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One Writer's Ravings:
A Logophile's Blog
for Language Lovers

Menu English

Had a look at a menu lately? No doubt you have and, no doubt, you cringed. It’s tough for writers, copyeditors, and English teachers to dine out, for two reasons: a paucity of disposable income and the rampant shoddiness of menu writing.

So you opened that farrago of food offerings and there they were, all your favorite culinary solecisms and tautologies, looking up at you from the laminated page with an illiterate sneer like a haughty waiter at a pompous “bistro restaurant" (which in its less-pretentious redundant incarnations is called an "eatery-cafe" or a "restaurant-diner").

I'm guessing that there was the steak served with au jus (au means "with"), which you can enjoy after swilling a laughably tautological bowl of the soup du jour of the day (du jour means "of the day").

And then there was the ubiquitous penne pasta, which the scriveners of menuese seem to have unanimously decided requires special clarification as pasta. But they are not alone. The people behind the computer that composes my grocery receipts from Whole Foods indulge in this peculiar form of pleonasm across the board: spaghetti pasta, linguine pasta, and so on.

This same ridiculously redundant reasoning is at work on the word scampi, which on English-language menus is invariably presented as shrimp scampi, a redundancy of interlingual proportions. The problem here is that scampi is the plural of the Italian scampo, a kind of lobster, and in English it is a singular noun meaning “a large shrimp” or “a dish of large shrimp sautéed in garlic and butter.”

And if you’re in the mood for a salad, you can always order one with bleu cheese dressing, which uninspiring restaurants with Continental aspirations prefer to serve instead of the proper English blue cheese. You have to wonder, upon gazing down at the creamy white glop that will travel immediately to your midsection and take up lodging, how the cheese comes into the kitchen blue but comes out of it bleu. It is a très (not trés, for which I got more than 800,000 hits on Google.com) mysterious frenchification, perhaps influenced by veal cordon bleu, in which cordon bleu, my trusty little French dictionary tells me, does not have anything to do with cheese but means “first-rate cook.”

Finally, there is the “restaurant apostrophe,” which appears on countless menus—often miswritten menu’s, even in chi-chi establishments. The menu of an Italian restaurant in my neighborhood has some especially outrageous specimens: pizza’s, pasta’s, appetizer’s, soup & salad’s, and lunch special’s. You can even order a pizza with sauteed onion’s. Thank goodness that place doesn’t have a separate kid’s menu, which you’ll find at scores of family restaurants. Is that a menu for just one kid? Or is it a kids’ menu, one for all the kids they serve?

Now you know why I prefer to dine at home: a paucity of disposable income and a visceral intolerance for menuese.
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