The mystery of "mouthfeel"

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Helen Wang writes:

I have a question – what's the etymology of the English word "mouthfeel"? In the last few weeks in the UK I have heard the word "mouthfeel" several times, spoken very naturally as though it's an established English word. I was surprised because I remember kǒugǎn 口感 (lit. "mouth-feel") as being "untranslatable" or an "awkward translation". So I looked up "mouthfeel" online to see when this direct translation made its way into English. It even has a Wikipedia entry! But no mention of kǒugǎn 口感 or any etymology. It seems to have just appeared in English – earliest usage in the 1930s.  See The Big Apple, "Mouthfeel" (4/10/12) by Barry Popik.

So I tried looking up kǒugǎn 口感 in Chinese and found it was not as ubiquitous as I'd remembered. My very quick and basic search gave the impression that kǒugǎn 口感 might be a translated term in Chinese, most examples being related to drinks such as wine or tea. I wondered if you knew more?

Already from what Helen tells us, it seems that this expression "kǒugǎn 口感 / mouthfeel" is anchored deeply neither in English nor in Chinese.

Let's start with English.  The OED's first citation is 1939,  Jrnl. Inst. Chem. Great Britain & Ireland (Feb. 62):

Such properties as tenderness in meat, crispness in biscuits, smoothness in chocolate,..may be included in the ugly but apt expression ‘mouth feel’.

Judging from this citation, "mouthfeel" first arose in English in the 1930s, but where did it come from?  I can't help but saying that it sounds like translatese to me. There's a certain awkwardness to the word that has even led more than one commentator to call it "ugly".

On his blog, Barry Popik talks about a "'mouthfeel' backlash that began on food blogs in the 2000s":

A strong condemnation appeared in a May 17, 2005 post titled “The Cliche Project: Words and Phrases Food Writers Should Stop Using” on the blog A Blow to the Head:

“Mouth feel.” Do I need to explain this one? It’s the worst phrase ever invented, not to mention one of the most over-used in food writing. It evokes the most disgusting imagery to me and at the same time makes me giggle.

See "Six words" (7/23/10) — last couple of sentences in the o.p., and a bit in the comments, hearkening back to a comment to "Word rage wins again" (7/12/09).  The word "mouthfeel" (or "mouth-feel") has appeared on Language Log (or in citations from Language Log) a few hundred times going all the way back to around 2007, usually in connection with word aversion.

Despite the squeamishness over "mouthfeel" in some circles, it does have its advocates, as can be seen from the mag called Mouthfeel.

If "mouthfeel" evinces unnaturalness in English, what about its counterpart in Chinese?  Is it possible that English "mouthfeel" was borrowed from Chinese kǒugǎn 口感?

The simple answer is no, that is not possible, since "mouthfeel" is already in English from the 1930s, whereas kǒugǎn 口感, with one problematic exception in 1945 I know of that I'll discuss below, doesn't show up in Chinese until decades later.

Kǒugǎn 口感 is not in Cí yuán 辭源 ("Fountain of Words"), a well-known dictionary of word origins published in 1979.  Nor is kǒugǎn 口感 in Hànyǔ dà cídiǎn (HDC) (Unabridged Dictionary of Sinitic), which indicates that it does not have much time depth.

Quick searches through a few large databases fail to find much other than kǒu gǎn 口感 being used as a phonetic speller (口感 切) in a couple of places in the Kangxi Dictionary (1716), which suggests that it wouldn't have been thought of as a word at that point.

In terms of lexicographical resources, perhaps the most telling piece of evidence about when kǒugǎn 口感 ("mouthfeel") became widely accepted as a fixed term in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is that it doesn't appear in successive editions of Xiàndài Hànyǔ cídiǎn 现代汉语词典 (Dictionary of Modern Chinese) — the standard, official desk dictionary of MSM — until 1996 (p. 724a).

Google Books Ngram Viewer generates the following graph for 口感.

The graph suggests that kǒugǎn 口感 first appeared in print before 1975, and possibly as early as 1950. It also suggests that usage of kǒugǎn 口感 has been increasing steadily and markedly since the mid-1970s.

Similar growth in usage can also be seen in Taiwan Panorama (TP) articles.   TP is an international, bilingual magazine that showcases the political, social, economic, and cultural dimensions of Taiwan.  In the four years 1996-1999, kǒugǎn 口感 appeared 15 times in TP.  By contrast, it appeared as many as 90 times in the four years prior to Oct. 2016.

By 2012, the Leiden Weibo Corpus returns 915 hits, so kǒugǎn 口感 is clearly an integral part of Chinese vocabulary by that year.

