prototypical soup

I've been unwell (which is a very BrE way to put it, see this old guest post) a lot this winter, which seems to be the price one pays for procreating. They say that minor illnesses are good for developing children's immune systems, so I try not to resent the germs that infect poor little Grover. But I supposedly have a developed immune system. Shouldn't I be immune to some of these preschool bugs?  At least our norovirus kept us away from the preschool this week, when Erythema infectiosum has been going around. Or, as the note to parents said, slapped-cheek disease. Never heard of it? Neither had I. A little research showed that the more common nickname for it in AmE is fifth disease. That didn't really help either.  All in all, it sounds like a fairly pathetic entry into the childhood illnesses roster. (The child illustrating the infection's Wikipedia page looks like he's having a pretty good time with it!)

Before the stomach bug, it was a bad cold that had downed Grover and me. Both since my last blog post. (Better Half stays curiously well. Maybe I don't have a British-enough immune system.) Pity us!

In fact, you should pity any expat or immigrant with a minor ailment (or [BrE] the dreaded lurgy), because the one thing you want when you're feeling (chiefly BrE) grotty is the comforts of childhood--which are thin on the ground when one is separated from one's childhood by miles, oceans and passport controls, not to mention the decades. When I'm ill, I want two things, which, in my home culture, are known to have magical-medicinal properties: cold, flat ginger ale and chicken soup.

The ginger ale can be achieved. Saint Better Half only had to go to three shops before finding some.  Here, it goes by the BrE name American ginger ale, which I find amusing because (a) where I come from, we think of it as Canadian, (b) I can see no other kind of ginger ale for sale, so why do they need the adjective? One can only guess that it's to distinguish it from ginger beer, a much spicier drink, which is far more common in the UK than ginger ale (which in the UK is thought of as a mixer and not a drink in its own right). I can feel a tangent coming on. Whoops, here we go... Ginger ale consumption in the US is fairly region-specific. I come from the kind of place (the northeast) where it's a drink that you can buy cold in a single-serving bottle from a (orig. AmE) convenience store/(BrE) corner shop, but this isn't true throughout the US. And if there is a down-home 'American' ginger ale, then it's not the stuff that's used as a mixer. The Canadian mixer type is 'pale, dry' ginger ale (like this Schweppes or Canada Dry). But there is also 'golden' ginger ale, which is darker, heavier and gingerier (more like a traditional ginger beer). This is rarer in the US and even more regional. You'll know if you're in one of the regions for it if the names Vernor's or Blenheim mean anything to you (or a few others...see Wikipedia).  At any rate, it's the dry stuff that one wants if one's had a (more BrE than AmE) tummy bug. Because ginger is good for nausea, you know. It should have lots of ice, so that it gets watery and flat and rehydrates you without causing any more gastrointestinal upset.  But I live in England with a man for whom ice trays are one of those mysterious plastic things that come with a fridge yet have no clear connection to it, so I water mine down with water straight from the (BrE) tap/(AmE) faucet. Hey, I'm not well. I'm desperate.

Hm, over 600 words and I haven't even started to get to the point of this post. A record? Probably not.

The point is the soup.

See, we Americans know that chicken soup is the cure for the common cold. And, when you're recovering from a stomach virus, a nice chicken soup is a good second foray (after toast) back into the land of the digesting.  But, of course, you can't make it yourself. You're sick, after all. Stay in bed. And who wants to cook a whole chicken when no one feels much like eating? This is what the (orig. AmE) can-opener was invented for.  

It is perfectly possible to find 'chicken soup' in the UK. The problem is finding the kind that is good for a cold. Send your English (and vegetarian) husband out in the rain to buy a (AmE) can/(BrE) tin, and he will come home with five kinds of wrong before you send him out again whispering cock-a-leekie to himself.  The tins/cans of wrong will include various cream-based, coconut-based, curry-based concoctions--not what an ailing American soul needs.

The problem, I have come to understand, is prototypes.

So here comes the linguistics. Soup in either British or American English will include puréed and strained things like tomato soup, things with lots of cream in them, broths like the cock-a-leekie to the right, with pieces of meat and vegetable. All these things come within the boundaries of the category 'soup' in English. But categories have more than boundaries (and those boundaries are often 'fuzzy'. Yes, that's the technical term). Categories, as represented in our minds, also have peaks...or cent{er/re}s...or cent{er/re}s that are peaks. Pick a metaphor that works for you.  That cent(e)ry peak or peaky cent{er/re} is known as the prototype of the category, and a particular thing (like cock-a-leekie) is deemed to be part of a category (like SOUP) if it is close enough to/has enough in common with the prototype.  To quote a fine reference book on the matter:

According to one view, a prototype is a cluster of properties that represent what members of the category are like on average (e.g. for the category BIRD, the prototype would consist of properties such as ‘lays eggs’, ‘has a beak’, ‘has wings’, ‘has feathers’, ‘can fly’, ‘chirps’, ‘builds nests’ etc.).  Category members may share these properties to varying degrees—hence the properties are not necessary and sufficient as in the classical model, but instead family resemblances.  In the alternative approach, the mental representation of a concept takes the form of a specific, ideal category member (or members), which acts as the prototype (e.g. for BIRD, the prototype might be a representation of a specific robin or sparrow).
In other words, when deciding whether or not something belongs to the BIRD category, one measures its birdiness against some (possibly very abstract) notion of an ideal bird.  Now, it's reasonable to believe that there might be some room for dialectal variation in what the prototype of a particular category is. But we have to be careful here--it's not just a matter of what is more frequent locally that determines what the prototype is.  Chickens and ducks might be the most common birds down on the farm, yet the farmer will not treat them as if they are the prototype against which 'birdiness' should be judged--that hono(u)r stays with the birds that (BrE) tick/(AmE) check more of the 'bird' boxes like 'can fly' and 'chirps'.

