John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Does 'foodie' make you cringe?

Normally, I would shun reality shows as I would the fetid corpse of a raccoon at the roadside,* but my wife and son are addicted to Top Chef and have gradually drawn me into following this kitchen soap opera. But while I think that the producers manipulated the show to ensure a final contest between the Voltaggio brothers (and Jen and Kevin got a raw deal), I must make this clear: I am not a foodie.

I’m not sure that you want to be, either.

Foodie has been around for almost thirty years, and many people use it, without irony, to describe themselves. But the widespread use of the word has also provoked resistance. Let’s see where it falls on the range of terms for eaters.

A gourmet is a knowledgeable diner with refined tastes, at the highest level an epicure. A gastronome is also a connoisseur, perhaps more knowledgeable about the history and techniques of cookery than a gourmet, though the terms are often used interchangeably. A gourmand — frequently confused with gourmet — is someone who tucks in to food and drink enthusiastically, a trencherman, even a glutton at the extreme end of the range.

And now we have to fit foodie in, by examining connotations. Gourmet, gastronome, and epicure, all venerable words, suggest a diner who is thoroughly acquainted with traditional cuisines. As such, the words hint at pretentiousness or class-consciousness. A foodie appears to be an enthusiast for novelty, willing to try new things and aware of what is currently fashionable; he or she may well be pretentious, not in the traditional manner, but in the manner of one who is and must be au courant. The foodie may or may not have specialized knowledge — I am gathering this from blog comments by self-described foodies — but may simply be someone who likes to talk about cooking and dining out. The term is too loose to be terribly helpful.

That –ie suffix is also a problem with the word. In English, it often represents a diminutive, and to call oneself a foodie is to suggest fandom, perhaps to a risible degree. Think Trekkie.

Like it or not, use it or not, we appear to be stuck with it. As we are with reality shows.



*Sorry, Sarah Kelber.

17 comments:

  1. I think I might understand more than anyone why people would choose not to watch reality TV.

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  2. Thank you for your understanding Sarah.

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  3. Both my sons (and several of their colleagues and friends) who work in film and television call them "un-reality" shows. They also note that this is NOT unscripted programming; it's just that the scripts are written by producers and assistant directors rather than scriptwriters...which is something like trying to run a newspaper without editors. It simultaneously reduces expense AND quality.

    As for terminology related to enjoyment of food...thanks, John. I appreciate the clarification.

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  4. Are foodies the people who have brought us the term "veggie"?

    Barbara Phillips Long

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  5. Foodies brought us "locavore." I'm not sure which label repulses me more: foodie or fashionista.

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  6. Surely veggie has been around longer than foodie? Maybe to mean vegetarian, though, it hasn't...

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  7. Please say we're not stuck with "foodie." This is a pet peeve of mine. It sounds like something a three-year-old child says when he's hungry.

    I love jazz, but I'd never call myself a "jazzie." Also, don't forget the connotation of addiction ("alkie").

    As you've pointed out, there are already words for this -- "gourmand" suffices.

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  8. I expected a more spirited defense than that, Sarah.

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  9. Those so-called Chef program are just "Dog the Bounty Hunter" with food. Read a cookbook instead.

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  10. In all, I'd rather the neologism, however tawdry, than dilution of definition in an established word.
    I guess that makes me a wordie.
    -jl

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  11. "...but my wife and son are addicted to 'Top Chef' and have gradually drawn me into following this kitchen soap opera..."

    You are, therefore and for better or worse, a foodie. QED.

    It is not a new thing or a trendy thing, and it is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

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  12. "Trekkies" are said to prefer being called "Trekkers." So maybe "foodies" should be "fooders"?

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  13. To round things out, some comments from the Facebook link to this post:

    Brian Shea: I hate foodie. Hate it.

    Monty Howard: We dislike the term intensely.

    David Faldone Craig: Yum! We like food!

    Lissa Potter: Doesn't bother me (although I don't think I'm worthy), but I also cheerfully call myself a Trekkie.

    I mean, what else can you call someone who used to hold elective office in a Klingon fan club?

    Joyce Weinstock: doesn't bother me either. Way better than some other names I've been called.

    Umberto Swarm: Actually, die-hard followers of Star Trek hate being called Trekkies. They famously prefer being called Trekkers.

    I prefer no label, please.

    Mike Pope: Sounds like one for the LL. There's also "techie". I suspect that it's a productive suffix for indicating fandom/affinity, but is constrained. For example, is it applied only to monosyllabic nouns?

    As for hating a word, well, good on ya, as the Brits sometimes say. Me, I hate bananas.

    Cherie Baker: Just shared your thoughts with a friend who is Latina. She is of the opinion that such diminutives are emerging in American English because of Spanish influence (i.e. diminutives are relatively common in North, Central and South American Spanish). Never heard that before, but it's intriguing...

    Keith Hautala: The word, as used to describe a person who might coo over something called "foie foam," does not annoy me half as much as do those people themselves. As a term of gentle abuse, it works. And at least a few foodies who use the term to describe themselves seem aware of its self-deprecating implications.

    But all this is academic. Kevin Gillespie should have won.

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  14. There's a gap in reality shows. None watches half a dozen or so bloggers compete for a million-dollar contract. It could be a low-budget show, except for the prize. The audience might be allowed to participate in some of the bloggers' choices such as topics and verbs. A natural title would be "So You Think You Can Blog." The winner would be the blogger who got the most hits without resorting to pornography.

    "Foodie," as defined by John, seems distinct from any other words and thus useful. I like it.

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  15. I can't believe that this discussion of the term "foodie" has one referrence to perhaps the most well-known foodies on TV, Andrew Zimmern, and his Travel Channel shows "Bizarre Food" and "Bizarre World".

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  16. One of my most favorite co-workers ever was a restaurant reporter who described himself as a "foodie." The word implies that food is a hobby not only for consumption but for cooking also. "Gourmand" seems to imply the eating without the cooking. Because I associate the word "foodie" with him, it will always have pleasant connotations for me. He was kind and generous and knowledgeable, and admired a good hamburger or chili as much as -- if not more than -- any fancy pastry or nouvelle cuisine entree.

    His name was Bob Mervine, he wrote a charming book called "Orlando Chow," and he died two years ago in October. We still miss him.

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