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Laurie Woolever

Profanity in food writing

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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?

It's fucking close to water.

I'd dearly like to know where this originated. I've heard it/seen/read it lots of places, but the earliest source I can find is from Monty Python's appearance at the Hollywood Bowl where they did the "Bruce" skit and tossed cans of Fosters (gag) into the audience, and explained why they'd brought their own beer, with that joke.

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"It's fucking close to water."

Thanks!

The answer to that question had me totally distracted from the original topic.

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Folks, this topic is now running through the same set of arguments. Please post only if you have something new to contribute to the discussion of profanity in food writing. Thanks!

I think this is a different aspect of the topic...I hope. :hmmm:

While I don't care what sort of language is used (other than cutesy, make that stop!) I do care about the specific words used for the badWord.

If you are going to say fuck, just say it! Don't say "f***" or "f*ck" or "the f-word" (which one? there are a lot of them in most peoples vocabulary) or "the f-bomb" (we know what bombs look like and that, sir, is no bomb). Just say fuck and get on with it. We all know what you mean, our minds fill in the blanks (otherwise you couldn't say "the f-word" with the expectation that your readers would understand) and it's just ink on a page.

At those times when you really can't say the badWord, then find another badWord you can use. When sending email to lists that might go through a corporate server, I swear in languages from science fiction shows--frell and frack are close enough, don't trip mail filters, and I don't have to resort to sh*ving we*rd ch*r*cters in th* m*ddle of my w*rds.

I have a theory that American English will one day be reduced to 28 words: the, word, and one word for each letter. The f-word, the s-word, the b-word, the l-word (oh wait, tv show), and on and on...someone said "the u-word" the other day and I am still befuddled. What the fuck is the u-word? :blink::wink::biggrin:

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The question on the table is: "Profanity in food writing: Does it have a place?"

The answer to the question is: "Yes."

If Kitchen Confidential -- a bestseller, acclaimed, loved, definitive -- is not conclusive proof of this, I can't imagine what could be proof of anything.

Russ, while I emphatically agree with everything else you've said here, I don't necessarily agree with your claim that Bourdain's writing in Gourmet doesn't suffer due to being stripped of profanity. I think the toned-down Bourdain in Gourmet is an inferior read to the full-on Bourdain of his books (or his eG Forums posts). I can't currently locate the issue of Gourmet where he wrote about how he doesn't like fine dining, but there were places where I thought it had been dumbed down by the change in demeanor.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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The question on the table is: "Profanity in food writing: Does it have a place?"

The answer to the question is: "Yes."

You're right. There really isn't a debate if we cast the net that wide. Personally, I don't see why profanity is a problem in food, or any other, kind of writing.

It seems like a lot of the responses actually address whether profanity has a place in food writing for newspaper, or mass market magazines, etc. I'm not sure, however, that any of these arguments apply specifically to food writing.

Some argue that chefs are unique in their use of obscenities. I doubt it. My experience has been that lots of professionals curse, they just keep their mouths clean in front of the customers. Chefs are the same. I've never had a chef visit my table and start cursing. They are always polite and well-behaved in the front of the house.

I bet even Tony had good manners when he visited a VIP table.


Edited by TAPrice (log)

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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Maybe the question should be, "Cuss Words in Food Writing: Do They Have A Place?"


"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office

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Maybe the question should be, "Cuss Words in Food Writing: Do They Have  A Place?"

Fuck that shit.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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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?

I would argue that it was meaningful. It tells us something of who this chef is: someone who will use a trite profanity in a feeble attempt to beef up an even more trite phrase, and who would probably be better advised to shut the f--- up and get back to cooking.


Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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As long as you don't cross the line, you should be able to say anything you want. I say give people a chance to show who they are, and look back and examine where they were.

Where do I draw the line? Children's books, racial epithets, discussions of people's religious beliefs, bullying.

That's the line I don't cross, others may differ, at least in countries where freedom of speech is the law of the land.

Edited to add: Okay, sometimes I do cross that line, but I try to confine it to those settings where I can edit it out later if I reconsider.