As far as I know, not much work has been done on regional variation in prototypes. The only example I can think of is a small study by Willett Kempton (reported in John Taylor's Linguistic Categorization) on Texan versus British concepts of BOOT, showing that even though both groups considered the same range of things to be boots, there was variation in their ideas of what constituted a central member of the BOOT category, with the Texan prototype extending further above the ankle than the British one.

Though I've not done the psychological tests that would tell us for sure, I'm pretty sure that the American SOUP prototype is along the lines of this:
a warm broth with pieces of meat, vegetables, and/or starchy things (e.g. noodles, barley, rice, matzo balls) in it
And the English one is more along the lines of this:
a warm, savo(u)ry food made from vegetables and possibly meat that have been well-cooked and liquidi{s/z}ed
 These are not the definitions of soup, but the core exemplars of what belongs to the SOUP category, from which the 'soupiness' of other foods is measured. So, each culture has soups that don't conform to these ideals, but they nevertheless have enough in common with them (e.g. being liquid, considered food rather than drink, containing vegetables) to also be called soup.  The differences in the prototypes might have some effects on the boundaries of the category. So, for instance, since the English prototype has more emphasis on liquidi{s/z}ation, you'd expect the extension of the word soup to tolerate less in the way of (orig. AmE) chunky pieces than the AmE use of the word, which is stemming from a prototype that likes pieces and therefore will tolerate bigger ones (see point 3 below).

My experiential evidence for the differences in prototype are as follows:
  1. American dictionaries (American Heritage, Merriam-Webster) explicitly mention the likelihood of solid pieces of food in soup, while British ones (Collins, Oxford) don't.
  2. The soup of the day in English restaurants is very often a puree. In US restaurants, that's much more rare--the people want stuff in their soup.
  3. Some of the things I have made and called 'soup' have been met with a puzzled "that's more of a stew, isn't it?" from the Englishpeople I've served it to.
  4. Some of the most common soups in England are generally smooth: leek and potato, tomato (often 'tomato and basil', which to me is like eating pasta sauce with a spoon), carrot and coriander. Whereas American soups are often full of solid things: chicken noodle, beef and barley, vegetable (which brings us to...)
  5. Order 'vegetable soup' in England and it will almost certainly be smooth. Order it in the US and it will almost certainly be a broth with diced vegetables. 
But this could be more rigorously tested, so I mention here that dialectal differences in prototypes might be an interesting area for a student dissertation project to cover.  (Are any of our second years reading this?)

Two more things to cover before I go. (I must be feeling better...I haven't collapsed in a heap yet.)

First, notice that I've been saying 'English' rather than 'British' when talking about the prototype differences. The two most famous Scottish soups, cock-a-leekie and Scotch broth, are broths with (more BrE) bits in them, so the prototype might be different up there.

Which brings us to broth. It's a word found in both AmE and BrE, but in AmE it basically means BrE (but also AmE) stock--that is, a liquid made by cooking things in water, then straining the things out. In BrE, it can be used to mean a stock with stuff in it (hence Scotch broth).  So, when I've expressed my longing for a more American-style soup to an Englishperson, I've been told "oh, you mean a broth". But AmE also has bouillon, which is again broth, but I'd call it bouillon if I were drinking it out of a mug (as I used to have to do in the days when I had to go on clear liquid diets a lot. I'm not the healthiest character), especially if I'd made it with a (AmE) bouillon cube (or powder), which in BrE would be a stock cube (or, more colloquially, an Oxo cube--the dominant brand).

I'm going to stop there and go to bed, trying not to think about how much easier my life would be if I could write this many words in grant proposals in an evening.  That way lies insomnia.

P.S. [Jan 2024]  Here's another American take on stock v broth, which doesn't work so well in BrE. From All Recipes: Soups and Stews magazine.

Magazine sidebar defines stock as always cooked with bones but not necessarily with meat. Broth is defined as any liquid that has meat and or vegetables cooked in it which may or may not contain bones. The final result is much thinner liquid in stock and doesn’t gel when chilled . ALT Jan 6, 2024 at 12:54 PM 5 likes  0  Victoria Redfern · 15m I'm not an expert cook, but I'm pretty sure you're right.  There's beef stock and chicken stock but also veg stock.  Broth to me is a type of actual soup.  0   Lynne Murphy · 8m I was being a bit disingenuous with the “I suspect”. I’ve written a lot on the topic of soup. One of my great passions!  0   Rebecca Brite · 6m Per Oxford, stock = liquid made by cooking bones, meat, fish, or vegetables slowly in water, used as a base for soup, gravy, or sauce; broth = liquid made by cooking bones, meat, or fish slowly in water, or soup consisting of meat or vegetables cooked in stock and sometimes thickened with cereals  0   Rebecca Brite · 3m In other words, stock can be veg based and broth isn't? Like you, I'm an expat American, but not being a soup fan had never considered this question. In French it's all bouillon.  0   Lynne Murphy · 13s Partly, but see here for more:  0   Home Search Feeds Notifications Lists Moderation Profile Settings Search Following Discover Popular With Friends More feeds Feedback  ·  Privacy  ·  Terms  ·  Help   Magazine sidebar defines stock as always cooked with bones but not necessarily with meat. Broth is defined as any liquid that has meat and or vegetables cooked in it which may or may not contain bones. The final result is much thinner liquid in stock and doesn’t gel when chilled .


  1. Ooh, first one to comment!

    In my (somewhat artificially specialized) usage, "stock" and "broth" are three different things. "Stock" is made from bones, and thus has gelatin in it and will set in the fridge. "Broth" is made from meat (or fish or lobster shells or just plain veggies). "Bouillon" is made from one of those nasty little salt licks and should never be used except in a dire emergency.

