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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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