The earliest attested occurrence of kǒugǎn 口感 with the meaning of "feeling in the mouth" (though I think not yet meaning "mouthfeel") is to be found in the venerable Shēn Bào 申報 (Shun Pao / Shen-pao / Shanghai News), one of the first Chinese newspapers, which lasted from 1872-1949.  This occurrence is found in issue no. 25,592 (July 1, 1945) where there is a discussion of various grains available in Shanghai and mention is made of their different qualities as they are perceived kǒugǎn shàng xīnlǐ shàng 口感上心理上 (" tastewise and psychologically").  As can be seen from the translation I have given, I don't think kǒugǎn 口感 here can properly be construed or rendered as "mouthfeel", but it is an impromptu occurrence within an ad hoc six character expression to match xīnlǐ 心理 ("psychological; mental").  It is not a lexical item meaning "mouthfeel".

Comparing the data from English and Chinese sources, it is impossible that "mouthfeel" was translated from kǒugǎn 口感, but rather that, in all likelihood, the latter was calqued upon the former.

So where did the English expression come from?  My initial impulse was that "mouthfeel" had a very German flavor to it.  Moreover, "mouthfeel" conveniently corresponds precisely to German "Mundgefühl" (how something feels in your mouth).  Unfortunately, German etymological dictionaries aren't helpful in determining the origin of "Mundgefühl", because the word is (or at least appears to be) a transparent compound.  If the enormous Grimm has been kept up to date, we might get some information on "Mundgefühl" there.  Otherwise, I call upon readers who are familiar with German electronic corpora to take a peek in them to see if they can find relatively early examples.

Most German speakers I asked about "Mundgefühl" tell me that they never heard of it or that it sounds odd to them.

The fact that the expressions for describing the various characteristics of mouthfeel listed in the German Wikipedia article on "Mundgefühl" seem mostly to be translated from their English equivalents suggests that the word "Mundgefühl" itself may be calqued from English.

How about French?  Surely the French must have extensive vocabulary resources for describing mouthfeel, and perhaps they even have an expression for mouthfeel.  Would that be "sensation de bouche"?  I don't know.  When I asked some French speakers about mouthfeel, a typical reaction was:

I have never heard this rather ugly word and, so far as my wife and I know, there is nothing comparable in French. But then neither of us are into wine-tasting….

Maybe it's because it is part of my anti-elitism that I don't like often snobbish wine-tasting groups. I would never join such a group (though my older brother has…). I like wine, but I don't like to pay outrageous prices for "the best". So that people like that invent a word which, well, shows the genius of English for inventive words also shows a kind of elitist sensuality — that explains my reaction to it as ugly….

In my quest to determine where "mouthfeel" may have derived from, I turned to Japanese to see if there were a comparable expression.

Indeed there is:  kuchiatari 口当りor 口あたり certainly exists as a natural vocabulary item referring to the texture of food or the qualities of a beverage in the mouth.  Kuchiatari is normally written in kana now, although there are plenty of examples with 口当たり or 口あたり. The comprehensive Nihon Kokugo Daijiten from Shogakukan gives the oldest appearance as 1628, which would suggest it's not a translation from Western languages, at least. Later it takes on the second meaning of "impression from external sources, feeling of words directed at one."There is also shitazawari 舌触り (lit., "tongue-contact / touch"), but it is less common and is used more for solid food.

Then there is shokkan 食感 (lit., "food-feel"), which is just "food texture," and hence a bit different. So is nodogoshi 喉越し (lit., "passing through the throat"), to which various splendiferous adjectives are attached in beer commercials.

Interesting to note, though, that a number of J-E dictionaries give something like "taste" as the translation of kuchiatari 口当たり and reserve "mouthfeel" for shokkan 食感.

So far as I can tell, kǒugǎn 口感 ("mouthfeel") does not exist as a lexical item in Japanese.

After all that, right now I have this strange feeling in my mouth that tells me it's time to go have a cuppa.

[Thanks to Richard Warmington, Linda Chance, Frank Chance, Nathan Hopson, Dehuai Yao, Huang Heqing, Mark Liberman, Don Ringe, David Moser, Randy Alexander, Brendan O'Kane, Ines Mair, Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Hiroko Sherry, Heidi Krohne, Steve Platt, and John and Veronique Lagerwey]


  1. mollymooly said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 11:52 am

    Crocker, E. C., and Washington Platt. "FOOD FLAVORS–A CRITICAL REVIEW OF RECENT LITERATURE." Journal of Food Science 2, no. 3 (1937): 183-196

    Many other sensations, such as the amount of saliva necessary for swallowing, according to Whymper (1919), may be included under the general term of “mouth feel.”

    Robert Whymper 'The conditions that govern staleness in bread. Changes of moisture and soluble extract with age. Investigations and researches made in the British Army bakeries in France, 1917-1918.' London, Maclaren and Sons, 1919 Reprinted from "The British Baker."

  2. RW said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 11:53 am

    It seems to me a weirdly infantile word, and its very existence doesn't make sense when the word "texture" exists. It's as crazy as saying something like "earfeel" instead of "timbre". My theory for its origin would be that it was said first by a toddler eating a mushroom for the first time, and was then inexplicably reused by adults.

  3. Joe said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:36 pm

    Also – is there such a thing as aspect in terms of adjectives? A few examples I can think of is the attachment of prefixes to indicate a temporal modification (ex-combat fighter, yet-undecided voters).