  2. My home-made Chicken and Veg soup (which sometimes we liquidise) is served as big chunks of chicken and veg and sounds very similar to cock-a-leekie soup, which I'd never heard of before this article.

    I had no idea the things non-brits call soup. Looking at the pictures on the Wikipaedia page for Chicken Soup, I wouldn't have called any of those soup! Even if some of them look similar to cawl. So maybe some of my Welsh friends would recognise them more as soups than broths.

  3. I know 'unwell' as a euphemism for having your period. That's how my mother (born 1905 in London) used it.

  4. Hope you feel better, Lynne, and that you find some chicken soup. Thanks for this! The prototypes/exemplars problem is a big one in grokking what others are talking about.

  5. The alternative to American Ginger Ale is Dry Ginger Ale.

    I don't know how much this differs from Canada Dry Ginger Ale — if at all.

  6. Soups my mother made were different from tinned soups, so I've never had a prototype — only types.

    Having lived in Russia, where the cultural significance of soup is huge, I now think of soup in a spectrum of types. Russian soup — a clear liquid with lots of solids— in is at one extreme. British thickish homogenised soup is at the other.

  7. Fabulous! As another American expat in England, I often get slightly excited when I see a soup starter on the menu that sounds delicious and then I remember that it will be liquidised and don't order it. My English-folk also tell me that I mean stew and not soup - drives me bonkers. I love actual chunks of meat/potatoes/noodles in soup, but for some reason never manage to make my own despite good intentions.

    When I get ill I want the ginger ale and saltines. I've just discovered that one of the major supermarkets is now importing 'italian crackers' which are saltines, but may be the unsalted version. I'm from California so I don't know if ginger ale and saltines is a California thing or my parents thing (one a native of California and the other from Ecuador).

  8. Although it's true that birds are graded against a prototype, I actually think "bird" is a classical category: we do not say something is "technically a bird", for example. Things are either birds or not birds, but some birds (songbirds, e.g.) are more birdy than other birds (ostriches, e.g.)

  9. That would explain a lot. Chicken soup, to my English mind, is cream of chicken and completely unsuitable for an invalid.

    Marmite water, that's the thing for feeling better.

  10. I've had a rethink and decided that I do have a prototype. Really soupy soup is served in a horizontal dish, bowl or plate and eaten with a large-ish (preferably round) spoon.

    Anything in a mug — whether smooth, or with bits that you fish out with a teaspoon — is marginal, almost approaching the status of soup-substitute.

  11. Sorry to hear you've been poorly lately! Children are awful for picking up bugs and generously passing them round.... My father, incidentally, swears by hot Bovril when he is unwell. I dislike it, and prefer peppermint tea!

    As for soup/stew/broth/stock, we had a discussion of this on Twitter a few weeks ago, I think. I'd use stock to make broth, but to me, the latter is a Scottish word and not one I'd use. I call it soup. And I like "bits" in my soup, so although I cannot be bothered to chop vegetables small enough to not have to liquidise them, I do then add something, often a tin of sweetcorn, or perhaps some soup mix, or noodles.

    To me, the kind of chicken soup that Americans want when they're ill is what I would call chicken-and-noodle soup, which you can get as a (not very nice) dry mix, or, of course, make your own....

  12. I (middle of the USA) would also call the kind of soup that people eat when sick chicken and noodle soup. Thus I was surprised by the cock-a-leekie soup in the original post. What? No noodles?

    Personally, I like the liquidized soups that aren't common here (other than tomato or tomato basil). When I went to Ireland, I really enjoyed the soups. (And missed herbal tea.)

  13. I have been very unobservant on this subject. I've been here for 17 years, and until relatively recently when I made soup I just served it as it, without liquidising. There are some soups I do liquidise, such as broccoli and Stilton, which wouldn't be very good unliquidised.

    Campbell used to sell soups here but they have disappeared off the supermarket shelves. So condensed cream of mushroom, which is useful for icing meatloaves etc., has nearly disappeared (there is one brand left).

    Meatloaf is something that Brits do not get at all. No one I have ever met here has eaten it or knows what it is. I believe it's the American equivalent of cottage pie.

    We had Cott's Golden Ginger Ale in Massachusetts, and we only drank it when we were ill. Regular ginger ale was reserved for highballs.

  14. It's a long time since I had any, but ginger ale was an occasional drink when I was young and because of the Canada Dry brand I did associate it with Canada rather than America.

    My prototype soup would be Heinz (cream of) tomato, so American style chicken soup is some distance from that. However I am puzzled by your comment that ordering vegetable soup here will almost certainly be smooth. Again my prototype is a tin from the supermarket, so veg soup to me is tomato with small chunks of veg.

    On the other hand soup of a specific veg might well be a puree. I can't think of any time I've ordered generic veg soup in a restaurant for comparison, though I expect pub grub would match the tinned (indeed probably be) style. So there may be a class difference here.

    The only time I make soup at home is when I have a surplus of courgettes to store, and make it into a soup to freeze, and my recipe for that is blitzed in a food processor.

  15. I'd differentiate between soup and broth by the consistency of the main liquid component, expecting the broth to be analagous to water in texture, albeit considerably flavoured, but soup to have a much more full "sauce" texture. If I homemake chicken soup, it's from a carcass, so strip the last pieces of meat into a bowl, boil the rest up with a pinch of salt and a bouquet garni to form the stock, strain all the bits out, thicken the stock with flour and milk (to get quite a thick "sauce" consistency and then add the meat pieces back again. No other ingredients. Any other provision would be chicken and something.

