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Laurie Woolever

Profanity in food writing

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I don't have a problem with most of these individual words and I think that overt removal of them does amount to a form of censorship. However, in terms of food writing (or any other writing) the idea is to sell the article to an audience. Therefore, in some cases the use of fuck etc, is quite a useful devise (gritty, making it real) and obviously works well for instance, in other cases it will just turn your audience off.

I was reading a cookbook on Arabic food the other day and was quite surprised to see c*** in print. It seems that in some arabic speaking countries "cous" is slang for female genitalia. So you never quite know who you might offend.

What I find offensive in food writing, is beautiful prose with no data or references, which unfortunately gives the impression of substance, but is by an large just opinion.

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I'm not entirely sure that the assumption that people who make free with the vulgarities have an otherwise poor vocabulary, or that they will over time lose access to their broader vocabulary through lack of use, is valid.

Actually it makes me somewhat angry; it seems like a patronizing tool to persuade people to crimp their vocabularies, rather than to broaden them. Sort of analogous to "if you keep doing that, you'll go blind." Let me say that in my day to day life I swear like the proverbial motherfucking sailor and yet I have not detected any great atrophy of linguistic capability as a result.

I'd also like to say that it's not mere lack of imagination that leads me to the liberal larding of profanity, it's a choice about how I present myself and how I wish to be perceived among my peer group. I'd say with some of the celebrity chef personas in question, that there is a great deal of theatricality in the way they present themselves -the chef-as-rockstar, chef-as-thug persona. I think most people of reasonable intelligence are capable of deciding when and where it is appropriate to loosen the tongue and let fly the fuck.

Having said that, I think it's up to the editorial staff of a publication as to whether "fuck" flies in print. I do think it is losing its shock effect, but not to worry, there are always plenty of contenders for words that must not be spoken in polite company. It's just that the taboos shift around, not that there are no taboos left.

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

You may believe that, but the first time an editor tried that to me, they'd be fired on the spot. Singular subject, singular verb, singular object.

If the fundamentals aren't there, they don't edit me. For what it's worth, I'm all for addic [sic]--square brackets, or other items to contextualize when directly quoting.

And, I'm also all for profanity. I do strongly subscribe to Rogov's camp, however. The vast majority of the time, one really ought to eschew profanity. However, when speaking of shit, one must use the term shit.

And there are perfectly ripe times to say "if you change one more fucking word of mine, I'll run you out of this god-damned town!" Note the hyphen, and the use of the past tense--both correct. Pedantic, even. But, that's how I like my grammar.

Edit to add: When I play editor, I don't change words, unless they are misspellings or for agreement in gender, case, or tense. If I were editing this post, I would send it back to myself with the note "the last paragraph contains the word 'however' serially. You may want to change it." And leave it to the damned food to change if he wanted to or not.


Edited by jsolomon (log)

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Apologies in advance if any of this has already been addressed; I can see that the thread quickly turned to a back and forth discussion of "potty mouth," etc.

****

Profanity in food-writing, for the sake of adding profanity? No. But to quote someone when a well-placed f-bomb conveys more than a paragraph of "doggoneits," yes. But that's all writing, not just food writing.

Yanno, if you don't offend someone, you're boring. :smile: And some people will be offended no matter what you do; no attempt to 'warn' them will be enough. If you start out by publishing warnings, you can conceivably be asked to start publishing "cleaned up" versions of your magazine in case, you know, "children get their hands on it" (gasp!) And then it's a short leap to the Penthouse section of the newsstands, and Wal-Mart will refuse to carry the magazine ... :unsure: Oh, dear. This is just awful!

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

You may believe that, but the first time an editor tried that to me, they'd be fired on the spot. Singular subject, singular verb, singular object.

I don't understand. You wrote "modus operandum". There's no finite verb there, no subject and no object.

"Operandum" is either an accusative gerund, with nothing in the phrase to make it accusative, or a gerundive that lacks an antecedent. In either case, it's not Latin.

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Jaymes, I don't completely disagree that use of obscene expressions in writing and movies is sometimes associated with a lack of imagination, but some of the funniest comedians (e.g., Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin) couldn't have been so funny without cursing, and man, were they fucking funny! Besides, this seems to be about quoting chefs, and it seems that they curse a whole fuck of a lot. Just remember, the refined food you're having was probably conceived, cooked, and plated by coarse people with a lack of imagination in language. Though I have to say, when Anthony Bourdain wrote after a night in which he shared an orgy of food and wine with Michael Ruhlman that he felt like he had been "skull-fucked by a walrus," it was one of the funniest and at the same time most vivid and imaginative quips I've ever read. :laugh: Now, what would an editor do with that?

