Our Secret List of Banned Words
If you've ever worked in publishing, you've probably come across a list much like this one. Every publishing house, magazine, newspaper, major website, or even individual editor has one: a list of words that are banned from ever appearing in print. We keep ours in a shared Google doc so that editors can share their newest grievances and consult with others on whether or not the phrase or word makes our list. I keep that doc in the same folder as our "Worst PR Pitch Ever Nominees" list and our "Office Quirks Ed Has" list.
A list of banned words from the website is a subtly different from the many, many, many lists of "words foodies hate" that you see going around the web (it's a perennial topic in our Talk threads). These ones aren't necessarily words that grate our ears (though some of them definitely are), but are words that are simply bad descriptors, overused, or plain silly.
This is only a glance at our list, but it hits a few of our major problem areas.
Disclaimer: Ok, so perhaps "ban" is too strong a word. These are just words we try to avoid as much as possible. Obviously, context is everything.
- "Cook till" instead of "Cook until," unless, of course, you really mean to throw your money chest in the oven.
- "X until perfection" or "X to perfection." This language is strictly the territory of chain restaurant menus. Likewise phrases like "on a bed of" or "medley."
- "X of deliciousnesss" or "X of goodness." It's just butter, for god's sake, it's not "buttery goodness!"
- Converting nouns into new verbs, such as "gingered" or "truffled." It's "pasta with truffles," not "truffled pasta"
- Zing. e.g. "The cheese added zippy zing to the meatballs." Gah!
- Zip. e.g. "The meatballs added zingy zip to the cheese." Eek!
- Oomph. Why would I want my food to taste like the sound of someone punching me in the gut?
- Yummy. I dearly hope we don't need to explain this one.
- Farm Fresh. It's an overused phrase with little to no real meaning.
- Decadent or sinful. Or anything else that makes food sound like a vice. We are here to celebrate it, not hate ourselves for loving it.
- "On offer" instead of "offered." This is a British phrasing that doesn't sit well on our ears.
- "Taste" when you mean "Flavor." If those mussels really had "good taste", they'd all be wearing designer jeans.
- "Addicting" when you mean "Addictive." We know there's arguments on both sides as to whether "addicting" can be used when you mean "causes addiction," but why not just use the form in which there's no debate at all? "Addictive" leaves no room for argument.
- "Spheres" or "orbs" to describe round foods. Ice cream is served in scoops. Doughnuts can be fried as balls. Neither are orbs. That's just forced use of thesaurus right there.
- Foodie. The very word makes our stomachs churn just a bit.
- Über- (as in, "über-rich" or "über-creamy") This rule, above all else.
- Heavenly. See "decadent or sinful" above. It's just food, dammit!
- "To die for." Really? You're really willing to die for the butter-flavored dip that comes with the new all-you-can-eat claw bucket from Crimson Crustacean?
- Luscious. This is a name for a character on Jersey Shore. Not something you want your food to be.
- Luxurious. Or worse, "luxe." Calling a chocolate pudding "luxurious" doesn't tell us all that much. We need details!
- "Kick it up." An Emeril-ism that I'm sure even he wishes he'd never uttered in the first place.
- "Take it to the next level." Your chicken salad has levels?
- Post titles that end in question marks. Usually, a question in a title implies that you've already answered it. Present the answer up front.
- Mouthfeel. This is just icky.
- Toothsome. There are better, less off-putting ways of expressing the same idea.
- Pretty much all non-specific adjectives. The best food writing and descriptions are able to evoke a sensation based on nouns and verbs alone. Adjectives should only be used when they are very specific. (Yes, we violate this rule all the time).
- Authentic. For more on this word, check out our article on Xiao Long Bao and Authenticity.
- "Artisanal." Unless you really really mean it. Ask yourself: Is the person making this product really an artisan? Is everything made by hand by someone extremely skilled in their trade? Every new pickle-maker or ice cream churner peddling their fare at the Farmer's Market has not necessarily earned that title yet.
- That guy behind the bar? He's a bartender, not a mixologist. Okay, so sometimes he's a mixologist. But when major national chains start referring to the people shaking your margaritas as "star mixologists," we roll our eyes. Same goes for "bar chefs." Rule of thumb: if the title is self applied, it probably shouldn't be used.
Of course, now that we've outed this list, we'll have to keep on our toes because I've no doubt that we'll get called out as soon as we make one false move in the future...
So tell us, Serious Eaters—what words or phrases would you add to our list?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.