Edited by bob tenaglio (log)

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Offended by the F word fuck-em. The kitchen is a sweaty nasty place and chefs are a profane bunch. Once I was cooking with several women who were cursing up a blue streak. I think I said something like "What is this, fucking ladies' prison?" You can be sure they singed my ears as they urged me not to be such a delicate flower.

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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'm somewhat amazed at several of the prudish reactions in this adult forum. All words should be available to every writer. I was weaned on those who were outcasts in their day, Henry Miller, James Joyce, DH Lawrence. I loved Lenny Bruce. Hell, I even liked Terry Southern!

Those who would reserve colorful language to children and comedians are creeping or have already crept into ultra-crepidarianism. Stay below the sole.

And, damn, I am so happy to see this fucking thread here!


Edited by ChefCarey (log)

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This is an interesting topic and I think the subject's been pretty well addressed. I agree that profanity can add to a piece. Look at some comedians -- in many cases a well placed "fuck" can add to the delivery. In other cases it's just a weak crutch. To mix my metaphors, it's a lot easier to be "funny" or "entertaining" in the Applebee's sense when your set is laced with expletives. Same with writing.

To sort of extrapolate on the theme, what I'd really like to see in food writing is more objectivity that incorporates negativity to some extent. When was the last time you read a review that basically said "I wouldn't even serve this to Dick Cheney?" Everything's great, intriguing or interesting. Rarely is anything even described as pedestrian, let alone bad. If nothing's bad, how can anything be great?

The name of the publication escapes me -- it was some design magazine -- but the author was talking about an architect's new museum and he said the guy basically phoned it in. This was a multi-million dollar showpiece and the author took the guy to task. He laid out a well-constructed argument about why it was bad and even interviewed the architect in question and called him on it. Personally, I didn't think it was all that bad, but it was really refreshing to read an actual critical review for once.

I realize that a lot of publications, especially weeklies, live and die by their advertisers so there's a reluctance to run less-than-positive reviews or even the cop-out of "faint praise". What's the deal? Is it a situation of "This publication paid X amount to fly you to Spain/Famous Chef's Restaurant/Des Moines and by God we're going to get a glowing piece out of this?" There's so much mediocrity out there in terms of phoned-in menus that play it safe not to mention the Satanic proliferation of pre-baked/prepared food but I just don't see that reflected in the writing when it comes to restaurants. It's always tempered.

That said, I know there are exceptions. Robb Walsh, for one, does a great job of assessing a restaurant's strengths and weaknesses fairly. And no, you can't compare the French Laundry with Abe's Diner. I'm not talking about fine dining reviews. I'm talking about the $50 per person and under reviews because really, those are the places people go to more frequently.

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Yeah, I guess this has been addressed, but the question is one discussed in Journo 101.

Actually, there are a few questions. But the immediate one is should quotes be consored or not? Typically, they are. Often people will clean language for the purpose of a piece. And I'm not talking only about profanity. If you interview someone and they say..."Hell man, shit. We ain't got no business being in that there place," would you edit it? Typically, yes. Imagine if all quotes were exact reproductions of what is said. It would be impossible to read. However, it's technically libel to edit them at all.

If you want the essence of something, don't quote, paraphrase. This particluar case depends on the subject and the reader's expectations. Do readers regularly read profanity in your publication? If not, you can expect that people are going to be upset. Also, was it necessary? Was it central to establishing the character of the chef. I'd argue it wasn't. I'm sure you could have paraphrased to the same effect, or used other descriptive language to give the reader the image you were looking for.

I personally feel that important profanity should be quoted. Example, Cheney on the floor of the Senate telling....can't remember who to fuck off. A great quote and one that I'm happy the Washington Post printed. However, chefs say fuck like it's going out of style, so why was this particular use so poignant?

What was the quote, by the way?


“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”

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I too feel the full spectrum of opinions has been pretty well addressed ... except, perhaps. for the recurring suggestion that people who use a lot of profanity in their communications are either lacking in smarts or in self-esteem. I hereby offer at least anecdotal evidence to the contrary. As a youth, my expertise in expletives took a huge upward leap with my years at Harvard/Radcliffe, an educational institution whose students usually have little problem with either their brains or their egos. :laugh: My experience was that these Ivy League undergrads blasphemed with enough vigor (not to mention creativity) to make a sailor blush. I doubt it's changed much since I graduated in 1979.