    To cook a broth, I'd not add the flour and milk thickening step and I would probably expect to add other ingredients, mainly root vegetables.

    Bisque and chowder haven't been mentioned yet - I'd regard both of those as coming within the soupy family too. Quite how I'd differentiate them, not entirely sure - both are very close to my personal definition of soup.

    On the subject of meatloaf, I have been served it, cooked by my mother, both of us English. I can't say we were ever terribly impressed by it, whether that's mother's cooking or different culinary palates (I'm firmly convinced that US and UK have very different palates from our differing cultures) I couldn't tell you. But then again, the classic way in England to stretch cheap ground/minced meat with cereal is to make a type of sausages that I've not encountered so much in the US. Which are childhood comfort food in the same sort of way.

  16. Yes, what I really want is chicken noodle soup. But chicken and rice would do. Chicken and stars. Chicken and spaetzle. Matzo ball soup. Certain tortilla soups. The key is that I want a chicken broth with stuff in it. And Cream of Chicken is what you get if you send an Englishman to the English (BrE) corner shop for emergency soup.

    I find MrsRedboots's 'and' in AmE 'chicken noodle soup' interesting. Seems to make up for the AmE 'macaroni and cheese'/BrE 'macaroni cheese' divide. Conjunction equilibrium is restored! But then we have an Anonymous in the midwest with the 'and'. Hm. Is this AmE regionalism, or...?

    One thing I forgot to mention here: order soup in a 'family style' US restaurant and you will get crackers too. Putting crackers in soup is, as far as I can tell, unheard-of here--though one does see croutons in soup.

    @catranchknits: yes, ginger ale and saltines--in NY too. I substitute toast. Toast to me is another cure for all ills--it's mental health food, as far as my deluded self is concerned. But that's another post I've done.

    @chris: The lack of condensed soups is difficult for someone like me who grew up on 1970s US cooking. My meatloaf contains condensed tomato soup. My stroganoff-type-thing has condensed cream of chicken. And if I ever wanted to make my parents' tuna noodle casserole, I'd need condensed cream of mushroom (too many bad Lenten memories, though).

  17. For what it's worth, I think that the Campbell condensed soup recipes are still available, just rebadged to Batchelor's in the UK

  18. If you're desperate, and have some decent chicken stock, there's Nigella's version. (I know you wouldn't be up to it yourself but surely it would save your husband multiple trips to the corner shop

    For my American husband the ur-soup would be Campbell's condensed Cream of Tomato (made with milk and served with grilled cheese sandwiches of course) so he's quite open to blended soups, especially when finished with cream. Maybe that's the midwest equivalent of Chicken Noodle?

  19. @townmouse, Campbell's tomato is big in the US--but popularity/frequency doesn't necessarily make it a prototype--it's whether it's the standard by which you judge whether other things are soup.

    And you wouldn't want it with cream and toasted cheese for a cold. All that dairy? Mucus! Mucus! Mucus!

    (Sorry, didn't mean to get quite so disgusting there.)

  20. @lynneguist yeah, well, what can I say, he's Minnesotan. They seem to be big on dairy over there whatever the circumstances. He scrunches up crackers into his soup as well (finally I understand why) whatever the type - he seems to find Jacob's Cream Crackers an acceptable alternative to saltines.

  21. For southern English me, the ur-soup would be Heinz (cream of) tomato; although I haven't had it in aeons (indeed, haven't had tinned soup in aeons), it was a childhood staple. These days I almost always go for soup with bits in (or indeed my other half's minestrone which is all bits and very little liquid indeed), but there may be an abnormal degree of Italian influence there (although there was a tinned minestrone back in the seventies or so which naturally had bits in it; I seem to recall that "vegetable soup" also involved a certain amount of diced stuff in what was basically much the same as yer basic tomato soup.

    Meat soups are mostly outside my experience (my father was a vegetarian when I was a kid and I have been myself since I was 15) but to me chicken soup would always have meant chicken noodle soup (probably MSG-heavy dried stuff in a packet), I think - don't think I've ever been in the same room as cream of chicken.

  22. On the issue of soup vs. stew which has come up, I certainly observe a distinction but I'm not sure I can explain what it is. I guess the best I can do is that the ur-stew has *big* hunks of stuff (beef, carrots, etc.), such that, when served in a normal-sized bowl, the liquid will not completely cover the stuff. (But chili is canonically a stew yet often made with ground meat. Discuss.) Soup has much smaller solid bits relative to the depth of the broth in a serving. (My grandmother's chicken and dumpling soup is another corner case.)

    So I guess the distinction is mainly about the stuff-to-broth ratio. One of my favorite stews is made with big cubes of beef shoulder that are only halfway covered by the broth during cooking (in the oven, in a covered Dutch oven).

    (AmE speaker, Western New England subdialect)

  23. Normal for Norfolk20 February, 2011 09:01

    Like some of the other commentators I too as a BrE speaker didn't realise about the great soup divide between BrE and AmE?
    To my unsophisticated tastes, soup is just soup I'm not bothered what it's labelled as on the tin. I suppose a heavy soup avec bits would be a stew or scouse oh, and I must congratulate marie on the 'ur-soup' quip!
    Chilli/chili is a sauce with added mince meat hence 'chilli-con-carne' isn't it?

  24. Normal for Norfolk20 February, 2011 09:54

    Oh, I forgot to mention, regardless of the cultural perceptions over the definitions of 'soup'; isn't the whole concept of illness and the curative power of chicken soup per se a quintessential slice of Americana, a telly show stereotype of the American Jewish/Yiddish mother figure?

