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.)