i substituted a nonsensical word for every profanity. it got the point across well.

#18 BigboyDan

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 01:30 PM

Changing quotes is prima facie censorship; especially when using these thingies, ****, to replace letters of the alphabet, even though we all know what the word is.

Hint, hint.

#19 Jensen

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 01:31 PM

Doesn't complaining about a single word of profanity in a direct quote strike anyone else as being somewhat puritanical? It's just a word and, if that's what the person being quoted said, include it. Save the asterisks for when you really need them...

As for the vocabularies of the Ramsays and Bourdains of the world, well, let's just say it gets pretty old, pretty fast. It's not offensive; it's boring.

#20 johnsmith45678

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 01:36 PM

I think profanity is appropriate if it fits the context -- like when the shit is hitting the fan. But people who swear over mundane things annoy me (they're just using them for added effect), as do people who use faux swear words (frick, frak (popular with BSG nerds), etc.) in certain situations when a "colorful metaphor" would be more fitting.

BTW, I thought the Les Halles cookbook was kind of ridiculous, but kind of funny too.

#21 MarketStEl

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:05 PM

FTR, I think there is a slight distinction between bowdlerization and censorship--and I think that saying f--- instead of fuck is such a mild form of bowdlerization that I don't see why anyone should get upset over it. Most readers know what word is being alluded to, so no meaning is altered.

I too find overuse of profanity both tiresome and usually indicative of a lack of imagination, creativity, and oftentimes intelligence. Expletives are like spices--they should be used judiciously to enhance the flavor of a sentence or add a little pungency, such as when you've rambled on and on and on ad infinitum about something and quite likely put your reader to sleep with a bunch of droning, lugubrious, overwrought prose that says a lot about nothing, and after you've gone on in this fashion for, say, oh, about ten pages or so, you figure it's time to check to see if your readers are fuckin' paying attention.

(Edited to properly place expletive)

Edited by MarketStEl, 10 August 2006 - 02:07 PM.

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#22 fiftydollars

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:12 PM

Fuck yes, profanity has a place in food writing.

#23 Jaymes

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:12 PM

In my opinion, profanity is used now, among adults, for the exact same reasons it was used way back when you first heard it...on the schoolyard playground.

By people whose methods of communication haven't grown much since then, either.

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#24 johnsmith45678

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:16 PM

In my opinion, profanity is used now, among adults, for the exact same reasons it was used way back when you first heard it...on the schoolyard playground. 

By people whose methods of communication haven't grown much since then, either.

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Actually, school kids use profanity to sound like adults. Adults who use kiddie terms all the time haven't grown up.

#25 JasonZ

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:25 PM

The original responsibility for editing/censorship belongs to the speaker or person being quoted/edited. If all they have to say is profanity, perhaps they shouldn't be speaking ... and perhaps what they have to say shouldn't be quoted ... after all, shoudl we interview people unable to string a sentence together without making it X rated? Forget about whether it's offensive or not ... does it have any value?

Obscene words show up in every medium today, so much so that it's impossible to protect anyone from being exposed to them (whether they want to be or not) and so much so that the words themselves lose whatever "shock value" or "color" they may once have had ...

Within the next 5 years, I expect to see s***, f***, and whatever more difficult words replace them, televised on the National Spelling Bee, with no one batting an eyelash ...

If the King James Bible could describe incest, bestality, raping and pillaging of war, etc., permitted and prohibited "couplings" (most of which routinely occur on cable these days) without any vile language, why do we need to descend to making it common?

For a "fair balance" view, see this Slate article on the word "suck" (which once had physiologic and even cuisine related meanings ...) ....
"Suck It Up"

JasonZ (who has used all those words at one time or another, usually while driving!!) ...
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#26 docsconz

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:32 PM

Is the profanity gratuitous or is it an essential component of the expression? If the latter, keep it and if excessive then add a warning to anyone who might feel offended. If the former edit it out.
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#27 Andrew Fenton

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:37 PM

In my opinion, profanity is used now, among adults, for the exact same reasons it was used way back when you first heard it...on the schoolyard playground. 

By people whose methods of communication haven't grown much since then, either.

View Post

Actually, school kids use profanity to sound like adults. Adults who use kiddie terms all the time haven't grown up.


Yeah, Aristophanes, Chaucer, Joyce... a bunch of children, no doubt about it...

#28 Jaymes

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:40 PM

In my opinion, profanity is used now, among adults, for the exact same reasons it was used way back when you first heard it...on the schoolyard playground. 

By people whose methods of communication haven't grown much since then, either.

View Post

Actually, school kids use profanity to sound like adults. Adults who use kiddie terms all the time haven't grown up.


School kids, in my experience, used profanity to shock the rest of us. The rest of us whose hands, they hoped, would immediately fly to open shocked mouths.

And to demonstrate how brave and unafraid of the established authority they were. What wild rebels! What unconstricted, unrestrained, unafraid explorers into this vast, old-fashioned prudish landscape!

Get into trouble? Ha ha! Not me! Look, I'll say it again! I'm not afraid! Fuck!

Fuck fuck fuck!

And like I said, I don't think the reasons change that much. Okay, not at all.

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#29 BigboyDan

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:45 PM

As mentioned above, cursing IS part of the professional kitchen vocabulary. Most food writers are far more sophisticated and learned than most chefs... but, the food... matter of fact, the food would probably be less than it is if kitchen profanity were outlawed, especially in a French place.

#30 johnsmith45678

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Posted 10 August 2006 - 02:45 PM

In my opinion, profanity is used now, among adults, for the exact same reasons it was used way back when you first heard it...on the schoolyard playground. 

By people whose methods of communication haven't grown much since then, either.

View Post

Actually, school kids use profanity to sound like adults. Adults who use kiddie terms all the time haven't grown up.


School kids, in my experience, used profanity to shock the rest of us. The rest of us whose hands, they hoped, would immediately fly to open shocked mouths.

And to demonstrate how brave and unafraid of the established authority they were. What wild rebels! What unconstricted, unrestrained, unafraid explorers into this vast, old-fashioned prudish landscape!

Get into trouble? Ha ha! Not me! Look, I'll say it again! I'm not afraid! Fuck!

Fuck fuck fuck!

And like I said, I don't think the reasons change that much. Okay, not at all.

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And the kids who never swore (all two of them) were the ideal little teachers' pets, doing exactly as they were told. And when they became adults, they continued to live in their happy little insulated worlds (if reality never intervened).

Edited by johnsmith45678, 10 August 2006 - 02:46 PM.