Sunday, April 5, 2009

pungent vs stinky

In George Orwell's essay, Politics in the English Language in a section on "pretentious diction" he says "Bad writers ... are nearly always haunted by the notion that Latin or Greek words are grander than Saxon ones"

In the most recent Flavours issue I had an article ( about crusts. Yummy ways to add crispy crusts to dishes. I submitted a recipe for "stinky mac and cheese"  I make a dish at the restaurant in which I use all the ends and scraps from the cheeses we use for our cheese board.  This makes a wonderfully rich and stinky version of the classic mac and cheese.  When Brandon Boone, a man who I respect and admire, edited the article, he changed my word "stinky" to "pungent."

"Pungent Mac and Cheese"  

Mr. Boone thought that sounded better.  I think it sounds gross. 

When people talk about cheese, we often refer to the sharper cheeses as "stinky". We rarely use the word pungent to describe food. The only time I might use the word pungent would be to say something like "the chicken that we forgot at the back of the fridge, was particularly pungent"

So, now it is up to you, gentle blog-followers, to settle this matter once and for all. 

Is "pungent" a better word than "stinky". Does "Pungent Mac and Cheese" sound tastier than "Stinky Mac and Cheese".  Join in on this online poll. Comment on this post with your preferences or arguments. Is there a better word than either of these two?

Let the games begin.


check out the whole essay at  It is a great essay which seems even more relevant today than when it was written over 60 years ago.

Photo of Mac and Cheese from Flavours Magazine, taken by Brian Gould


  1. I'm going to have to go with pungent. For me pungent brings to mind strong smells, while stinky brings to mind bad smells.

  2. Mac and cheese is a down-home food and 'stinky' is a down-home word. 'Pungent' sounds too pretentious for a dish like that.

    And 'stinky' is a funny and lively word. Anyone in their right mind would see the humour in it, making the dish even more accessible.

    'Pungent', on the other hand, is kind of a serious, stodgy sort of word (in my imagination anyway), and I would be more likely to take it as a real warning.

    And either way, I think editors should reserve their expertise for editing grammar, length and flow, and stay away from creative content. The name a chef gives his/her dish certainly qualifies as creative content.

    C. Bone

  3. I agree with C. Bone. Stinky all the way!

  4. Stinky, Stinky, Stinky.


  5. Pungent seems a little pretentious. No matter how sophisticated the ingredients, this is a dish that shouldn't have to be taken too seriously. Stinky keeps it approachable and fun and that's Mac n Cheese all the way...a feel good, stick to yer gills, comfort food.

  6. I have to disagree with the comment about pungent being pretentious--in this case, it is the perfect word to describe the dish Alex made. As a editor who loves both food and words, knowing their precise meaning is the key to properly presenting recipes to more than 190,000 readers across Western Canada. While some of us may feel comfortable and look forward to making something 'stinky,' our readership is extremely diverse and I would wager not as interested in approaching a dish with said word in it. Changing the name of it to pungent will actually increase the amount of people who will stop and look at the recipe instead of quickly flipping by it. While I always hope the masses are enlightened and excited to try new things, I know from our surveys that the majority tend to stay on the safe side. In company I keep, I would use the word stinky, but in presenting a recipe to close to 1/4 million people from diverse demographics, education, and socio-economic backgrounds, pungent is the right word. My last point is connotation. Some may argue pungent is pretentious, stodgy or serious sounding, but just look at what is related with stinky: crappy, icky and lousy. With pungent: peppery, piquant, sharp. I rest my case.

  7. I think the issue is that we are comparing the word "stinky" with the word "pungent" out of context. What we are really talking about is "stinky cheese" vs. "pungent cheese". In this context pungent is merely a descriptor like piquant or aromatic, but "stinky cheese" is a commonly used expression and even has the status as category of cheeses. Maybe the problem with the recipe title is not the words, but the word order. Stinky does not describe the mac, but the cheese. MAybe we should have called it "Mac and Stinky Cheese"

  8. Stinky Cheese LoverApril 17, 2009 at 10:29 AM

    I'm appalled that an editor would alter the creative content, the brand, the essence of the Chef's creation by relabeling it with a safe vocabulary.

    If a painting of glorious mac and cheese was solicited for the issue, and the artist had given his or her intellectual property a name, would the magazine have retitled the piece, effectively altering its meaning? Inconceivable.

    There are many genres within food, as there are within film, music, and all art forms, and their respective vocabularies exist to describe very specific situations. In this case the situation of a rich, stinky, creamy macaroni dish so described galvanizes my imagination and my taste buds.

    Be brave, Flavours! Show some personality. The bulk of your diverse readership may like to "play it safe", but don't underestimate their sense of gastronomic adventure. I guarantee their eye and their intrigue will be captured by a flavourful headline.

  9. The origial title to the mona lisa, as propsed by Leonardo was "My friend Lucy". The Gallery curator didn't like that title...

  10. LeonardoAficianadoApril 19, 2009 at 12:16 PM

    Lucy...really!? The portrait was of Madame Lisa del Giocondo. It was a commissioned work, a paycheque piece and Da Vinci probably didn't even bother titling it.

    But like the Mac n Cheese at the heart of this discussion, would he care about the semantics of it's title, or that the end result was pleasing?

  11. Definitely Stinky, another poster is bang on - pungent sounds pretentious.

    STINK central all the way!

  12. I agree that pungent is far to uppity for a down home dish like mac and cheese! I think it sounds wonderful and not quite as down home as the stuff we ate when we were young but still, can you really put a words like Mac 'n' cheese with a word like pungent?

    Go with stinky!!!!

  13. Not surprising. Every time I read an article by that guy, I can't shake the idea that he's an insufferable narcissist.

    The best sentences are the simplest. (Sort of like the best meals).

    All the garnish in the world can not prettify the fundamentally intolerable, whether it be in the kitchen or in Flavours magazine.