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Does "Foodie" Make You Cringe?

Veteran copy editor John E. McIntyre holds forth entertainingly on all manner of issues related to language and editing on his blog, "You Don't Say." Here McIntyre wonders why we're stuck with the term foodie when there are so many serviceable gastronomic alternatives.

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.

John E. McIntyre is a veteran editor and teacher. He worked for nearly 23 years at The Baltimore Sun, for 14 of those years as head of its copy desk. He has taught copy editing at Loyola of Maryland since 1995. He was the second president of the American Copy Editors Society and has been a consultant on writing and editing at publications in the United States and Canada. You can read more from McIntyre at his blog, You Don't Say.

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Friday December 11th 2009, 3:57 AM
Comment by: Tom C. (Dunleer Ireland)
I couldn't agree with you more,we are awash with "foodies" on this side of the pond thanks to the celebrity chef brigade on British television. See channel 4 on line for many examples. Great article and what an enjoyable social commentary!
Friday December 11th 2009, 9:57 AM
Comment by: Kenneth M. (CT)
I agree that the word should not apply when words that are more precise ought to be used, especially in magazines, etc. However, using the word "foodie', as one would use the word "Trekkie", for casual but enthusiastic "fans" (as differentiated from connoisseurs -- how's that for pretension?)"fits the bill" [don't you just love clich├ęs.]
Friday December 11th 2009, 8:20 PM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
It is refreshing to hear the English language used with such erudition in all its subtle shades and connotations. A fine example!
Sunday December 13th 2009, 12:59 PM
Comment by: El (Los Angeles, CA)
Editors of the Chowhound agree with Mr. McIntyre, somewhat. They also have a low opinion of the term foodie. But they do prefer to be called chowhounds. I wonder what Mr. McIntyre would think of that one. Anyway I went to their website to review their exact definitions of the two terms. I was not able to find them; but, here is a loose translation of what I remember. A foodie is someone that runs around indiscriminately chasing the latest food fads. (Sounds similar to Mr. McIntyre's definition). But the chowhound is one who demands more. They want new exciting dishes prepared with finesse, beauty and fresh ingredients. Now after reading Mr.
McIntyre's prestigious article I might prefer to be called a gourmand, at least and not a chowhound.:-)
What fun this article was. Now I must hurry to his blog. Thanks VT.
Sunday December 13th 2009, 10:10 PM
Comment by: Clarence W.
Chowhounds v Foodies

Monday December 14th 2009, 12:45 AM
Comment by: El (Los Angeles, CA)
Hahahaha. Foodie, hum. Okay, okay.
Monday December 14th 2009, 5:22 PM
Comment by: Laughlines (Seattle, WA)
This site is psychic! I was just telling a friend via email yesterday that I had a "foodie" hangover from a Christmas party that I GRAZED on all the food like a hyena the entire night. I can't believe I used that word!!! The the word foodie bothers me... At this same Christmas party I over heard someone say that they were not a foodie as they were strolling by me speaking to someone else. Even though this person claimed that they were not a foodie, when I heard her use foodie it came accross snobbish and over stated. Especially since we are are someones house and not a trendy restaurant.

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