    Also, does aspect only indicate a time period? If adjectives have an aspect, would they indicate how much of an adjective modifies a noun? For example, "disabled person" may differ semantically from "person with a disability" in that the disablement may define the former while, for the latter, it's only a characteristic. Is there a sense of aspect in adjectives?

  4. Walter Underwood said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:42 pm

    How about "knobfeel"? There is an amusing series of reviews of hi-fi equipment focusing solely on the knobs.

  5. Cervantes said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:46 pm

    It seems to me a weirdly infantile word, and its very existence doesn't make sense when the word "texture" exists.

    Would you agree that "mouth feel" is less ambiguous than "texture"?

  6. Ellen Kozisek said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:50 pm

    I assume RW didn't see Mollymooly's comment posted just before his. I would say the thought there gets at the difference between texture and mouthfeel. Mouthfeel would be specifically the texture felt in the mouth, as distinct from how it feels to the hand touching or holding it.

  7. Chris said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

    I first learned the English word “mouthfeel” as a translation of “食感” (I am a native English speaker). At the time, I was 28 and the person who had said “食感” was 8 or 9, so at the least it's much more firmly anchored in Japanese than English.

  8. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 12:59 pm

    To me, "texture" includes how things feel to the hand and how they feel when using a fork, knife, or spoon on them, as Ellen Kozisek said and Cervantes implied. "Mouthfeel" includes such things as the feeling of the residue of fat or dissolved sugar in the mouth after swallowing, as well as the astringency of tannins, which I wouldn't include in "texture". I'm not sure whether I include the coolness of mint and the burning of some spices in "mouthfeel", but I'm sure I don't include them in "texture". However, some rather technical Web sites, such as this and this, don't seem to distinguish.

  9. Victor Mair said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:10 pm

    From Michael Witzel:

    Duden has nothing of this sort (see also the various idioms there).

  10. CD said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:13 pm

    Yup. Texture is inherent to the thing, feel is the sensation. An obvious example is describing the effect of using a little gum syrup in a cocktail – it makes it more viscous and changes the way the flavors are experienced. If you are making food or drink you are interested in the result.

  11. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:19 pm

    I think of it as a chef's word (and perhaps, by extension) a food critic's word). I know a retired chef who still teaches occasionally and he's the only person whom I've ever heard actually speaking the word, although I've come across it in print a couple of times.

  12. Theophylact said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:26 pm

    The mouthfeel of ice cream is very different from its [finger] feel. Indeed, the mouthfeel of different ice creams varies much more than the feel. A great deal of technology goes into achieving that effect. Check out Dave Arnold's Cooking Issues podcast; you'll find out more about hydrocolloids than you could imagine ever wanting to know.

  13. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:34 pm

    RW: Apparently "ear feel" (as distinct from sound quality) is a thing in reviews of mobile phones, headsets, and earbuds.

  14. Robbie said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

    I've always thought of "mouthfeel" as definitely a technical term. It's entered general English now, especially among foodies, but I'm sure it started as jargon. My conjecture is that it might have started in the field of consumer psychology, especially applied to industrial food processing and marketing.

    Surely chefs and restaurant critics, if they'd needed a term other than "texture", would have coined it earlier than the 1930s. But consumer psychology needs to go into the experience of eating in minute detail, and needs to be able to describe the "sensation in the mouth" that isn't the same thing as texture.

    I'm not a foodie and not particularly interested in cooking, but I am very interested in consumer psychology. And I'm also very familiar with the word "mouthfeel". For what that's worth.

  15. Adam said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 1:50 pm

    A similar compound word with a similar aversion is the concept of "gameplay" (noun, meaning roughly "the character and/or minutiae of how a game is played", roughly congruent to "game mechanics" or "structure") in the context of video and board games. I've heard multiple people offer objections along the lines of "what's next, moviewatch?" but no one term adequately captures the generality of gameplay, so it's stuck

  16. Thor said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

    I suspect that "mouthfeel" is a normal characteristic in organoleptic assessments.

  17. Vireya said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:16 pm

    I first heard "mouthfeel" in 1983. It was said by a Food Science lecturer, discussing fats and oils and their role in food palatability. It was definitely a food industry technical term then. Obviously it has moved out into the general public now, but I remember clearly how weird (and slightly icky) it sounded at the time.

  18. RichardW said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:38 pm

    Re: How about French? […] Would that be "sensation de bouche"?

    I wouldn't know myself, but Grand Ricci (Chinese-French dictionary) says
    1. Sensation dans la bouche (p. ex. : dur; croquant).
    2. Goût; saveur (p. ex. : gâteau).

  19. Mary Kuhner said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:39 pm

    I first heard this word in an (American English) review of a Hakka Chinese restaurant, expressing consternation at the prawns in sticky white sauce. It seemed slightly distinct from "texture" in that review, though I'd be hard-pressed to define the difference. Partly, texture is what the food has, but mouthfeel is what the food+saliva+chewing has, which can be quite different–especially if the food leaves a distinctive residue, which I think the prawns did.

