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Download The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu Audiobook

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Stanford University linguist and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky dives into the hidden history of food.

Why do we eat toast for breakfast and then toast to good health at dinner? What does the turkey we eat on Thanksgiving have to do with the country on the eastern Mediterranean? Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu?

In The Language of Food, Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky peels away the mysteries from the foods we think we know. Thirteen chapters evoke the joy and discovery of reading a menu dotted with the sharp-eyed annotations of a linguist.

Jurafsky points out the subtle meanings hidden in filler words like “rich” and “crispy,” zeroes in on the metaphors and storytelling tropes we rely on in restaurant reviews, and charts a microuniverse of marketing language on the back of a bag of potato chips.

The fascinating journey through The Language of Food uncovers a global atlas of culinary influences. With Jurafsky’s insight, words like ketchup, macaron, and even salad become living fossils containing the patterns of early global exploration that predate our modern fusion-filled world.

From ancient recipes preserved in Sumerian song lyrics to colonial shipping routes that first connected East and West, Jurafsky paints a vibrant portrait of how our foods developed. A surprising history of culinary exchange—a sharing of ideas and culture as much as ingredients and flavors—lies just beneath the surface of our daily snacks, soups, and suppers.

Engaging and informed, Jurafsky’s unique study illuminates an extraordinary network of language, history, and food. The menu is yours to enjoy.

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Quotes & Awards

  • The Language of Food is excellent, a fascinating read from beginning to end. From pastas to pastries, you can’t resist Dan Jurafsky’s insights into what we say about food.”

    Tyler Cowen, professor of economics, George Mason University, and New York Times bestselling author

  • “Mix equal parts fascinating history, surprising etymology, and brilliant linguistic analysis, add a generous dollop of humor, and savor The Language of Food. You’ll never think of ketchup, french fries, fish and chips, or toast in the same way.”

    Deborah Tannen, New York Times bestselling author of You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation

  • “Ever since I heard the phrase ‘fresh frozen’ I have been wondering about food language. Now Dan Jurafsky has taken on the subject with scholarship, wit, and charm, making The Language of Food a very engaging book.”

    Mark Kurlansky, New York Times bestselling author of The Food of a Younger Land

  • “Dan Jurafksy hits the sweet spot of intellectual rigor and spoon-common interest in The Language of Food. Whether quoting from a menu item, ‘Dirty Girl Romano beans,’ or decoding the food vortex of Portlandia, Dan makes your tongue drop. The chapters on sherbet, toast, and potato chip packaging are too delicious—you’ll be scanning the supermarket as Dan’s new protégé. Two thumbs up, multiple hearts, five stars, and beaucoup butterflies!”

    Susie Bright, author of The Sexual State of the Union

  • “Writing with knowledge and wit, Dan Jurafsky shows that the language of food reflects our desires and aspirations, whether it’s on a fancy French menu or a bag of potato chips.”

    Bee Wilson, author of Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

  • “Except possibly for sex, no other aspect of human language holds as much fascination for both the professional linguist and the layperson as do the words we use for food and eating. Jurafsky doggedly hunts down the origins of words…[and] Jurafsky’s parsing of the vocabulary used in online restaurant reviews should serve as an object lesson for all presumptive food critics.”


  • “Have you ever wondered why ketchup bottles have the word ‘tomato’ on them, why you ‘toast’ to someone’s health, or why salt is used in the process of making ice cream? In this thoroughly researched book, Jurafsky answers these questions and many more as he explores the interconnected worlds of food and words. Combining history, geography, and etymology, the author travels the world searching for the origins of ethnic dishes and provides readers with a fascinating study of how foods, and the words used to describe them, have been modified over the centuries as cuisines have been absorbed into local cultures…A highly informative and entertaining compendium of food and word facts sure to appeal to foodies and etymologists alike.”

    Kirkus Reviews

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