Researcher combines love of food, passion for words in study of online reviews

Dan Jurafsky

Diners who enjoy a meal at an expensive restaurant tend to describe the food in online reviews using such titillating words as orgasmic, sultry and tempting. Those who have an equally nice time at a local greasy spoon more often describe the food as if it were their new favorite drug.

The difference was among the surprising patterns found in a recent study of almost a million online consumer reviews. The study was led by Dan Jurafsky, a Stanford University professor of linguistics and computer science who will discuss restaurant reviews, menus, ketchup’s world tour and other delectable tidbits during a lecture Wednesday at the James A. Little Theater.

Jurafsky, a 2002 MacArthur Fellow, has combined his lifelong love of food with a passion for linguistics and a skill at developing software for crunching large data sets. He’s studied the origin of food names, the trade routes of certain food stuffs and the history of how a common American condiment, ketchup, began as a Chinese fish sauce. His book The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu was published in September by W.W. Norton and Co.

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