The sultry language of online food reviews

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Anyone who has read online restaurant reviews has probably noticed that the language used to describe the food can be downright sensual. Words like “orgasmic” and “seductive” appear frequently. A new study co-authored by Stanford linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky confirmed this tendency and offered insight on what other words used in online reviews say about us. The study analyzed 900,000 restaurant reviews from several major U.S. cities. The highlights of the findings include:  

  • Positive reviews of expensive restaurants frequently contained metaphors of sex and sensual pleasure, such as “orgasmic pastry” or “seductively seared foie gras.” People who wrote reviews of these types of restaurants also tended to use multi-syllabic words like “sumptuous” or “commensurate” to provide the impression that the author was highly educated or sophisticated.
  • Positive reviews of cheap restaurants or decadent foods often utilized metaphors of drugs or addiction, like “these wings are addicting” or “these cupcakes are crack.” According to Jurafsky, “We talk about food as an addiction when we’re feeling guilty about what we’re eating.”  
  • Women used these drug metaphors more frequently than men did.

Another finding that surprised Jurafsky was “how strongly the language of negative Yelp reviews resembled the language of people who have been traumatized by tragedies or the deaths of loved ones.” It appears that getting bad service at a restaurant does much more than ruin a meal, it “goes straight to your sense of self.” Therefore, negative reviews act as a way to cope with this trauma.

And in all situations, whether the language was sensual, light-hearted, or negative, reviewers were careful in how they presented themselves to readers. Even while giving a bad review, people want to be seen in a good light. Given all of these findings, perhaps the next time you read a restaurant review you can catch a glimpse into the author’s psyche.

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One Comment

  • boardingace  on  April 19, 2014

    It will certainly make me pause as I'm writing my next review – lol.

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