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Gustatory Description

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Gustatory Description

Gustatory. Interestingly, “gustatory” has nothing to do with wind force. It comes from the Latin word gustare meaning “to taste,” a root word that it shares in common with words like “disgust.” In terms of rhetorical modes, a gustatory description is any description concerned with how something tastes. These descriptions are not limited to cheeseburgers, and actually have many uses across written media.

Definition and Purpose of Gustatory Description

A gustatory description, which describes how something tastes, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions. Like with any of the five modes of sensory description, the gustatory description is just one way to thus engage the reader.

Be careful not to confuse taste words with smell, touch, and even sound words. Think about the word “sweet,” which can also be used to describe the way something smells or sounds. A gustatory description is about how something tastes, not how it smells or sounds.

How to Identify a Gustatory Description

A gustatory description is concerned with how something tastes. To be sure a description is gustatory, keep an eye out for the key verb “to taste” and also look for context clues.

Context clues occupy the space around the target description. They contextualize the place, time, and reason for the description.

In simple uses of gustatory description, the context will be someone eating or drinking something.

The taco tasted fine.

A gustatory description can be used any other time a character tastes something with their tongue as well.

The rain tasted terrible.

You can use context clues to understand a description’s subtext as well. Use this to identify a gustatory description’s deeper meaning, if one is present.

On his 80th birthday, the cake tasted sweeter than ever before.

In this example, the cake isn’t actually sweeter than any other year. What makes it sweeter for the character is that he has reached a landmark: age 80. The character’s age, which is the description's context, keys the reader into the symbolic significance of the cake.

Tricky phrases: If you call something "cheesy" for being overly sentimental, or call someone "salty" for being angry, is this a gustatory description? Maybe in a technical sense, but not really. Think about the most basic tenet of a gustatory description. It is any description concerned with how something tastes. These adjectives, although derived from gustatory terms, are now words unto themselves with no significant connotations involving taste. Cheesy is just a term meaning overly sentimental. Salty is just a term meaning angry. However, you can revert such phrases back into gustatory descriptions. For instance, take the word "spicy," which can be used to describe a bold decision. Here it is as a gustatory description: "Going for first place at this juncture was spicy, like eating a blazing hot pepper. I was either going to win or burn out trying."

Gustatory vs. Other Sensory Descriptions

Identify what senses are involved to know what kind of sensory description you are reading. Let’s look at an example:

My tongue felt heavy and dry.

Although the tongue might jump off the page as an indicator of a gustatory description, don’t be fooled. “Feeling” keys us into a tactile description (which involves feeling), and “heavy and dry” also key us into a tactile description because these things are felt by the tongue, not tasted by it. "My tongue felt heavy and dry" is a tactile description, not a gustatory description.

Objective Gustatory Description with Examples

Objective gustatory description involves literal taste. It is a description of somebody physically tasting something, and how it tastes.

The papaya had a lightly sweet flavor.

The fancy water tasted like watermelon.

Sandra’s pencil eraser had a cheesy taste, for some reason.

Look for simple taste adjectives like “salty,” “sour,” and “sweet” to identify a gustatory description. Don’t ignore less common adjectives, either, such as “malty” and “fermented.” Even if a food is described as “without flavor,” that is a gustatory description because it involves the flavor (or lack of flavor) of the food.

Subjective Gustatory Description with Examples

A subjective gustatory description is opinionated. It is more interpretable than an objective gustatory description.

The soup wasn’t sour enough.

Egged on by his buddies, David tasted the dog food – which was horrible by the way.

The seasoning that the assassin used to cover up the poison tasted way off from the rest of the dish, which tipped off the agent instantly.

None of these examples contain verifiable, objective descriptions of taste. They are personal interpretations of taste, in other words, opinions.

Figurative Gustatory Description

A figurative gustatory description describes how something tastes by comparing it to something else. Either the subject is not tangible or the description is metaphorical.

Figurative Gustatory Descriptions of Ideas and Events

You will often encounter figurative gustatory descriptions. For instance, you probably recognize the expression, “taste the bitterness of defeat.” This expression is a figurative gustatory description, which compares an idea (defeat) to something bitter-tasting.

The dog tastes our fear.

Figurative descriptions of this kind can also refer to things that happened.

Gustatory description Knight of Camlann StudySmarterFig. 1 - The taste of battle

When I fled Camlann, I tasted nothing but bitterness.

In this example, we are still discussing the bitterness of defeat, but in this case the “defeat” is not the abstract concept of defeat. In this example, an event tastes bitter. Here is another example.

The sprint had me tasting nothing but salt.

Figurative Gustatory Descriptions Using Simile

These gustatory descriptions involve tasting real things, but the description of the taste is not literal. It can use simile or metaphor to describe the flavor.

This is an exceedingly common use of gustatory description because it is a super simple, common-sense way to narrow down the flavor of something when trying to communicate that flavor to another person. Describing something as “fruity” and “sweet” doesn’t say much, which is why often you will use a simile in order to be clearer:

A simile compares two things using "like" or "as".

A raw cucumber tastes like a very subtle melon.

The idea here is to tap into your reader’s memories of taste, and use that to describe something they may not be familiar with. Although no one is literally tasting a “subtle melon,” one can imagine that flavor. Again, these kinds of gustatory descriptions are very common.

Figurative Gustatory Descriptions of Ideas and Events Using Metaphor

The final kind of figurative description puts it all together and compares intangible things to the taste of something using metaphor.

A metaphor compares two things to reveal a similarity between them.

The relationship ended on a sour note.

