Here’s a subject I’ve been thinking about for several years now. What does it say to you when a restaurant gets a review attesting that their food is ******* good? Greg Sterling’s recent, thought-provoking piece on whether reviews are becoming commodities drew my attention to the Yelp reviews of a well-known San Francisco restaurant and, sure enough, we can’t read past the second review before the colorful epithets begin to fly. These are not words you will encounter in the professional reviews that fill published guides like Frommers but the world of the user review is replete with them, and I’ve often wondered:
A> How this type of language strikes readers of the reviews?
B> How business owners feel about their products/services being described in this way?
For the record, my own first reaction to reading profanity-containing reviews of businesses like restaurants is that, should I dine there, I run the risk of being seated next to a crowd of outspoken foul-mouthed guests who will sprinkle the air with curses while my party tries to converse pleasantly. Yes, I tend to be a bit old-fashioned, even snobbish, about things like public-appropriate language and if user reviews are a genuine metric of the tone of modern public discourse, I truly am behind the times in my take on the arts of self expression.
My own expectations aside, I do understand that ours is a language in which opposites are frequently employed to suggest superlatives. Our grandparents weren’t thinking of the grim reaper when they called Benny Goodman the living end and my own contemporaries picked up pop star cues by dubbing everything that was good, bad. Colloquialisms of this kind have actually been common to English since the Anglo-Saxons were running about old forests, looking for imaginative ways to laud their heroes. These linguistic ancestors would have been perfectly comfortable calling Beowulf the bomb if they’d thought of it, without any thoughts of armageddon. Creative use of language is a tradition with us.
But, profanity is in another category. We are still living in an era close enough to decency leagues and front parlor language for swear words to give many of us a little jar when we encounter them in the print. The New York Times has yet to give front page space to a ******* good new restaurant, but the Internet has given everyone publisher status and the writers are, presumably, writing the way they speak in every day life. I’ve been stuck in long lines, on buses and in elevators with people of all ages who are swearing a blue streak for all to hear; I’ve had doctors, lawyers and other ‘professionals’ use profanity during consultations with me as part of their ordinary vocabulary. For all I know, teachers are now admonishing their students to get their ******* homework done these days, but profanity still looks out of place to me on paper or the monitor screen.
My question for you is, do swear words in reviews influence your picture of the atmosphere or quality of a given business? Yes, no, or how so?
My thoughts turn next to the master chef who has slaved all day over a gourmet dinner to be served on gilded china and spotless damask, amid the glow of candlelight, the sweet strains of a Baroque quartet drifting out across guests overlooking world-class views from the stately windows of some hundred-year-old establishment, only to read the next day that the experience was ******* good. Is the chef pleased? Does he take from this that the meal was such a success it drove the guest into a state of helpless, exuberant profanity? Is he happy to see his restaurant’s name linked with words most commonly associated with public bathroom graffiti? Are we all such lads together now than cussing is as good as a compliment, even in the business world? Maybe so.
My question for you, if you own a business, is whether you feel the presence of profanity in reviews about your business is positive, negative or neutral. I’d love to know.
I’ve been writing about user reviews for a couple of years now here on the SEOigloo blog and elsewhere, and one of the principle themes I’ve encountered relating to this topic is the loss of control on the part of the business owner. Since Grimod de la ReyniÃ¨re published his first restaurant review guide in 1803, restaurant proprietors have had to accept that being professionally reviewed went with the territory of feeding the masses. Reviews could be utterly crushing, could even close the doors of unlucky eating places, but the medium had certain standards of decorum that, until now, had been generally adhered to. Today’s restaurateur works in a world without reputation protection of any meaningful kind from slights to slanders to plain old swear words, thanks to user reviews. The common man may very well be ending up with a more accurate picture of the quality of a given business because of this, but it’s coming with a helping of unsavory language he may not want on his menu. It’s interesting to reflect on what this says about the ‘real us’, as a society, and in the interest of gauging current public sentiment, I’d love to have your feedback on my two bolded questions, above.
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