    How does Chinese refer to the numbing effect of Szechuan pepper? Would "mouthfeel" apply to this? In English I have not heard it used to refer to spicy-hotness or numbing quality, though those would seem to follow from its component parts….

    I have always found it odd that "spicy" refers both to the burning sensation of red pepper or wasabi and the flavor of ginger, garlic, or cinnamon. A local Indian restaurant, since defunct, posted a review that said "To appreciate this form of Indian cuisine, it helps to know that pain is a flavor." To me it is not–chili oil in particular is hot but almost flavorless.

  20. Jamie said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 4:59 pm

    It is not a word I have come across very often, but it seems a perfectly natural and transparent compound to me.

  21. bks said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 5:32 pm

    I don't think "texture" quite captures it:
    No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.

  22. AntC said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 6:51 pm

    I became aware of "mouthfeel" as a foodie term (especially applied to wine tasting), at about the same time as "umami".

    I'm not suggesting "mouthfeel" came from Japanese, but more that foodie vocabulary expanded to cover wider aspects than the traditional flavours, and especially Chinese/Japanese cuisine's emphasis on texture.

  23. Noel Hunt said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 7:04 pm

    Japanese also has 歯応え, hagotae, 'tooth/teeth response/reaction', but this is restricted to the action of chewing (it also has a transferred sense of 'tough', e.g., 'tough question' etc.).

  24. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 7:11 pm

    Note that "texture" is especially unhelpful when it comes to beverages, where lots of things that all feel more or less identical as to "texture" ("um, wet") if you stick your finger into the glass may have notably different mouthfeel when actually being sipped/swallowed. Perhaps it's an ungainly word but it has a distinct referent that it is useful to be able to talk about. I suppose it is interesting that we have such a homely coinage rather than a posh-sounding French loanword.

  25. Mr Punch said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 8:13 pm

    As Robbie says, this appears to be a technical term – in Food Science/Technology, based on my limited experience and the early citations. As such, ugliness is to be expected.

  26. Eidolon said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 8:29 pm

    The concept, as it's constructed, does have a Japanese feel to it. While the idea of texture in food has long existed, the emphasis on the tactile experience of food is popularly associated with Japanese cuisine, at least in the US, and especially among chefs advertising high end Japanese food. It may be a conceptual translation from Japanese 食感 or a loan shift, but I am curious why independent invention is not also considered a possibility. "Mouth feel" sounds awkward in English because it is precisely the sort of culinary slang one comes up so as to distinguish from basic, widely accepted words like "texture," and to represent new ideas about food influenced by, perhaps, the works of Kikunae Ikeda in the early 20th century.

    I feel similarly about Chinese 口感. It's unlikely to be a Japanese loan because 口感 doesn't exist in Japanese and 食感 would've been the word to borrow, in that case, but the word "mouth feel" is also quite rare in English and not especially associated with Western cuisine. The introduction and/or popularity of Japanese cuisine in Taiwan and China may have been the beginning of the need for a term like 口感, and since the ~感 construction is quite natural in Modern Standard Mandarin, it may simply have been created by a Chinese culinary writer to capture the same new idea.

  27. alex said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 10:12 pm

    "How does Chinese refer to the numbing effect of Szechuan pepper? Would "mouthfeel" apply to this"

    no this is "ma la" I find it very easy to use this term. "ma" is numb "la" is hot/spicy perhaps this word might be adapted into English :-) ( saw an old LL article on the infrequency of Chinese words being adopted)

    I have often come across kougan used when it comes to noodles. Some people prefer chewy some thin. A favorite is dao xiao mian. (knife cut, wider noodle like fettuccine) Perhaps the locals don't use kougan correctly or use it as all purpose word. The other word for chew is "Jiao". Ive heard some people jiao jin, mian jin is gluten.

    Not sure if many have tried fried gluten, I like it do to the chewiness.

  28. Cervantes said,

    November 2, 2016 @ 11:27 pm

    Allow me a few trivial notes.

    Victor Mair writes:

    The OED's first citation is 1939, Jrnl. Inst. Chem. Great Britain & Ireland (Feb. 62):

    About this, two things:

    The citation, fairly transcribed above, is misleading in the original. February, 1939 is when these proceedings were published as (Volume) 63, not 62.

    The second thing is merely an aside for those following a separate discussion below: notice the "Great Britain & Ireland" in the name of the Institute.

    Anyhow …

    It was at the Institute's meeting of the East Anglia section on January 17, 1939, that one Mr. Harry Malkin Mason, being the Chief Chemist of Messrs. J. Mackintosh & Sons of Halifax (in Yorkshire), addressed himself to the question of "Tasting Tests":

    The palatability of a foodstuff depends on several properties. Taste proper (sweetness, sourness, bitterness and saltiness), combined with odour, make up its flavour. Such properties as tenderness in meat, crispness in biscuits, smoothness in chocolate, which may be included in the ugly but apt expression “mouth feel,” also contribute in no small measure to the pleasure which is experienced when food is eaten. All these properties have to be taken into account when tasting tests are made on foodstuffs.