  25. Another great post!

    I'll throw in that for my California family with (some) northeast roots, the order of the day when one was sick (I think "sick" is chiefly AmE, versus "ill") was definitely chicken noodle soup, saltines and ginger ale (Schweppes or Canada Dry were the brands). As you note, the ginger ale is readily available in my local Tesco as a mixer, the others sadly not.

    Also it's worth pressing the point that the canonical chicken (noodle) soup in the U.S. is Campbell's (hence its iconic stature in Warhol's work).

  26. Anonymous

    I guess the best I can do is that the ur-stew has *big* hunks of stuff (beef, carrots, etc.), such that, when served in a normal-sized bowl, the liquid will not completely cover the stuff.

    Here it Britain it depends what you mean by 'liquid'. If you mean a thickened liquid, then yes, it's a stew.

    I've already said that soup is what you eat with a spoon. By the same token, stew is what you eat with a knife and fork.

    But if the liquid is not thickened, the dish you describe sounds like a Russian soup. A bit short on liquid, but a soup all the same.

    We don't eat stuff like that in Britain any more. But we used to eat boiled beef and carrots. Nowadays, we thicken the liquid and call it stew. I suppose if we served the old un thickened dish, we might call it beef and carrots in broth.

  27. Batchelor's condensed soups are available in Tesco's locally here (Elephant and Castle). The seem to be limited to Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Chicken. There may be another flavour too.

    I suppose I can always get friends visiting from the US to bring a few cans of Campbell's, just as I now ask for large jars of Skippy Super Crunch Peanut Butter.

  28. As for crackers in soup, I have a friend who occasionally sends me a box of Vermont Common Crackers, a New England delicacy. The closest I've seen here are Jamaican crackers, available in packets at supermarkets in diverse neighbourhoods. The little "oyster" crackers, in hexagon shape and salted, to place in soup, are not available here as far as I'm aware.

    Oh, chowders are started with salt pork, have potatoes and onions, either clams, fish, or corn added, then finished with milk or cream. Manhattan clam "chowder" is clam and tomato soup.

    Food reminiscences take up a lot of expat time and memory, I'm afraid. Brits in New York were the same, flocking to Myers of Keswick on 9th Avenue just south of 14th St to buy overpriced Marmite, Twiglets, and Salad Cream.

  29. Chris

    Have a look at cheese biscuit selections. I know some of them used to contain something called oyster crackers. I've no idea whether they still do, or whether the term means/meant the same here as in America.

  30. In Britain Lucozade used to be the fizzy drink/tonic that was traditionally drunk when ill. Since then it has been rebranded as a sporty energy drink.

    I have certainly never seen rice in a soup (unless you count an over watery risotto).

  31. I (BrE) would call chilli con carne (and I always specify, as I mostly make veggie chillis) a mince dish, and file it in the same mental drawer as spag bol or shepherd's pie (or burgers, although I tend not to make these at home). Stew is eaten with a fork, and has mashed potatoes or barley or similar to sop up the liquid; soup is eaten with a spoon and comes by itself, perhaps with bread (although it may well contain barley or noodles, like the very good Chinese-style chicken and noodle soup I've just made and eaten, which this discussion inspired me to do!).

  32. Oh, and I've just though - isn't the sine qua non of a chowder that it is made with milk and potatoes? I am not sure what makes a bisque a bisque, as opposed to any other kind of soup, though. Wikipedia tells me it should properly be made with seafood, though, but how accurate that is....

  33. Normal for Norfolk20 February, 2011 14:05

    I only know/heard of bisque in the form of 'lobster bisque' and the clear broth of the American soup sounds like a consommé (I'm not a 'foodie, honest!') and the creamier British soup a potage?

  34. Don't make too much of me in the middle of the USA writing "chicken and noodle soup". It's not what I would normally say or write. It's what was written that I was responding to.

  35. @david: Thanks for the tip! (in re oyster crackers)

  36. I (AmE) make chili occasionally, and instead of using hamburger (AmE) I use stew beef. This is a Texas recipe. Factoid: Cincinnati, OH is known for being the chili-eating capital of the US. I usually put kidney beans in it and serve it over rice. It might be labelled a "stew".

    I wonder where the extra "l" came from in "chilli"? Indian influences, perhaps?

    Boy, do I love this thread! It's making me hungry.

  37. Crackers in soup was something I had only encountered in books before I went to the US. Especially oyster crackers, which I was quite disappointed to discover had no oyster in them. But I will admit to quite enjoying saltines in my soup.

    Soup as broth with bits in is, in my mind, either minestrone or Chinese. I hadn't really thought of it as American before reading this, and I'm not completely sure I agree with your prototypes. To me, soup is anything which is savoury food eaten with a spoon. The texture is not nearly as important in its identity as the eating implement.

  38. Brit here. Personally my "standard" soup is Heinz tomato. (I'm not keen on tomato & basil though.)

    Soup = eaten with a spoon. Stew = eaten with a fork.

    I disagree with you about vegetable soup - I'm very used to it having bits in here in the UK. Sometimes thick liquid, sometimes very thin broth, but almost always with either pasta or pieces of vegetalbes in. (Small pieces though.) However, soups which are SPECIFIC vegetables (including those that may include multiple types but be CALLED by just one or two, which can confuse me sometimes) are invariably smooth liquidised ones. This applies, in my experience, both to tinned soups and soups in cafes and restaurants.

  39. I should just add - to my mind, tomato soup should be eaten when ill. Whether this is a British thing or just a me-thing, I don't know.

  40. Tomato soup when ill? All my under-the-weather instincts say 'avoid acidy foods!'

    A common soup these days in the places I frequent is 'winter vegetable'. This is always smooth, in my experience.