Figurative gustatory description of heartbreak StudySmarterFig. 2 - The flavor of heartbreak.

This is about as far removed from actually tasting something that a gustatory description gets. In this final description, the ending of a relationship is compared to the flavor of something sour. Although the end of a relationship is not physically something you can taste, this remains an apt description because something sour is tangible, and that taste is likened to something else, even if that taste is vague or totally imagined.

In this example, the subject (the relationship) is not tasted, but it is compared to something that has its own unrelated (sour) flavor.

When to Use Gustatory Description

Depending on whether you are writing an essay or a creative story, you will use gustatory descriptions at different times.

Using Gustatory Description In An Essay

You will only use gustatory description in a few kinds of essays. First, you are unlikely to use objective gustatory description at all unless you are writing a descriptive essay, simply because they rarely qualify as evidence for a thesis. In a descriptive essay, all forms of sensory description are on the table.

In an essay with a thesis statement, you may find some use for figurative gustatory descriptions, but only in a very limited capacity. Here is an example:

All of this evidence, which indicates that long-haul truckers are exploited by their “employers,” leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Fortunately, the US government can enact policies to correct these problems.

Here, a figurative gustatory description acts as emotional shorthand to guide the reader along. It also acts as a confirmation for the reader, who might already feel a “bitter taste in their mouth” after reading the evidence. In this way, the description demonstrates to the reader that the writer understands these problems and agrees with the reader. The description gets everybody on the same page in a brief way.

Using Gustatory Description In A Creative Story

Only use gustatory descriptions to describe food and drink when it is important. In most stories, the way something tastes is of middling importance. Don’t spend too much time on the details, when the story or the characters could be developed.

Use gustatory descriptions for humor. Figurative gustatory descriptions, as well as figurative olfactory descriptions, can get a writer a lot of mileage when it comes to creative humor because they can be so surprising.

Use gustatory descriptions to capture the flavor of a moment. If you are struggling for a creative way to describe someone’s feelings about a moment or an event, try using a figurative gustatory description to capture its essence and connect the reader to the flavor or mood of your scene.

Gustatory - Key Takeaways

  • A gustatory description is any description concerned with how something tastes.
  • To be sure a description is gustatory, keep an eye out for the key verb “to taste” and also look for context clues. Context clues occupy the space around the target description. They contextualize the place, time, and reason for the description.
  • Identify what senses are involved to know what kind of sensory description you are reading.
  • The three types of gustatory description are objective, subjective, and figurative. Figurative gustatory descriptions are very common because they can be so creative.
  • Use gustatory descriptions very selectively both in essays and in creative stories. They are for creative and emphatic moments.

References

  1. Fig. 1 Knight (Knight icons created by max.icons - Flaticon) by max.icons (https://www.flaticon.com/authors/maxicons)licensed by CC0 1.0
  2. Fig. 2: Broken heart (Heartbreak icons created by Vitaly Gorbachev - Flaticon) licensed by CC0 1.0

Frequently Asked Questions about Gustatory Description

A gustatory description, which describes how something tastes, is used to engage the reader’s memories and emotions. 

The following is an example of gustatory description: the rain tasted terrible.

A word to describe the sense of taste is gustatory. Descriptions that pertain to taste are called gustatory descriptions.

Look for simple taste adjectives like “salty,” “sour,” and “sweet” to identify a gustatory description. 

Gustatory imagery might use taste to create an image in the mind of the reader.

Final Gustatory Description Quiz

Question

A gustatory description is any description concerned with how _____.

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Answer

Something tastes

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Question

What is a gustatory description used to engage?

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Answer

The reader's memories and emotions.

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Question

Is "sweet" a gustatory description?

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Answer

It can be, but be careful! Look at the context clues, because sounds and smells can also be sweet.

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Context clues contextualize _____ and ______.

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Answer

Place, time

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Question

"The fries were no good."

Is this a figurative gustatory description?

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Answer

No, it's a subjective gustatory description.

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Question

"The wind rushed through my hair. The summer blossoms were sweet."

Is this a gustatory description?

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Answer

No

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Question

Can subtext help to identify context clues?

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Answer

No. You use context clues to identify subtext.

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Question

Objective gustatory description involves _____.

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Answer

Literal taste

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Question

"You are so cheesy."

Is this a gustatory description?

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Answer

No

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Question

Can a gustatory description figuratively describe an intangible thing?

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Answer

Yes! It can figuratively describe ideas, events, and other intangibles. "Falling in love tastes sweet" is an example of this.

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Question

Is describing a food as "fruity" an example of figurative gustatory description?

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Answer

No. This is an objective gustatory description because it describes how a food really tastes, without resorting to a metaphor.

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Question

"He had never tasted the bitterness of loss."


What kind of gustatory description is this?

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Answer

Figurative gustatory description

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"Joy tastes like buttered popcorn on a Saturday night."

What kind of gustatory description is this?

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Answer

A figurative gustatory description 

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Question

How much should you rely on gustatory description in a descriptive essay?

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Answer

It depends on the assignment. You will probably use multiple sensory descriptions.

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Question

In what kinds of essays are you not likely to use many gustatory descriptions?

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Answer

Most essays with a thesis

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Question

Which of the following contexts is more likely to contain a gustatory description:

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Answer

Someone describes a new street taco flavor combination

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Question

Gustatory descriptions can have layers of meaning. 

True or false?

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Answer

True

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Question

Gustatory descriptions are always literal.


True or false?

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Answer

False

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Question

Which of the following sensory words might be found in a gustatory description?

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Answer

Tangy

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Question

Which type of gustatory description is more opinionated?

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Answer

Subjective

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