From an off topic post on a practice US nationality test on one of the web's leading technology sites is this statement.
>>1. What condiment applies to French-fried potatoes?
>> Vinegar... no, mayonnaise... no wait, it's that red stuff.
>No credit for not being able to name the red stuff. Negative points for even thinking of theBetter Half and I have visited this particular transatlantic chasm. I'm struggling to remember the details, but it involved him claiming to have put out condiments on the table, and me saying something like "You can't call it condiments when there's only a jar of mustard there", and him retorting that there was mustard and salt and pepper. At which point we began a particularly pointless argument about whether salt and pepper can be called condiments. It's at these points in a mixed marriage at which a spouse like me can do one of two things:
>words vinegar or mayonnaise.
Now even in the sixty comments nobody mentioned salt and pepper which is what I would use. Is there a difference in the meaning of the word condiment between British and American English?
- Attribute his use of the word to his adorable Englishness.
- Assume he's a culinary cretin who just doesn't know the proper meaning of the word.
To me, salt and pepper are seasonings but not condiments, and condiments are things that are usually wet and require a recipe to make. Let's compare some BrE and AmE dictionaries to see whether they differ on this point, starting with the British:
All of the British sources I checked explicitly mention salt and often pepper. And the American?a substance such as salt, mustard, or pickle that is used to add flavour to food.
(Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd edn)
Seasoning added to flavour foods, such as salt, or herbs and spices such as mustard, ginger, curry, pepper, etc. ...
(Dictionary of Food and Nutrition, Oxford University Press)
any seasoning for food, such as salt, pepper, sauces
A substance, such as a relish, vinegar, or spice, used to flavor or complement food.While the AmE definitions could apply to salt and pepper, neither dictionary mentions them.
(American Heritage Dictionary, 4th edn)
something used to enhance the flavor of food ; especially : a pungent seasoning
Searching online for the phrase "salt, pepper and condiments", I got 1,550 hits. Searching UK sites only (using Google.co.uk), there were four. So, it is looking like the urge to separate salt and pepper from condiments is not a particularly British urge.
Why is it this way? I don't know. I can't think of any seasoning-related behavio(u)r that would make salt/pepper more or less prominent in any group's collective mind. In fact, the only salt/pepper cross-cultural difference that I can think of has to do with the number of holes in the containers in which they're served. In the US, a (AmE) salt shaker has several holes, whereas the shaker for ground pepper has fewer holes. In the UK (and elsewhere) a salt-cellar (a term also found in AmE, but not as frequently; see the comments for corrections re this term) has one biggish hole and the (BrE) pepperpot has several smaller holes. Thus, those visiting one country from the other almost invariably put the wrong condiment/seasoning on their food on the first try. But in both countries, salt and pepper are expected to be found on a table and are provided on restaurant/cafe tables--except for those restaurants in which the waiter presents a huge pepper-dispensing phallus, generally after you've had the first bites of your food and when you're in the throes of a really interesting conversation, troubling you to ask "Fresh Ground Black Pepper, Miss?" (you can hear the capital letters there). Obviously, we mere consumers are not to be trusted with the Pepper God fetish. But that happens in both countries too.
There's a strange disagreement between the British and American dictionaries on the etymology. While Collins and Oxford give the Latin condire as meaning 'to pickle', AHD and M-W give it as 'to season'. You'd think it'd be the other way (a)round, given the interpretations of condiment in the two countries.