Which is why I said "most" and "usually" instead of "all" and "always."

Of course, soaring imagination and uncommon creativity rise above. And of course there is a place for intelligent cursing.

That's not what I'm talking about.

Edit -- And sign me up on the "editing is not censorship" side of that debate. "Editing" certainly can be censorship, but when one agrees to put one's "stuff" (including an interview) into any publication, one should know in advance what that publication's policies are. And one agrees to submit to editing to fit those policies.

That's not the same thing as having the warden or the government or other authority "fix" your writing, or ban it outright.


Edited by Jaymes (log)

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Mea culpa. I don't think there is a direct usage of accusative gerunds in English. Also, they don't directly translate to what I was saying, as they apply to wishing, saying, and perception. 'Course, I could be wrong there, too.

Wouldn't be the first time I had shit for brains.

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You may believe that, but the first time an editor tried that to me, they'd be fired on the spot. 

at the risk of extending this topic (but more on point than you might think), except in very, very rare cases it is the editor who has the sole power of hiring and firing. When writers fire editors, it is more commonly called "resigning".

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Being surprised or upset a chef should toss around a little profanity is pointless. You get your daily dose of profanity on network tv where they talk about getting laid.

Getting the point difficult when a chef uses profanity? Try understanding an engineer or scientist when they start speaking alphabet!

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You may believe that, but the first time an editor tried that to me, they'd be fired on the spot. 
at the risk of extending this topic (but more on point than you might think), except in very, very rare cases it is the editor who has the sole power of hiring and firing. When writers fire editors, it is more commonly called "resigning".

:laugh:

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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!"

Never one to resist a challange, and thanks to Google

where did you get that scar tough guy? eating pineapple; Scarface, Platinum edition

"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!" The Big Lebokowski, dubbed for Television

My favourite, which elegantly captures the mood of the film, is

"Fuck Maximilian" "I do" "So do I"

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As far as Profanity in Food Writing goes, did MFK Fisher ever use it? :hmmm:

SB (and she touched deftly upon some rather "seamy" topics in her work)


Edited by srhcb (log)

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As far as Profanity in Food Writing goes, did MFK Fisher ever use it? :hmmm:

SB (and she touched deftly upon some rather "seamy" topics in her work)

I feel that there's a vast difference between "food writing", where one might describe a snack of calf fries to be testicles or balls, depending on the tone of the peice being written, and "food quoting" as reporting verbatim a chef's remarks about a situation, recipe, or what ever.

I can make a sailor blush in three languages, and vulgarity in writing doesn't particularly affect me one way or the other, but to insert vulgarity just for the sake of vulgarity? Nah, no point.

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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?

Well said.

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i can't seem to get out of this one.

1) there's a difference between being shocked by profanity and feeling the necessity to repeat it in print.

2) i completely agree about tony, but there's a difference between a book and a general interest publication. compare "confidential" with his gourmet writing for example. personally, i don't think it loses all that much.

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at the risk of extending this topic (but more on point than you might think), except in very, very rare cases it is the editor who has the sole power of hiring and firing. When writers fire editors, it is more commonly called "resigning".

And the last time you saw my name as a writer was on what? If I were a professional writer, I would have starved long ago.

Instead, I'm a scientist, so I can eat! Oh, and drink coffee. :wub: But, best of all, people pay me to ferment! :raz:

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i can't seem to get out of this one.

1) there's a difference between being shocked by profanity and feeling the necessity to repeat it in print.

I'm a little confused. Is this topic about quoting someone who uses exceptionally witty short words, or is this about a professional (ish) writer putting down "it reminded me of nothing so much as shit"?

I am all for the former. For the latter, there are times and places.

Edit to add: pesky comma


Edited by jsolomon (log)

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As far as Profanity in Food Writing goes, did MFK Fisher ever use it? :hmmm:

SB (and she touched deftly upon some rather "seamy" topics in her work)

I would think that her description of a girl pushed over the edge of sexual arousal into a stupor, along with the description of the girls pubic hair as a autumn leaf, would have been considered quite profane at he time?

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Just for the sake of clarity, I'll be more specific about the situation that led me to this forum:

I quoted a chef saying, about himself, "My ambition blew everyone else out of the fucking water."

Did the word "fuck" contribute in a meaningful way to that statement? Almost certainly not. Did it occur to me that I should excise the potentially offensive word? Absolutely not. (Bear in mind that Art Culinaire has no official editorial policy against the inclusion of profanity; I would consider myself a big fan of all such words, when used well; and that in the last several years, such esteemed chefs as Charlie Trotter, Susur Lee, Andy Nusser and Mark Ladner have used profane language and been quoted directly in said publication, with no fallout.)

