Opinions, Column

Embracing Your Inner Deipnosophist: Finding New Meaning at the Dinner Table

My favorite word in all of the English language isn’t some overused swear or a funny term to say like “diphthong,” but the grandiose word, deipnosophist. 

I first encountered the word during my freshman year of high school. My English teacher was infamous for his “daily words.” Every day, he would come in with a new word for us to memorize and add to our lexical roster. Of the 150 words I learned that year, deipnosophist will always be my favorite. It’s a pretentious enough word to make me appear smarter than I actually am, but it is not so pretentious that it becomes the bane of my spelling memorization, as floccinaucinihilipilification has. But the real reason I value the word deipnosophist is for its definition: a deipnosophist is someone who is skilled at dinner table conversation—a quality I think we should all strive to possess. 

So, why is table talk so important? 

It all starts with the food. There is something comforting about food—with science behind the term comfort foods. For example, carbohydrates have been shown to actually increase your serotonin levels. Just think, “meet the parents” dinners would be a lot more awkward without food as a buffer. What’s more, food has played a symbolic role throughout the course of history. Catholicism points to the importance of The Last Supper, and the French Revolution is remembered by Marie Antoinette’s alleged passionate declaration: “Let them eat cake!” In these cases, food held important meaning. When we eat a meal together for the purpose of just spending time together, we sit down, we talk, and that’s it—that’s all we really care about. It’s beautiful. And deipnosophists have a knack for this ability to be present and connect with others.

Additionally, table talk has the power to turn formality into something comfortable. Dinner table conversations in college can cover everything from March Madness to roommate drama to future plans—there’s no limit! And in unstructured, unplanned conversation comes the opportunity to shift the subject to whatever you want. In mimicking a deipnosophist, we can learn how to transition topics to make our chaotic conversations meaningful. 

Finally, table talk gives us a sense of individualism. There are an infinite number of conversation topics, but you and I only get to choose one—or at least only one at a time. But being a deipnosophist is empowering. And, mastering this kind of conversation can make it less stressful! We don’t always realize it in the moment, but navigating a conversation is hard, especially when we’re chewing in between sentences. Yet, we each find a way to get through it, and as we learn to make our conversations meaningful, we work our way toward the honorary title of deipnosophist.  

When we act as deipnosophists, we understand the importance of talking during a meal. We take what is already great about food—both the comforting and symbolic aspects—and make it better by adding meaning to the otherwise casual, surface-level conversation. Whether you’re eating with a friend, a roommate, a professor, a significant other, a romantic interest, or anyone else, it does not hurt to be a deipnosophist. You never know where a conversation will go, whether it’s at the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table, and honestly, that’s the beauty of it. “Deipnosophism” teaches us to embrace the mayhem that is the present.

April 2, 2023