    So: taste, odor, and "mouth feel."

    Another aside: That report on Harry Mason's talk ends thus:

    In the discussion, reference was made to the fact that women were generally more reliable than men as tasters of confectionery.

    In fact, Mason's employer, Messrs. J. Mackintosh & Sons, was already rather well-known at that point for its primary product, "Mackintosh's Celebrated Toffee," a confection created not by John Mackintosh or his sons but by his wife, Violet.

    At the time of Mason's talk on "Taste Testing," the company had just introduced "Rolo," another familiar product.

    Anyhow …

    Victor adds:

    Judging from this citation, "mouthfeel" first arose in English in the 1930s, but where did it come from? I can't help but saying that it sounds like translatese to me. There's a certain awkwardness to the word that has even led more than one commentator to call it "ugly".

    About this, two things:

    As for "ugly," even Mr. Mason, as cited in the OED, called the expression "ugly but apt."

    As for timing: The term "mouth feel" was used in English earlier than in the 1930s. In the first comment above, mollymooly cites a 1937 article in the Journal of Food Science that itself cites a 1919 report by one Robert Whymper. That 1919 report, in which the term "mouth feel" is used, was entitled: The conditions that govern staleness in bread. Changes of moisture and soluble extract with age. Investigations and researches made in the British Army bakeries in France, 1917-1918.

    Whymper, it turns out, was first a chemist, then an expert on chocolate, and then a Captain in the East Surrey Regiment. Awarded a Military Cross in 1917 for distinguished service in the field, he returned to food chemistry and went on to write about, among other things, "mouth feel" and "the conditions that govern staleness in bread." (If Captain Whymper's name seems familiar to some readers, it could be due to his uncle, Edward, the first man to scale the Matterhorn.)

    A final aside: Harry Mason, Chief Chemist of Messrs. J. Mackintosh & Sons, was also a veteran of the Great War. He served in France in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps.

    And with that, and with all necessary apologies, I conclude.

  29. Sarah said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 2:06 am

    I have only come across mouthfeel in relation to beers. I thought it rather strange at first but then realised how useful a term it is in this context. The mouthfeel of a strong barley wine is totally different from that of an "ordinary" real ale and again totally different from a fizzy keg beer. I would never describe this difference as texture – to me texture only applies to what I suppose I would call semi-solids, such as fabrics and foods like porridge.

  30. Vilinthril said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 5:02 am

    I can confirm that Mundgefühl sounds rather weird and unusual in German, and I've certainly not heard it before.

  31. Johan P said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 5:15 am

    Add me to the list of people who first encountered mouthfeel as a technical term from food science – from an article about taste testers who had to precisely quantify food tasting experience as precisely as possible, so the chemical wizards would know exactly what vile E-numbers to squeeze into food to make it cheaper to manufacture while still being vaguely palatable. A horrible word from a horrible branch of science.

    By the way: why is it not "mouthfeeling"? Wouldn't that be a more natural construct in English? Having "a feel" to me means to palapate something, quite distinct from having "a feeling". (Having "the feels" is something altogether different, yet again.)

  32. Terry Hunt said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 5:41 am

    Further to Sarah's comment, "mouthfeel" has been a term of art in beer brewing and tasting (in the same sense as wine tasting) for at least 30 years to my personal knowledge, and I suspect much longer.

    The mouthfeel of a beer is influenced by the presence, amount and variety of various trace minerals and components whose precise mix and interactions depend on the particular beer's recipe (as well as the temperature at which it's dispensed): for example, tannins (or substances yielding similar effects) give some degree of rough feeling on the tongue, palate and cheeks, other substances can contribute a silky smoothness, almost a viscous feeling (though the liquid itself is not viscous) – the relative speeds at which the various sensations develop immediately on imbibing, while holding in the mouth, and after swallowing the beer also come into play. Another component contributing to mouthfeel (as well as taste) is the "condition"; i.e the amount of carbon dioxide dissolved in the beer, and the size of the bubbles that form in the mouth. Brewers are as conscious of mouthfeel as they are of the nose (aromas), colours, clarity and tastes of the liquid beer and its head.

    Since beer tasting (as opposed to tasting beer) is a more recent phenomenon than wine tasting, I'd suspect that the term was borrowed by beer afficianados from the latter.

  33. reader_not_academe said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 5:48 am

    The excellent DWDS online dictionary for German has no entry for Mundgfeühl either, but it does provide an interesting word frequency graph. Apparently the word only appeared in the post-war period, and really took off in the past two decades only. Even today it's a rather rare occurrence though. It's also telling that of the five newspaper corpus citations on the word's main page, one puts square quotes around it.

