Words that capture a culinary experience

If you don’t grow up speaking English, it can be an extremely difficult language to learn. It has appropriated words and structure from so many different languages that making sense of grammar and spelling rules often requires reciting a poem (i before e except after c, or when sounded like a as in neighbor and weigh – and of course there are many exceptions to that as well!). With such a complex language, you might think that English would have plenty of words that convey complex feelings, emotions, or actions, including those that revolve around food. If so, you would be wrong. As a New York Times article from earlier in the year explains, other languages have descriptive words like this, but English…not so much (free link).

The author found words such as the Japanese “kuchinaoshi,” which translates to “mouth fix,” as in eating something delicious to “fix” the bad taste left in your mouth after consuming something unpleasant. The Swedish have “lagom,” which means “not too much, not too little”. And Norwegians use the term “utepils,” meaning “outside beer” which is more than just drinking a beer outside. Since Norway has very long, cold winters and even the summer days are often overcast or rainy, the idea of a day pleasant enough to enjoy a brew while sitting outdoors makes this a special concept.

English just isn’t that sort of polysynthetic or agglutinative language – we do not like to reduce complex concepts to a single word or add suffixes or prefixes to existing words to build new ones. More’s the pity that we do not have such charming terms. There are a few, according to the article, but the examples given (pub crawl, pizza parlor) are nowhere near as evocative as the terms used above or the German word kummerspeck (literal translation “grief bacon”, meaning the excess weight gained from sorrow).

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