  41. Another British liquid to consume when unwell is hot Bovril. Bovril(TM) is a concentrated beef extract sold in small jars similar to Marmite. Hot Bovril is made by dissolving a teaspoon of Bovril in a mug of boiling water, giving a clear liquid (with no chunks). It is also a favourite way of getting warm after being at, say, a mid-winter football (AmE soccer) match. I believe that in an earlier age it was known as "beef tea".

  42. If the subtle differences between the various ginger ale brands don't already make your brain hurt, this should do the trick:

    Canada Dry, Schweppes, and Vernors are all owned by the same company and are displayed side-by-side at my grocery store.

  43. Lucozade was my childhood comfort drink when feeling ill. As I live alone I hadn't had it for years, but after a recent bout of flu which necessitated a two-week convalescence, a kind friend brought me some. It was orange-flavoured, which was new to me. I later bought some "original" Lucozade, which has an indescribable flavour, neither sweet nor acidic - just what you want when you're off your food.

    Kate (Derby, UK)

  44. Memories of my own childhood illnesses include mugs of hot Bovril (as described by Simon N) and Jacob's cream crackers. My father refers to this drink as 'beef tea' too - I wonder if this is the same stuff that Katy had when she was ill (I can't remember whether it was in What Katy Did, or in What Katy Did Next - where the young American woman went to Europe - so it could have been a strange experience for her). Lucozade came in glass screwcapped bottles , wrapped in orange cellophane. It looked terribly glamorous but my parents regarded it as a waste of money (sugar water) so I never tasted the original version for convalescents.

    If the American prototype of soup is broth with meat, veg and starch in it, this explains my huge disappointment on opening a tin of 'chicken broth' in Canada, only to find it was what I would have called stock. My mother's chicken broth, a treat after Christmas or other roast dinners, included chicken scraps, onion, carrot and peas, and - essentially - barley, in a good stock made from bones and skin. Cock-a-leekie soup in Scotland seems to be fairly similar except that the onion is replaced by thin rings of leek, and I'm not sure about the barley, although grain and dried peas/lentils must be more 'authentic' than noodles in the UK.

  45. This was a revelatory post for me. We moved from Britain to Chicago last autumn. I'm not a big soup eater, but my husband often orders soup for lunch in cafes and I have been puzzled by how it's usually a 'bitty' bean soup or vegetable soup, when like you say I would expect it to be pureed tomato or carrot or leek or stilton and broccoli. Your post makes sense of it all.

    Get well soon!

  46. We used to have hot Bovril after bathing in the North Sea (Brrr, we must have been mad!) 50 or so years ago! In yoghurt pots which would occasionally not take the strain and would collapse on you, scalding your hand....

    It's still my father's default drink when he is unwell, and I knew a young woman with anorexia whose only "safe" food it was.

    I prefer it - and haven't had it for years - spread on bread and butter, like Marmite, only you can spread it more thickly than you can Marmite.

  47. Normal for Norfolk21 February, 2011 15:22

    Quelle surprise! I knew it wouldn't be too long before marmite reared its ugly head but as the advert says "you either love it or hate it" ...personally, this Brit is indifferent!

  48. Here, it goes by the BrE name American ginger ale, which I find amusing because (a) where I come from, we think of it as Canadian, (b) I can see no other kind of ginger ale for sale, so why do they need the adjective?

    Canada Dry is available in most supermarkets (though probably not your local Costcutter/Londis).

  49. Chris - you may not be able to get many flavours of condensed soup from your local Tescos, but Ocado will deliver seven different flavours to you (I checked there, as I do my shopping through them, before I posted the earlier comment). On investigating further, there was also a tin of Heinz chicken noodle soup on offer - maybe all of you expats should consider stocking up in anticipation of the feeling ill (which I'd also use rather than feeling sick, which would be nausea - even though having a day off ill is termed sick leave)!

  50. @Marie: Thanks so much for the steer toward Ocado. Not only did they have such 1950's and 60's US kitchen staples as Cream of Mushroom, Cream of Chicken, and Cream of Celery, they had Beef Consommé, which I have never seen here but which is the main ingredient in oeufs en gelé, a French delicacy that I really enjoy but would find a pain to make from scratch.

  51. The amazon preview of Willett Kempton's paper suggests he hasn't mentioned BrE "football boots" (AmE "soccer shoes" or "cleats") which have not gone above the ankle since Stanley Matthews was a nipper.

    My Irish mammy made meat loaf occasionally. We hated it; it was like a giant mutant hamburger.

    Whereas "chicken soup" is cream of chicken, "chicken and sweetcorn soup" has pieces of chicken.

    I imagine the mass producers prefer creamed soups since they can sweep in all their ugly offcuts (meat and/or veg).

  52. Consommés and bouillon--refined, perhaps strained or filtered broths--are at one end of the soup spectrum for me. At the other end are chowders (as noted, with milk/cream, salt pork and potatoes), bisques (seafood, cream, and usually sherry), and congees (though congee borders on porridges).

    In the middle are the various creamed or pureed soups, the brothy-with-bits, the pasta fazool, all presented with varying degrees of clear liquid.

    All these, though, are usually differentiated from stews by the nature of the implement normally used to eat them: spoon or fork. While there are extremely brothy stews (e.g. Irish Stew), I anticipate a stew to be thicker. Chili/chilli barely squeaks into the stew category, even though it's usually eaten with a spoon.

    That's my observation, anyway, from the POV of an AmE globetrotter who was paid to dine for his country!

  53. @mollymooly: My mother's meatloaf was a real treat. I don't know how your mother made it, but I blogged about my mother's meatloaf and included the recipe in the Momfood Project weblog. This is a somewhat typical recipe from the 1950's and uses the condensed cream of mushroom soup (thus tying it neatly into this thread).

