What the Linguistic Trails on Yelp.com Tell Us About Ourselves

When Stanford University researchers analysed metadata about food reviews on Yelp (900,000 reviews for 6,548 restaurants), this revealed a panoply of fancy-schmancy and flowery language and colourful comparisons. This is hardly surprising, but that was only the beginning.

Cheap, unhealthy, fast-food was likened to crack cocaine, whereas people’s vocabulary noticeably improved when they tucked in at a fancy eatery at the top end of town.

The most important factor seemed to be customer service, with bad treatment by staff often couched in terms that emphasised personal injury, and heartbreaking experiences.

Visitors to posh restaurants used big words and complicated reviews in order to portray themselves as smarter and more cultured. The positive review of an expensive restaurant generally focused on sensory pleasure. This contrasts to the positive review of cheap restaurants which emphasised the addictive nature of these naughty foods. Sugary, salty or fatty food was often described in guilty terms: “addictive”, “like crack” and “new drug of choice”.

In any case, the linguistic patterns found in Yelp reviews offer keen insights into how people see themselves and their own social standing. Read more…

The Worst Food and Wine Buzzwords

Quaff: Fancy-pants way to describe yourself drinking something, although generally doesn’t refer to Coke Zero or UHT milk.

Splendid: A turn of the 20th century word that sounds best employed by the butler at Downton Abbey. Still, throw it into your online reviews, just not really suited to bad dumpling places that give you the runs.

Exquisite: Yet another superlative that comes in handy for describing fussy little ramekins filled with smoked porpoise semen and starfruit foam.

Piece de resistance: Pop a French phrase into the review to make it sound ultra pretentious.

When I lived in Edinburgh I did reviews for the Edinburgh Food and Wine Guide. But this ruined me for life because I was exposed to how people should always eat, and I ate beyond my means. I’ve unintentionally become a food snob and I admit to leaving bad reviews on restaurants when they have failed to deliver. What about you?




4 thoughts on “What the Linguistic Trails on Yelp.com Tell Us About Ourselves

  1. Oh I think food snobbery is a modern day trend that only exists because most of the first world is sinking under the weight of too much food. My Irish ancestors had to survive during the potato famine. I bet they weren’t to choosy with fancy words at the dinner table. Let’s just call an apple an apple and be grateful we have enough to eat. I’ve practically given up on dining at snobby restaurants.

    1. I know Vef! The abundance we all live in is a bad thing, it makes us complacent and unappreciative of food and how special it is for being life sustaining and nourishing.

      1. Vef has added you to a short list of WordPress friends on About this day page. I love your blog 🙂

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