A very venti vent

Phillip Taylor is a Sacramento-area teacher who drinks too many mochas

Venti is Starbucks speak for large. I can’t say that this is the Italian word for large, because I don’t really know what word Italians use for “large.” Whenever I meet an Italian, I never have the presence of mind to ask.

But even if the Italian term for “large” is actually “venti,” it doesn’t really mean “large” in Starbucks.

When customers purchase a venti mocha, they automatically get a side of superiority. After all, they figured out this different language—Starbucks speak—used in this special environment, and although it was strange and confusing at first, and it may have taken more than one try, they got through it and are now one of the members of an exclusive club where people order their drinks using special terms, some of which might be Italian. It’s not as hard as learning an actual European language, but it smacks enough of Europe to make customers feel cultured and intelligent.

Notice, however, that the Starbucks word for “small” is still English: “tall.” You don’t get to be cultured and intelligent for less than two bucks. But you can still be “tall.”

Try consciously using the term “large” in a Starbucks. Everyone knows you mean “venti.” After all, that’s the biggest size Starbucks has, and “large,” in English, means “the biggest size you have.” Despite this, the employees will ask you to repeat yourself two or three times, as if you’re speaking a foreign language.

I know what the company is up to, and I don’t like it. I mean, there’s a standard to superiority. People don’t get to call themselves superior unless they actually are, and I am offended that they are selling this implicit status for a mere adjustment of the terms “small,” “medium” and “large.”

Superiority means that one has achieved something that not everyone can achieve, or has an insight that not everyone has. Selling superiority by adopting a mere adjustment of three linguistic signifiers is simply a degradation of the status of “superior”—unless, that is, a person can be considered superior simply because he can afford a $3.50 cup of coffee, in which case I might have to concede that Starbucks is onto something.