  34. Randy Alexander said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 7:26 am

    Note (above) that the English (hover over the word "English" on the left side under "其他语言") translation is "mouthfeel"; I first saw this word in Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book (1987).

  35. Góðan daginn said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 7:53 am

    In my mind, "texture" only applies to food. To have a texture, the thing you are eating must have some solidity, some warp and weft. "Mouthfeel" is necessary to describe the feeling of a liquid in the mouth.

  36. Victor Mair said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 8:06 am

    Starting in 1950, this Ngram Viewer graph for kǒugǎn 口感 gives a more finely grained picture of the rise of the term in recent years than the one in the o.p., which begins in 1900. It indicates that there exist instances of kǒugǎn 口感 in books starting in 1952, but that it markedly gains popularity starting in 1976.

  37. ASM said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 8:52 am

    Wine tasting is the field, and 'organoleptique' is the word that your crossword-puzzle clue 'mouthfeel' did not bring to the minds of your French speakers.

    According to Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Larousse (1984):
    "Organoleptique adj. Se dit de ce qui est capable d'impressionner un récepteur sensoriel." [Is said of that which is capable of making an impression on a sense receiver; which is more or less the same as the definition for 'organoleptic' in Webster's 3rd]. "(Ce terme s'emploie plus particulièrement pour les substances absorbées par voie buccale.)"

    So although its definition theoretically covers other sense organs, 'organoleptique' is actually used more particularly for substances absorbed by the mouth. This is the only sense I have ever met (in French).

    I guess that 'mouthfeel' was invented early in the 20th century to avoid the broader meaning, but I wonder how far English usage of 'organoleptic' has now gone towards being likewise narrowed to 'mouthfeel'.

  38. Victor Mair said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 8:53 am

    There is general agreement among readers on LLog and elsewhere that "mouthfeel" is a rather ungainly expression that began among specialists in the preparation and assessment of foods and beverages, especially wine, and that it only recently has broken out from its more professional background into broader public usage — but still mainly among cognoscenti and connoisseurs. Inasmuch as "Mundgefühl" exists as a transparently calqued German neologism of late vintage that few German speakers are familiar with and no French speakers have come forth with an analog in their language — the tongue of wine aficionados par excellence — we may conclude that the circulation of "mouthfeel" is still largely restricted to foodies and techies in the English speaking world.

    Judging from the sudden appearance and rise of kǒugǎn 口感 in Chinese starting around 1976 and its usage in precisely parallel circumstances to those of "mouthfeel" in English (as can be seen from its occurrences on Weibo and in Taiwan Panorama, for example), together with its calquish nature, it would be difficult to argue that it arose entirely independently and without any inspiration from "mouthfeel".

  39. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 8:55 am

    @Johan P.
    I think the difference is that "feel" is an attribute of the substance itself, while "feeling" is the attribute of a person. For example, we speak of a fabric having a certain feel. A food's "mouthfeel" conveys a certain feeling to the taster.

  40. Vulcan With a Mullet said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 10:23 am

    I always thought it was a term borrowed from the food industry specifically coined to describe the sensations of snacks like crunchiness, etc. That's the first context I ever read it used in.

  41. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 11:28 am

    I'll go on record as finding nothing particularly ugly or ungainly about "mouthfeel", no more so than, say, "mouthful" or "Southfield", which (I'm guessing) most people would find unobjectionable.

    So I conjecture that the professed aversion to "mouthfeel" has less to do with any inherent ungainliness than with its relative unfamiliarity and perceived connection with wine and food snobbery.

  42. GH said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 12:52 pm

    Sorry for going a bit off-topic, but "mouthfeel" strikes me as a word that Frank Herbert could have come up with.

    He had a tendency, particularly in Dune, to make up compounds ("truthsense," "wakeshot," "word-tension," "flowpermanence," and most famously, "mind-killer"), or to merge them in an almost German fashion. It's a very marked characteristic of his style (the National Lampoon parody gets a lot of mileage out of it), and gives it an off-beat, somewhat stilted rhythm that I think helps make his setting feel alien: it's as if the words have been translated from a language where they are perfectly normal.

  43. Jim said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 2:10 pm

    I suspect some dislike for "mouthfeel" is akin that that of "moist" — the actual way the mouth moves when saying the word evokes some negative feeling and gets projected onto the word itself. "Moist" moves the mouth in ways akin to an expression of disgust; "mouthfeel" moves the mouth in an unusual pattern, and to me, moves the mouth way more than a word "should", like you are doing too much work to say it.

    Which kind of makes it a physical onomatopoeia — there is a particular mouthfeel to the word "mouthfeel" that is akin to cleaning off your teeth and clearing food from your mouth.

  44. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 2:13 pm

    Do you feel the same about "mouthful," which is a fairly common word? It seems to me that there's not much difference between them.

  45. Victor Mair said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 5:51 pm

    Rich Warmington had a few additional thoughts:.

    1) In 2008, I added an entry for 口感 to cc-cedict, defining it as "mouthfeel; texture (of food)".