I'm never happy to have upset a reader (and, in this case, a longtime subscriber who has vowed to cancel his subscription), but at the same time, I had to "respectfully disagree" with his assertion that "such language has no place in a written text, no matter the circumstance" and "such language negates any educational or reference value of the text." And I "assured" the complaintant that future issues would almost certainly contain more of the language that has so upset him.

Carry on, then, with the censorship vs editing debate...


Edited by Laurie Woolever (log)

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.... I had to "respectfully disagree" with his assertion that "such langugae has no place in a written text, no matter the circumstance" and "such language negates any educational or reference value of the text." And I "assured" the complaintant that future issues would almost certainly contain more of the language that has so upset him.

Send them a copy of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" and copy of the censorship trial?

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Bourdain is a recovering heroin/cocaine addict. Would you rather have him as a clean & sober sounding profanity-free addict or as the salty-tongued clean-living rogue we now know & love?

Addicts often act the way people drive when they see a cop car, very carefully. Paradoxically, there is almost no surer drug test than someone adding the words "and shit" to the end of every other sentence.

To remove profanity would rob us of our best "bullshit detector."

In "Reach of a Chef," Michael Ruhlman explains the dilemma of chefs using profanity to let off steam - but also to assert control. When any authority figure uses abusive language to intimidate, can litigious intervention be far behind?

Finally, there's the subject of bleeping. The child who sees a curse word blanked out or bleeped is likely to review every vulgar word in memory, thereby putting all that is vile and foul in the forefront of awareness. Talk about negative reinforcement.

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Just for the sake of clarity, I'll be more specific about the situation that led me to this forum:

I quoted a chef saying, about himself, "My ambition blew everyone else out of the fucking water."

[snip]

I'm never happy to have upset a reader (and, in this case, a longtime subscriber who has vowed to cancel his subscription), but at the same time, I had to "respectfully disagree" with his assertion that "such language has no place in a written text, no matter the circumstance" and "such language negates any educational or reference value of the text." And I "assured" the complaintant that future issues would almost certainly contain more of the language that has so upset him..

Laurie, any stats on how many "I'm offended! Cancel my subscription" people actually follow through on it?

That one word in the quote gives me a way fuller picture of the person speaking, than it would have been without it. Yeesh, I wonder what this person has been reading, if that quote offended him/her so?

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I think that no one who has participated in this discussion shares the view of the upset reader, not even those of us who have argued that overuse of profanity (a) drains it of its vigor (b) is a sign of sloppy thinking or lack of intelligence.

Profanity does have its place in writing for publication, and any publication aimed at an audience of adults should be free to print expletives when and as they see fit. The ultimate decision rests with the editors.

As for the general point about profanity when talking or writing about food, I have a question for all of you:

Why is drinking American beer like making love in a canoe?

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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?

I don't see what the deal is. I would think people would have grown up enough to be able to cope with language used in the real world. I hear 5 year old kids dropping f-bombs all the time, I mean when I was in elementary school I had a pretty colorful vocabulary... I still do, often when I talk I'll use 'profane' vocabulary without even realising what I'm saying, it just comes from hearing the same talk since I was a little boy growing up in the neighborhood.

Chefs have turned into celebrities, more and more people want to see inside their kitchens and lives, but when this 'dream world' of fancy food and whatnot turns out to be false and they're presented with harsh reality now suddenly they're shocked...

And finally, I know when I'm quoted I sure don't want anyone editing what I say. You just present the REAL you, who gives a fuck if people like it or not.


Edited by Mikeb19 (log)

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Wow, there's an alarming amount of bluenosing on this thread. I wouldn't have expected eGulleteers to have such delicate sensibilities. Of course the decision to avoid writing that contains profanity is entirely up to the individual, but a couple of points:

- Anyone who is shocked by the Evil Effword, or who thinks profanity's only purpose is to shock, clearly hasn't spent much time around chefs and cooks. It tends to comprise about half their vocabulary, and they still manage to make their points amazingly well without shocking anybody in their kitchens. (If they couldn't make points to their crews, their kitchens wouldn't be running.) If I read a whole written conversation with a chef that contained no profanity, I'd assume it had been sanitized.

- That evil utterance is a fine strong Anglo-Saxon word with far more venerable roots than much of the language we're using here. Of course that doesn't mean you should employ it if it offends you, but calling its use "childish" is pretty far off the mark. I personally hate the word "disgruntled," but I don't feel the need to insult people who use it or demand that they excise it from their vocabularies.

- When a writer is quoting an interview subject, she has no right to change or "clean up" his language. I don't know that I would go so far as to call it censorship, but it's definitely shoddy journalism. Laurie did the right thing.

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