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US vs. UK: Language Frenemies – the food edition

US vs. UK: Language Frenemies – the food edition

We’re back with another installment of everyone’s favorite frenemies series, and this time, we’re getting to the heart of something we both love more than anything: food. When it comes to ordering food in the U.S. and U.K., there are some striking linguistic differences that make deciding on a double cheeseburger or deep-dish pizza even more difficult. Because ain’t nobody got time for that, let’s sort the tortillas from the tacos and find out all the words you should know before you take your taste buds on a transatlantic journey.

Digestive biscuit vs. Graham Cracker

Tom: If you’re living in the U.K., you’ve probably come across these family-favorite biscuits that are traditionally served with a cup of tea you can dip them in. You also crush them to make the base for cheesecake. What is a Graham Cracker, anyway? Is that a brand? Who is Graham?!

Martinique: The Graham Cracker was invented in 1829 by Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham. It was originally considered a healthy part of the Graham Diet – a diet meant to suppress those *ahem* carnal urges. Today, it helps compliment one of the best campfire foods in the world: S’mores! Simply take a graham cracker (preferably honey-flavored), top it with a piece of Hershey’s chocolate (it must be Hershey’s), put a fire-roasted marshmallow on top, and then add another Graham Cracker for one of the best sandwiches in the history of ever.

Courgette vs. zucchini

T: Before a marrow becomes a marrow, it becomes a… courgette! This is the immature version of a marrow that looks like a cucumber with weird ends, and the British word comes from (unsurprisingly) the Old French courge, which came from the Latin cucurbita, with the suffix -ette to show that it’s a smaller version of something. Like -ito in Spanish, only Frenchier.

M: The word zucchini comes from the word zucchino in Italian, meaning a small squash. This makes sense since the zucchini we know and love today is actually a variety of summer squash that the Italians developed. Even though French cuisine is all fancy and stuff, ordering a zucchini with all kinds of Italian-looking hand gestures is just way more fun. (And courgette sounds like something old ladies wear.)

Coriander vs. cilantro

T: I admit that cilantro sounds much more exotic than coriander but, as usual, the British word is derived from a solid, sophisticated, and classical source. This time, it’s the Ancient Greek koriannon because those Greeks know how to cook a good meal using coriander (probably).

M: We actually use the word coriander too, but if you want to get really technical here, the entire plant plus its leaves is referred to as cilantro and the seeds are coriander. Americans are most familiar with cilantro being used in our guacamole and salsa because nothing says “American Food” quite like Mexican appetizers.

Pepper vs. bell pepper

T: This has to be one of the most contentiously-named vegetables in the world. Across Europe, it has a different name depending on the country, in order to differentiate it from the other types of peppers on the market. In the U.K., we just call it a pepper because it must have been the first one we ever saw. When there were more peppers, we simply gave them new names.

M: This is just obvious: we call bell peppers, bell peppers, well, because they look like bells. You know how as little kids, you would sit in a field looking at the clouds and figuring out if they remind you of a dinosaur, a dog, or a panda bear with a light saber? Well, I imagine someone did the same exact thing when naming bell peppers.

Ice lolly vs. popsicle

T: Popsicle? Seriously? It sounds like the name of a girl band from the 1990s. In the U.K., a lolly is short for lollipop, a word derived from lolly, meaning tongue in an old British dialect and the word pop, which means all sweet-flavored things. Therefore, a lollipop is a lickable sweet thing. I’m sure it made sense like 100 years ago.

M: Lolly makes no sense. It’s like someone trying to make “LOL” sound cuter, and it’s just not happening. Pop refers to something sweet or some fantastic music and sicle comes from icicle, which is what looks like. Everyone has tried licking an icicle before, so it only makes sense that one of America’s favorite summer snacks is something that a lot of people have licked and possibly got their tongue frozen to. (If you want to impress everyone at the water cooler, name-drop 11-year old Frank Epperson from California, the inventor of  ice pops: In the early 20th century, he accidentally left water, powdered soda mix and a spoon outside over night and it all froze. The rest is sweet, sweet history.)

Candy floss vs. cotton candy

T: If you’re living in the United States, you’re bound to try some of this at some point, so let’s get this straight: asking for cotton candy in the U.K. will earn you lots of scornful looks. This term is so American, it hurts. Candy means sweet things (although, confusingly, we don’t use it in the U.K. to mean all sweets) and floss comes from the French word floche, referring to strands of silk. Our words are so classy.

M: Floss?!?! Seriously?! Floss reminds me of dental floss, and when do you ever want to be reminded of your dentist while you’re eating the very thing he dreads you eating. Cotton candy is just the perfect name for it – it looks like cotton, yet you can eat it. GENIUS!

Image by Heather Katsoulis, Flickr /  Creative Commons

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