    About a year later, another editor changed the definition as follows (without consulting me):

    "taste; texture (of food); how food feels in the mouth"

    It seems he took exception to the word "mouthfeel", perhaps because, like other commenters at Language Log, he found it an ugly word.

    2) I found the following example of 口感 applied, not to food or drink, but to cigarette smoke.

    帝国伯爵电子烟 — 仿真香烟口感控烟戒烟产品

    3) You wrote "[The Google Ngram graph] indicates that there exist instances of kǒugǎn 口感 in books starting in 1952, but that it markedly gains popularity starting in 1976."

    I would be more circumspect, and say that it suggests that there may exist such instances. That's because the books were scanned and then converted to text by OCR, and it's well known that errors can occur in optical character recognition.

    In fact, I found one "instance" of 口感 in Google Books that turned out, on inspection to be 日感 (presumably straddling a word boundary, since I don't think 日感 is a word).

    I'm suspicious about the fact that the graph shows a near-constant frequency of usage during the 1950s, but zero usage in the decades on either side of the 1950s.

    In addition, we have to keep in mind that the Ngram Viewer finds n-grams, not words. In a sentence like


    口感 counts as an n-gram, but it's not a word.

    In summary, I am not convinced that the blip on the 1950s section of the chart isn't caused by OCR errors or n-grams that aren't actually instances of 口感.

    In searching Google Books, I wasn't able to confirm even a single example from the 1950s.

  46. Bloix said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 6:35 pm

    ""Moist" moves the mouth in ways akin to an expression of disgust;"

    Any more than boys or joy or toy or coils or soy sauce or boisterous or … ?

  47. Bathrobe said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 6:58 pm

    I believe I first encountered "mouthfeel" in the marketing research industry in the 1990s. This would have reflected the concerns of manufacturers and marketers to get all aspects of the product (including colour, taste, etc.) right for consumers. "Mouthfeel" was an important parameter in analysing palatability.

    I think the ugliness of the word mainly derives from its Germanicness. I doubt that the ordinary formation "feeling in the mouth" would attract the same complaints of ugliness.

  48. Victor Mair said,

    November 3, 2016 @ 10:16 pm

    I think that one of the main reasons people instinctively recoil from "mouthfeel" and consider it to be "ugly", "ungainly", etc. is that one does not normally think of the mouth as a tactile organ. One touches things with one's fingers and skin, but one tastes things with one's mouth.

  49. Joyce Melton said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 1:03 am

    I can't imagine why mouthfeel is considered any more ungainly than such compounds as sidewalk and airbag. In fact, mouthfeel is more transparent in meaning than either of those examples.

    The first time I heard it was in a discussion of super-premium ice creams in the 1990s. I knew immediately what it meant. As Mrs. Krabappel said, "It's a perfectly cromulent word."

  50. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 2:08 am

    Victor: In fact the mouth is a highly tactile organ. The amount of sensory cortex devoted to the lips and tongue rivals that of the fingers.

    We express affection by touching, hugging, holding hands — and kissing. So apparently mouth tactility itself is not instinctively repellant; on the contrary, it's a major facet of our emotional lives.

    But you may be right that some people are uncomfortable with thinking about it that way.

  51. Adam F said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 4:33 am

    Hmm. I first came across "mouthfeel" 20 or more years ago in the context of beer, and the word has never struck me as at all strange!

  52. Cervantes said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 7:40 am

    I'm with Joyce Melton.

  53. Aristotle Pagaltzis said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 9:23 am

    I have never encountered “Mundgefühl” anywhere, and the way it reads to me as a compound yields a very different meaning from “mouthfeel”, more like “mouth feeling”, with shades of “mouth emotion”. (Yes, that’s a bizarre term. That’s how bizarre it sounds in German.)

    I would go so far as to contend that there is no direct way to translate this sense of “feel” (as a noun) to German. As an example, in trying to say “look and feel” in German, the term is often simply loaned from English. Candidate terms for an actual translation are all very different from the English, and they tilt to the “look” part over the “feel” part.

    Note that there is a verb that carries that meaning of “feel”: “anfühlen”. But there is no noun. The noun seems a singularly English thing to me. So my guess is that “mouthfeel” originated in English.

  54. Jack said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 10:40 am

    As far as I'm concerned, "mouthfeel" isn't a negative term (I didn't see it in food science articles first, and to be honest I don't find food science terribly distasteful) and also isn't the same as texture, though I've never thought about why.

  55. Jim said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 1:44 pm

    Say those words really slowly and focus on what the mouth does. The "t" on "moist" affects the nose and the part of the mouth just below it way more than the words without that final sound — pulls the lips up and scrunches the noise, changes the physical feeling to be a lot like when you say "eewww" (as in "icky").

    Same sort thing as for above, the "feel" part immediately following "mouth" pulls the lips up and around in ways that "ful". Say the words slow and slightly exaggerated and watch the difference in a mirror or on video. Lots more action with "mouthfeel", some moving into the same space as "moist" (and maybe triggering some of the same results).