Staying sort of on-topic: I'm one who believes expletive use depends on the publication's house style. In an alternative weekly I'd expect even the restaurant reviews to contain the occasional expletive, though I would grow impatient if the reviewer was just being lazy about describing exactly why s/he thought the food was shitty. In a mainstream daily, an undisguised expletive would cause me to raise an eyebrow--not because my morals were offended, but rather, perhaps, my sense of editorial taste. :smile: But if a Bourdain were being interviewed, even in a mainstream pub, I'd expect at least some indication, however discreet, that profanity was happening--otherwise, it just wouldn't be accurate reportage of the subject's personality.

Edited to add: Tony, if you're reading this, I hope you're more amused than anything else at being one of our examples ... :biggrin:


Edited by mizducky (log)

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I too feel the full spectrum of opinions has been pretty well addressed ... except, perhaps. for the recurring suggestion that people who use a lot of profanity in their communications are either lacking in smarts or in self-esteem. I hereby offer at least anecdotal evidence to the contrary. As a youth, my expertise in expletives took a huge upward leap with my years at Harvard/Radcliffe, an educational institution whose students usually have little problem with either their brains or their egos. :laugh: My experience was that these Ivy League undergrads blasphemed with enough vigor (not to mention creativity) to make a sailor blush. I doubt it's changed much since I graduated in 1979.

What I remember, Ducks, was the exposure to exotic expletives I received at Harvard.

I still remember a conversation a couple of Adams Housemates had about Arabic curse words one night. They were cracking up because a classmate had misunderstood the English translation of one particularly insulting one--the poor soul thought the term translated as "your mother's Volvo"!

You will all have to figure out what the actual translation was yourself.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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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?

After four pages of postings (a majority concerning Tony Bourdain), I thought it would be interesting to look at the original post.

Should quotes be verbatim? Should warnings be posted to ward off the too-sensitive? This is the editor's decision.

The editor's job is

1) to ensure that the best product is delivered from his writers. Appropriately worded, well structured, and to the point.

2) to ensure that the publication doesn't wander (or hurl itself) into a situation where it loses money, either through lost advertising revenue, decreased circulation, or litigation.

More editors get their raises on item 2 than on item 1. Could you sell Bourdain without the profanity (or the smoking for that matter, in this most politically correct of worlds?)

If someone is offended, does it matter to you? If yes, edit it down. If no (as in if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it....) then who cares?

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I run into this issue sometimes as a translator. One thing that drives me crazy when I watch an American movie here in Turkey is when someone says "fuck!," the Turkish subtitles say something like a mild form of "damn." And more extreme cases.

With the exception of the Tyrol, where the worst thing you can call someone seems to be a "sugar beet sucker" :) you walk down the street in any country in the world and you will hear profanity. And nobody dies from it.

Who's being protected here? Do we really need to turn a street thug (or a recovered heroin addict) into something he's not so that people can watch movies about such people or read what they have to say without :shock: reading a particular word.

I translated a film a few months ago with a character who was a drinking, violent, wife beating lowlife. To translate this guy's language as "oh darn" would have been absurd, and I was so relieved when they told me that because it was destined for a foreign film festival I could translate "honestly!"

So when someone gets all upset over seeing a very, very old English word once in print, I have to wonder how such a person functions in everyday life. Or perhaps they lead very sheltered lives.


"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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Some bloggers/writers are exhibitionists and cursing seems to be employed to grab a reader's attention, for others it is the natural part of their vocabulary. There are those who are sensitive to profanity because of their cultural upbringing and I think that a writer needs understand their audience to avoid offending them.

Unless it is meant to illustrate voice and character, like in this case, cursing can quickly become cheap.


Edited by melamed (log)

Cheers, Sarah

http://sarahmelamed.com/

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I am so fucking tired of the overuse of the worn-out word "awesome" in food writing.

dcarch

(Going to find a bar of soap to wash my mouth now. :raz: )

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