Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cake or death?

Well, OK, it was really ice cream and death on the billboard I recently spotted along I-90 in western Pennsylvania, but how could I pass up an Eddie Izzard allusion? Anyway, the ad -- for a local ice cream shop -- promised this:



The ice cream probably is good (they can afford a billboard!), and in most circumstances, "to die for" is cliched enough that its literal sense is almost invisible. But to a potential customer who's speeding along the interstate at 65 or better -- to this one, anyway -- "to die for" isn't the most appealing pitch.

This reminded me of another encounter with unappetizing food language, earlier this year: At a San Francisco restaurant, one of the main course offerings was "Terrorized New York steak." Not even our local hosts could tell us what it meant; we wondered if it was some kind of invention based on "terroir," but that seemed unlikely at a restaurant that had carefully labeled one menu category with the plural form "Bruschette."

So what was it? The waiter explained that the animal itself was not terrorized (at least not by the chef); it was the steak that was handled roughly, first slathered with a strong blend of peppers and herbs, then charred on a hot grill. The violent language seemed incongruous in that health-minded, easygoing city, but apparently the recipe has been around for a while. Maybe nobody minds so long as they reserve the terror treatment for New York steaks.

And speaking of terror, how about that Vermont Country Store catalog? I've gotten used to the idea that the homey purveyor of old-time staples -- like other catalogs aimed at aging Americans -- is selling sex aids along with the bunion pads and caftans. But when you sell a "personal massager," for whatever part of the anatomy, it pays to be sensitive about language. You probably shouldn't keep insisting, for example, that the product boasts "pinpoint accuracy." (Ouch.)




9 comments:

Nancy said...

Ah, the terrorized steak makes its appearance here at last! Glad to see it.

Speaking of food to die for, for many years there was a hamburger stand in Davis, CA, called Murder Burger. Its slogan, naturally, was "So good they're to die for." When the place was sold the naming rights weren't included, so the new owners held a naming contest. The winner, chosen from among 7,000 entries, was Redrum Burger. Redrum, as fans of The Shining know, is "murder" spelled backward. The slogan remains the same.

Anonymous said...

The recipe for terrorized steak is said (here) to have originated with this unpleasant-sounding man.

Marc Leavitt said...

Hi Jan:
The infelicitous ice cream billboard did its job very well; Ad Age would probably give it a 100percent rating for successful advertising, but I couldn't agree with you more. The terrorized steak is simply a case of bad taste (I hope the steak tastes better than it sounds). What they were really doing was tenderizing the steak, but of course that wouldn't sound as clever. As to the Vermont Country Store catalog, I've seen that ad, and I take your point. By the way, as one former editor to another, I enjoyed your column very much. Hope you keep up the blog.

Marc Leavitt
marc1940@verizon.net

T. Roger Thomas said...

Everyone likes an Eddie Izzard allusion.

Julia said...

I once used the word "cliched" in a college term paper. My prof drew a big red line through it and wrote "no such word!" next to it. Admittedly, this was (gulp) about 28 years ago. Now it jumps off the page at me when someone uses it as you did in your post. Has the OED accepted it in the staggeringly long span I've been out of college? I'd love to hear your comments on it as it seems to appear everywhere.

Bryan M. White said...

I think I've been to that ice cream place. It wasn't too bad.

Laura said...

I'm still trying to figure out that billboard and why it claims that ice cream isn't "food."

hypnotism techniques said...

Pretty strange. What's ice cream then?

nycguy said...

The French term for sliced steak is entrecote Robespierre. Much more gruesome that burger to die for.