The Roman Catholic Church used to have an Index of books (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) that the powers that be thought the world would be better off not reading. It was abolished in 1966.
Although such censorship might not be seen consistent with contemporary freedom of thought and expression, I think the Catholic Church was onto something when it comes to today’s food writing and TV commentaries.
So I propose that certain words and phrases that have seeped into many articles and most TV commentaries should be banned forthwith. It may be that I’ve become more curmudgeonly with age, but I find myself less able tolerate verbal laziness, intellectual indolence, failure of imagination and general feeble-mindedness the use of these words and phrases reveals.
Ok, I know, I know. There are those who have taken issue with my careless spelling, sloppy grammar and all-round lack of attention to linguistic precision. It was ever thus. ‘Carelessness spoils his work’ has been the cry from the beginning of my schooldays. I have wrestled with it ever since, and I have not won.
But there is a difference between an inability to spell properly (something I share with John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald among others, incidentally), and a feckless reliance on meaningless cliché.
So here is my own list of words that should be banned from ever appearing in print or on the lips of chefs, judges and presenters on TV. No doubt you have your own. Please feel free to add them.
Cooked to perfection – What does this actually mean? Used it in place of knowledge or thought. Not even God can cook things to perfection.
Crispy – the word is crisp. Crispy is an abject contemporary aberration.
Cuisine – Pernicious Frenchism. What on earth is wrong with the English word ‘cooking’? [Incidentally, there’s also an irritating tendency to pronounce ‘homage’ as if it were French (i.e. hom-arge), when there’s a perfectly sound word in English, ‘homage’ pronounced ‘homage’ (i.e. hom-idge)].
Decadent – Why is pleasure in food considered decadent? It’s a pathetic Protestant puritan fallacy
Drizzle – Drizzle is fine rain that falls from the sky. Olive or any other oil or liquid can’t drizzle because the viscosity is all wrong for drizzling. Dribble yes, Drizzle, no.
Heavenly – Slovenly, pointless phrase making. What does this tell us about the nature of the food being eaten?
Heritage/heirloom – meaningless menu marketing-speak (see earlier blog).
The Humble (carrot, onion, potato etc) – why should anyone of sound mind think of vegetables or fruits as humble? Laziness at its most lazy. Vegetables and fruits may be badly or indifferently treated, but in themselves they are noble, splendid, magnificent, remarkable, potent, life-supporting, life-enhancing, never, ever humble.
Melt-in-the-mouth – Almost invariably used to describe meat. Invariably inaccurate. If meat melts in the mouth, see a doctor immediately. See earlier blog on this subject.
Moreish – tedious cliché. The meaning has been drained out of it like water out of a bog.
Mouthwatering – See heavenly.
Nice – Nice! Nice!! Nice!!!. I don’t want ‘nice’. I want a word that tells me something about the food being described as nice.
Nom nom nom – this really is a remarkable combination of the infantile and the barbaric.
Pan-fried – Twaddle. What else do you fry in? A kettle? There’s frying or deep-frying, that’s all.
Scrumptious/Scrummy – The sign of intellectual bankruptcy. Not to be used even as a joke.
Tasty – The product of contemptible mental idleness
To die for – A self-evident absurdity. No food is worth dying for.
Unctuous – I’m uneasy about this. My friend Bob Granleese wants it in, but he probably sees many more unctuouses than I do; and I have been known to use it myself (vide. Pork ‘as unctuous as an undertaker’).
Foodie – I’m tired of this expression. You’re tired of this expression. We’re all tired of this expression. So why do we use it? And why do we think that someone weird because they’re interested in food and are happy to express it? The Italians don’t seem to thinks so. Neither do the French, Spanish, Poles or Portuguese.
NB. Moist is almost universally execrated. However, I have a soft spot for moist. What is a really good fruit cake if not moist?