Get that damn ‘x’ out of my espresso!
Something in me snaps when I see an ‘s’ missing from dessert or a misplaced ‘r’ in mascarpone. The salad is ‘Caesar,’ not ‘Ceasar,’ and there is no ‘n’ in restaurateur. But nothing grates like that ‘x’.
Call me a stickler, but I’m no fanatic.
I’d never let the wonky alliteration of Krispy Kreme come between me and my donuts, and I know that pâté (charcuterie) and pâte (pastry dough) can feel like so much hair-splitting. I also cut a lot of slack when I’m in an ethnic restaurant where the owner is not a native English speaker—their ‘hand and cheese’ sandwich or ‘sweat and sour chicken’ is still more impressive than the menu I could compose in Spanish or Mandarin.
I’m also not saying it’s easy.
According to restaurant consultant Linda Lipsky, the average menu contains between two and five errors. That’s because culinary language is an etymological mine field. Food and its lexicon are multinational, multilingual, and ever-evolving. Menu spelling challenges even the word-nerdiest diner with technical jargon and regional and obscure foreign phrases.
There’s no room for creative expression when it comes to menu spelling.
Get it wrong and it undermines your credibility and leaves doubts about your expertise. Wrong tells me that you couldn’t be bothered to check. If you can’t spell it right, how can I trust you to cook it properly? It makes me wonder what else you couldn’t be bothered with, like trimming the tough stems from the spinach or washing your hands.
We all make little mistakes sometimes. And it’s true that excellent spelling skills are seldom a prerequisite for a restaurant job. But I will not ease up; not until every misplaced ‘x’ has been eradicated.
If (like me) you love food and you love language, then you need to get Scrabble’s Cooking Edition.
Ms. Lipsky, the restaurant consultant, has created the The Official Food & Beverage Spell Checker© with 19,000 culinary terms.
For the final word on menu language, pick up a copy of The International Menu Speller with alphabetically arranged names of dishes, ingredients, culinary techniques and nutrition terms, all correctly spelled and accented. [The International Menu Speller].