  54. This is a really good post! I also really like the discussion of regional differences in chili prototypes. I (AmE, Pacific Northwest) always thought of chili primarily as a soup, which could also (sometimes) be served over baked (AmE & BrE) / jacket (BrE) potatoes. I know that chili is something that varies widely across the US, and is a common subject of competitions, local pride, and secret recipes (chocolate? OK!). A scholarly chili survey could be pretty interesting!

    One of our childhood counter-cold measures was what my mom called 'honey-ger' - her mom made it with vinegar, hot water, and honey, but my mom substituted lemon juice for the vinegar: basically a virgin hot toddy. Of course, this was in addition to chicken noodle soup, soda crackers/saltines, and 7up. I discovered Vernor's in high school.

    When living in Glasgow, I heard that a common illness-drink used to be boiled lemonade (presumably previously fizzy). Does anyone here have more experience with that?

  55. @ Mollymooly -
    I cannot find a way to contact you: Do you translate into Irish?

  56. Having grown up in the Northeast US, I share your concepts of chicken soup and ginger ale. I hope that by now you're feeling better, despite being deprived of your ur-soup and beverage.

    For what it's worth, in later years, living on the West Coast, I've discovered a new preference for sick-day soup, Tom Kha Gai, take-out (Br Eng. take-away?) from the neighborhood Thai restaurant.

  57. Paul

    Br Eng. take-away?

    Well, yes and no. In Scotland, it tends to be carry-out.

  58. Normal for Norfolk26 February, 2011 09:25

    Definitely 'takeaway' sans hyphen.

  59. Anthea in Melbourne27 February, 2011 00:57

    Here in Australia, in winter I make chicken stock from a whole fowl or a collection of leg-thigh pieces (locally called maryland, lord knows why). Then I chop all the vegetables I have (onion, leek, carrot, potato, parsnip etc), and soften them in a bit of butter and oil, then add a lot of reduced stock, and chopped celery and chopped chicken meat. You can puree it if you like. Innumerable variations. With cooked beans and tomatoes, it approaches minestrone. Small pasta may be included.

    When people feel crook, as we say here, it's great. And if you can't face all that, we go to the Chinese take-away and fetch Chinese chicken and sweet-corn soup. That's also good.

    Anyone with a cold should be given fresh lemon squash. Squeeze half a lemon and add juice to two teaspoonfuls of sugar dissolved in hot water in a glass. Fill up with warm or cold water. Use the other half for yourself to stave off infection.

  60. In Britain, "American Ginger Ale" is a sweet Ginger Ale, the commonly-known mixer; for example, Canada Dry is an "American Ginger Ale".

    It differentiates it from "Dry Ginger Ale" which is quite common in Britain, and is a lot like the "Golden Ginger Ale" that you describe - ie less sweet, more gingery.

  61. This American distinguishes "soup" from "stew" by the thickness of the broth. The quintessential stew is Dinty Moore Beef Stew, which is quite different from, say, Chunky Vegetable Beef Soup.

  62. Canada Dry gingerale must be pretty common in North Africa/the Middle East, as people we meet on the street in Egypt or Syria, for example, react to being told we're Canadian with "oh yes, Canada Dry."
    My husband and I have had a running debate on soup vs stew, enlisting friends as support. To me nothing with a clear broth is a stew, even if there are lots of bits and large ones. I like both soup and stew but hate getting my mouth ready when stew has been announced and finding it's actually soup.

  63. Atlantis

    Also in South Africa. The chorus of South African Jeremy Taylor's Ag Pleez Daddy goes

    Popcorn chewing gum peanuts and bubble gum
    Ice cream candyfloss and Eskimo Pie
    Ag deddy, how we miss n*gger balls and liquorice Pepsi-cola ginger beer and Canada Dry.

    I expect Jeremy alters one particular word if he sings it now.

    Click here for full lyrics.

  64. Very intriguing insights!I am a Brit living in USA and yes you are right here they rarely serve those delicious purreed soups of leeks and potato for example which is a shame because they are so delectable.

  65. Laura in Cambridge03 March, 2011 07:23

    Great topic!! At this point I am used to the 'liquid lunches' served here : ), but I miss those satisfying vegetables and meat in soups so much!

  66. My favourite term for unwell is 'dicky' as in I've got a dicky tummy, from the rhyming slang Uncle Dick = sick. Gypp (sp?) is another one, as in I've got the gypp - from Egyptian tummy, like Delhi belly. The cure for illness in my childhood was beef tea, a sort of very thin soup drunk from a mug, a bit like Bovril in hot water, I suppose, but greasier!

  67. Would soup from a Chinese Restaurant differ as well?

    To me, most of your "default" soups available at a Chinese restaurant would be very close to a typical "American" soup. Particularly Wonton Soup.
    (Of course this is an American talking, so it could be drastically different as well)

    Perhaps a basic Vietnamese Pho would work as well. Though I have no idea if that is readily available in the UK. It is all over the place here in the DC area, but where I grew up in Massachusetts I had never heard of it.

  68. So glad I found your blog! I'm a British linguist (and something of a purist) who lives in Belgium but wants to move to America and I've found myself thinking a lot about this stuff recently... I'll be back!

  69. Laura in Cambridge - you mention 'liquid lunch' - perhaps you have nicer friends, but I thought that term described a lunch break in the pub where beer and crisps (US potato chips) were the main components. Lots of calories but not as nutritious as the soup'n'roll option!

  70. Laura in Cambridge11 March, 2011 07:58

    It does, you're right! I was just being silly. : ) I came here expecting those lunches, too, but alas, none of the people I've worked with here ever have alcohol at lunch. Perhaps a thing of the past...

