Anyone who has gone out to eat at an expensive restaurant has likely had a laugh over the sometimes florid language used on the menu. Menu authors seem to bend over backward to come up with rich, suggestive descriptions. After all, if you're spending $20 on it, you want it described as more than "green salad," right?

The language used on menus — not only in high-end places, but just about anywhere — is reflective of more than wanting the eater to feel that his spending is justified. In his enthusiastic new book, Dan Jurafsky explores the links between the world of linguistics and the worlds of eating, food and recipes.

"The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu" starts, sensibly, with the menu, and — like that document — this first chapter holds pieces of everything that comes later. Jurafsky casts a wide net, drawing from the changes in the order of dishes, the categories of adjectives that qualify as "filler words" and are indicative of lower prices, and the length of the menu itself.

As a professor of linguistics and computer science at Stanford University, Jurafsky has both the knowledge and the resources to back his book with more than anecdotes. As such, he has designed studies with colleagues that draw on enormous sets of data, controlling for a wide variety of factors — information he pre­sents in a fresh and insightful way.

The connections between foods and the words we use to describe them can be fascinating and yield insights into why dishes have come to be prepared the way they are. How does the placement of vowels in ice-cream names coincide with how we perceive them to taste? What are the connections between turkey and Turkey, between "making a toast" and toast?

The connections run widely and deeply, with implications for different cultures and their cuisines, marketing of "junk foods," and the rules of eating for politicians seeking to return to office.

Jurafsky has hit on one of those "of course" sort of combinations, like hot chocolate on ice cream, that make perfect sense. The complexities of language, intertwined with the endless combinations of ingredients and the rich history of eating, make for a rich and rewarding read.

Matthew Tiffany is a book critic in Maine.