  56. Ralph Hickok said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 2:12 pm

    I can see and feel a very, very tiny difference. But I have to do it very slowly and slightly exaggerate it, as you suggest, in order to notice the difference. That's undoubtedly why I don't feed either word ugly; just as I don't feel any repugnance whatsoever about "moist."

  57. hector said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

    For my two cents' worth, finding "mouthfeel" icky, gross, or ugly says more about the person than it does about the word. I got nothin' against "moist," either.

  58. Victor Mair said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 3:30 pm

    From Patrick McGovern:

    I think this is an Americanism, which probably arose in the wine world where they’re always trying to come up with the right (and often pretentious) sensory terms.

  59. Eidolon said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 7:35 pm

    If the term originated in English, and was used with some popularity 30 or 40 years ago in the wind and/or food industries, then a direct borrowing into Standard Mandarin in the 1970s makes sense, as those were the years when, under Deng, China became open to Western influence. I would doubt the term became popular during the 1950s if it was in any way connected to American culture, since the political climate in China, at the time, was contrary, and Western ideas about cooking and/or wine tasting are on the bottom of what I'd expect to be imported. This would lend support to it being an OCR error, as Rich argued.

    That said, 口感上心理上, from 1945, is clearly similar enough of an usage to have allowed for possible transmission even then. 口感 in this case could also be a loan, since the Shanghai 申報 in 1945 was most likely friendly to Western influence, and English evidence shows that "mouth feel" was a technical term used in food culture by food critics around the same time, which is exactly the same way that it is used in the Shanghai 申報.

    One more comment: shouldn't we consider this an Anglicism, rather than an Americanism, since the first proven usage of this term is by a British scholar, one Robert Whymper?

  60. Jeff W said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 11:54 pm

    Within the food science industry, mouthfeel is one of the factors used in specifying, analyzing and evaluating the sensory quality (by, say, a sensory panel) of some food in its formulation. Of course, now it’s spread beyond the industry and used by food lovers to describe some quality of food. There is a whole book devoted to it coming out in February, 2017.

  61. Kaleberg said,

    November 4, 2016 @ 11:55 pm

    Mouth feel was definitely a technical term. As food preparation was increasingly moved out of the home and approached more scientifically in the early 20th century, scientists needed a word to describe how the food felt as it interacted with the interior of one's mouth. It is usually warm and wet inside one's mouth and food gets doused with saliva, prodded by one's tongue and so on. (Pretty disgusting, but we've all got to eat.)

    Apropos, I was just reading an article on the IEEE site about a new approach to robotic touch sensing involving a heated sensor. Most objects are at ambient temperature, but our skin is warm so we can get more info about what we are touching by observing what it does with our body heat. Metals, for example, feel cooler than wood. This is not texture or hardness or even temperature, but an interactive sensing, much like the sensing of how food feels in one's mouth.

    The article didn't have a name of this sense. Since we are living in the golden age of materials science, odds are the engineers are going to start playing with this sense by producing warm metals and icy cloth at some point. Then they'll need a word to describe that sensation, and it will probably be an awkward one when it creeps out of the technical papers.

  62. Douglas Carnall said,

    November 7, 2016 @ 6:34 am

    What Terry Hunt said.

    I first came across the term "mouthfeel" following an interest in the flavonoids: the vitamin-like compounds present in many fruits and leaves which often have anti-oxidant properties. The (1990s) review article I read mentioned in passing that these compounds are responsible for the mouthfeel of tea, and gave it to be understood that this was a term of art in tea-tasting (IIRC the word was presented between quote marks in this formal article).

    The presence of flavonoids in solution alter the surface tension of the liquid, and result in a different sensation in the mouth when it is drunk compared with drinking pure water alone. I had long wondered what this sensation-of-a-increased-tendency-to-form-a-globule-of-fluid-in-the-mouth (as I then though of it) might be when drinking very fine Indian tea at my maiden great-aunt's on a Sunday afternoon. So when I came across the word mouthfeel in the flavonoids review I found it instantly explanatory.

  63. MichaelHB said,

    November 8, 2016 @ 6:54 pm

    My friends and I use mouthfeel, or would understand someone using it, to refer to the texture of food while eating it (I'm 32). I also live in Japan and definitely translate my understanding of mouthfeel as 食感 (shokkan). I have never heard any Japanese friends or colleagues use the word in conversation outside the context of describing the food texture during the act of eating.

  64. michaelyus said,

    November 11, 2016 @ 7:25 am

    I for one genuinely really like the word "mouthfeel" in English and its technical roots. It has an immediate transparency; it describes a particular phenomenon in a concise way, having carved out a particular niche really different from "texture"; it heralds the advent of a new cultural perception, a new reality if you will, reified into something malleable and adaptable.

    FWIW, for Francophone sommeliers, "la bouche" (lit. "the mouth") has been the usual term for the wine's mouthfeel. "Une bouche multiétagée" = "multi-layered mouthfeel".

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