  71. Well, this was really interesting!

    Being from the Am. Midwest I'm used to canned soups, like chicken noodle and always Campbell's, when not feeling well. Can't say I would look forward to eating the British versions of vegetable soup since, from the descriptions here, it sounds like nothing more than liquified baby food.

    Have never noticed a difference in taste between Canada Dry and Vernor's ginger ale. Will have to buy both and experiment.

    Since a poster mentioned potato and dumpling soup, my Southern US born and raised mother made chicken and dumplings or my preference, potatoes and dumplings (and not German type dumplings, mind you) in the same manner as you would make soup but it ended up being thickened. Does it constitute as a soup or a stew?

    As for eating stew with a fork......not something I have done or seen any family member or friend do in my entire life. Went out for lunch this past weekend and the server handed me a spoon for the stew I ordered, which was totally appropriate to me.

  72. Cock-a-Leekie soup? What will they think of next? That reminds me of the book I once read from I. P. Freely.


  73. @ Birgit: the word here merely signifies the male bird; I believe in American English the euphemism "rooster" is normally used.

  74. Get well soon! I like the british use of the word 'poorly' which may or may not be only from the midlands upwards...

  75. Peter G. Howland15 March, 2011 22:18

    Good for what ails you…

    * Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup
    * Nabisco Saltine Crackers
    * Canada Dry Ginger Ale

    For this old AmE US Northeast to Southwest speaker, these are the essential ingredients for a virtual medicinal recipe!
    Add a couple of Loony Toons coloring books, a new pack of Crayola crayons, and a couple of extra pillows from Mom’s bed, and you’re in “I-don’t-think-I-can-go-to-school-today” heaven! Almost makes me wish that seventy-four years of enduring the maladies of you humans hasn’t made me immune to nearly everything!

    @ Joel A. Shaver – Boiled lemonade (fresh-squeezed lemons from the tree out back in a mug of very hot water) a couple of teaspoons of sugar and two or three drops of (gak!) eucalyptus or camphor oil. Yes. And when my Irish grandmother was around, a splash of White Rum. Nothing like a big snooze to cure a kid’s upset stomach or common cold.

    @ John Burgess – Thanks for the comprehensive clarification of exemplars of prototypical soups: from thin to thick; from consommé to congee; from broth to sauce. If it’s soup, it requires a bowl to contain it. If it’s stew, it can be ladled onto a plate and be trusted to stay in place until attacked with a utensil of one’s choice.

    @ Normal for Norfolk – A comment on your comment of 20 Feb. 09:01. We here are in the process of commenting. We are allowed to do so at the pleasure of this blog’s host, Lynne Murphy. Someone engaged in a running narrative review of our activities and Lynne’s interjections would be a “commentator”…We are “commenters”.

    …and that’s how I’ve earned the much-deserved sobriquet of Grumpy Old Man.


  77. Grew up in Massachuesetts in the 70s and I think of kidhood soup as being a weekend rather than a sick thing. Our favorites were chicken noodle from a pouch (we liked one with star- and moon-shaped noodles called "Giggle Soup"--probably Lipton's but I'm not sure) and Campbell's tomato from a can. When we got older there was also New England clam chowder, which should have crumbled up crackers on top--often a little clear plastic pouch of Saltines or oyster crackers.

    When sick, Canada Dry, saltines, and the Price is Right.

  78. Never could have imagined there was so much to be said about soups.

    As an American who has lived and traveled in many parts of the country, and to a lessor extent, Europe, South Africa, and Central America, I had never noticed any distinct difference in the "prototypes" for soup, but perhaps I was not paying sufficient attention.

    I DO love soups, and order them often in restaurants, and prepare them often at home. I guess I had never formed a specific ideal of what soup was supposed to be like, however. I also never had considered the idea that a stew might not be a soup -- I always took it to be a specific subset of the genus soup.

    In the past week, I made soup three times -- one a fairly traditional borscht, with beets, potatoes, carrots, celery and kielbasa (made from turkey), a creamy broccoli soup that I ran through the food processor, and a chicken noodle -- broth with bits of veggies and noodles.

    Since MY mother was vegetarian, I don't have any primal urges for a specific soup when I am sick -- for a stomach or intestinal ailment, I just go for something fairly mild and easy to digest. And saltine or other similar crackers are a good bet.

    For colds and the like, I go for hot lemon aid or hot orange juice with lemon juice added, with a generous shot of whiskey (or whisky) -- might not really do anything for the cold, but it does make me care less that I am sick!

  79. From a cooking standpoint, I would say a stock is made from bones, and a broth is made from the meat and no bones. I'm American and dud some time in culinary school.

  80. I know this is an old post but I have to weigh in and say as a Scot I am completely puzzled by the idea that "soup" should preferentially mean something smooth. If I had to pick a default, it would be either a broth with bits in, or else red lentil soup, which is thick but also has bits (and is excellent if you not well).

    I understand the thin chicken soup as a cure for a cold but would not see anything wrong with cream of chicken either (it's not like the tinned stuff has much milk in it, let's face facts, it's mainly water and cornflour).

    If I ordered vegetable soup in a pub or restaurant I would expect it to have bits but would not be shocked if it were smooth. And chicken noodle soup (both the Chinese kind and the yellowish sort with spaghetti in it) are common enough here, as is chicken and rice soup. If it's runny enough to eat with a spoon, it's soup, and for me smooth soups, though nice, are not the default, nor are they some strange exception. They're just one variety of soup.

  81. BrE, Scot, mid 60s. My father’s default food when I’ll was white fish poached in milk. Not sure if it is comfort food or aversion therapy.

  82. Since the above was posted, I have discovered the merits of flat cola for a funny tummy - I never drink cola unless I have an upset stomach, but it's magic if you have one!


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AmE = American English
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OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)