It is often said that the US and the UK are two nations separated by a common language.
It’s easy to see why; when you take into account all of the English speaking countries, and the countless communities who use English as their proficient second language on a daily basis, it’s no surprise that differences appear from one part of the world to another.
And the split is never more obvious than when it comes to food.
In this globalised world, what influences create these disparities in language? How have our cultural and culinary habits shaped our use of words?
Find out why our linguistic choices speak volumes about our history:
For over 200 years, French has been treated as the language of food, hence ‘cuisine’, ‘gourmand’, ‘hors d’oeuvre’ , or even ‘beef’ and hundreds more. Most of the vocabulary exists in international English, but ‘aubergine’, due to its late arrival into the language, was left behind in the UK where the French inspired them to start cooking with the purple vegetable.
Across the sea meanwhile, US chefs decided that the vegetable looked like an egg (they also cooked with the smaller white variety) and from recipe books, the name stuck.
Did we mention that English tends to acquire new food words from French? Well, that accounts for the use of ‘courgette’ in the UK.
Interestingly, the vegetable actually originates in the Americas and was brought over to Europe where the Italians took a real shine to the new culinary ingredient. They named the mature version ‘zucca’ (marrow) and the younger, smaller variety ‘zucchina’, a diminutive. The eventual influx of Italians to the US provided the base for the term we recognise today.
P.S. ‘Zucchini’ was recorded in the Oxford dictionary before ‘courgette’. So maybe the UK should be using the term too..?
This one gets confusing. In the 1700s, the UK started writing about fried potatoes being ‘chips’, solidified by the popular dish ‘fish and chips’. A century later, thinner fried potatoes became popular in the US, retaining the name ‘chips.’
The deep-fried thin-cut variety soon came into the picture and the British, due to the fact that the slices curl when cooked, went with ‘crisps’ to describe them. In the US, the reverse happened; in order to accommodate the latter, the former ‘chips’ were adapted to ‘fries’. For some reason.
There’s a pattern here; ‘coriander’ comes from the French, and it is therefore used in the UK. Simple. For the US, the herb is best known for its role in Mexican or Tex-Mex cooking (which, as we know, is Mexican-influenced US cuisine). ‘Cilantro’ is the Spanish so naturally US English absorbed the word as well as the cuisine.
Just like with the previous herb, the two words for this leafy ingredient have a common root: Latin. Surprise surprise, the British term ‘rocket’ made its way from France (again) and into the language, while the Italian influence in the US encouraged the usage of ‘arugula’.
In the UK for some 300 years, the old Germanic word for sweet things (swēte) has been used to describe caramelised sugar.
‘Candy’ itself on the other hand stretches all the way to Southern Asia where boiled sugarcane was first called ‘Khanda’. The word originally just referred to crystallised sugar and was the simplest treat to make. Therefore, when Europeans started arriving in the New World, there were few who had any sugarcane expertise meaning that they could only enjoy straight ‘candy’. As the industry grew, the word became the standard for all similar products.
This one’s a cheat; both terms exist across the planet.
But did you know that in the UK, the word ‘pudding’ also means ‘dessert’?
For once, the US favours French. There is a fabulous history behind the French ‘dessert’ (which you can read here), used to describe a sweet final course to a meal in English wordwide.
‘Pudding’, however, is thought to come from 14th century Old English or French referring to sausages and, by extension, other food boiled or cooked in a sack. It seems that while the term progressed towards meaning the typical after-meal sweet in the UK, across the sea they stuck to a word that was already in common usage before the community was separated (which is why the UK uses both).
Even if we cannot settle on a single set of vocabulary for food, we can all agree that it tastes equally good, whatever the name!
Do you have a different name for any of these foods? Let us know below!