2014 US-to-UK Co-Word of the Year: 'bake-off'

As we've already established, this was an indecisive year for me, and I've already announced two Words of the Year, both adjectives:  US-to-UK awesome and UK-to-US dodgy. Of course, many words go back and forth between the two countries each year, and these have been building up usage in their non-native lands for years, but they felt 'of 2014' for various reasons discussed in their posts.

Another word with American origins was bigger than ever in the UK in 2014, and a UK-to-US noun had a very good case made for it for timeliness. So to the adjectives we add the Nouns of the Year. First off, the US to UK:


As in the BBC's:

Before you say "but that's two words", I refer you to the hyphen above.  On every linguistic test, it is one word, a noun. But the British establishment has a higher tolerance than Americans do for what we in the word business call 'open compounds' (as alluded to in this old post).

As Nancy Friedman wrote, when she nominated the word:

The term has been common in the US since at least 1949, when Pillsbury introduced its national Bake-Off contest; it was later adopted [...] as programmer lingo to mean a contest between competing technologies.
She also noted that Collins dictionaries short-listed it as one of their Words of the Year.  Here's what it looks like in the OED (note the hyphen!):

The cook-off to which the entry refers is an earlier Americanism (dating to 1936), and that entry refers to play-off as another American inspiration for nouns ending in off. Play-off derived from the phrasal verb play off (as in They played off for the championship), but bake-off and cook-off look like they were formed as nouns first, on ([BrE] an) analogy with the noun play-off.

But (I hear you muttering) the Great British Bake Off had its fifth television (AmE) season/(BrE) series in 2014, so why make it a Word of the Year now? I'll quote Wikipedia on its ratings:

The series started with its highest ratings for its opening episode after its move to BBC One, with over 7 million tuning in according to overnight figures.[40] This is adjusted to 8.5 million for its 7-day final viewing figure, making this its second most-watched episode after previous year's final.[41] In the fourth episode, 8.1 million watched the original broadcast,[42] but the "sabotage" controversy gained the show a further 2 million viewers on the BBC iPlayer catch-up service, giving the show the biggest ever audience with 10.248 million viewers for the episode.[43][44] The final of the show gained an overnight viewing figure of 12.29 million, then the highest viewing figure for a non-sporting event of the year on UK TV.[45] Series 5 had a consolidated average of 10,039,400 viewers.
The controversy mentioned above was also known as "bingate" (mixing the BrE bin with the orig. AmE -gate suffix) involved a contestant getting fed up with his Baked Alaska and throwing it away, then showing the judges the (BrE) rubbish bin when asked to display his work. It was alleged that another contestant had moved his ice cream from the freezer to make room for her own.

It was all over the papers. I liked this review of the phenomenon from Stuart Heritage in the Guardian:
Pity the historians of the future. They’re the ones who will have to put the hysteria surrounding last week’s episode of The Great British Bake Off into some kind of context. And that’ll be much harder than it sounds, because the main trajectory of the news this summer has basically been: horror, horror, misery, horror, misery, man putting a pudding in a bin, misery.

“Why did everyone lose their minds about a man putting a pudding in a bin?” they’ll wonder. “Why, with everything else going on in the world, did that make the Sun’s front page? Why did the Guardian devote 11 separate news stories to it? It was just a man putting a pudding in a bin”. Finally, exasperated at their ridiculous ancestors and exhausted from trying to figure out what the hell a “bincident” is, they’ll give up, cut their losses and simply torch the archives. It’ll be the Library of Alexandria all over again.
The irony of the Americanism in a "Great British" institution is not something that's regularly pointed out, but it's becoming a great British tradition too: note the Americanism in BBC's The Great British Sewing Bee.


  1. Ah, this all makes a bit more sense now. I hate cookery programmes so was somewhat perplexed by media references to a man putting something in a bin. But I was more baffled as to why my US bosses referred going in to a bake-off with other competitors for a company's business, because we do software not cakes. And how had they heard of that Great British cookery programme?
    I am enlightened, thank you. But I'm not sure I'll use the term much myself.

  2. I was struck by US "on analogy" vs UK "an analogy": Do the Brits really not use a preposition there so much? And, by the way, I think I would be as likely to write "in" or "by".

  3. I, too, would never say "on analogy." Perhaps I spend too much time reading BrE sources? Or perhaps "on analogy" is a regional AmE variation akin to "standing on line" as opposed to "in line"? I would be much more likely to write "an analogy" or even "analogous."
    Things that make you say hmm.

    I'm in Atlanta, Georgia.

  4. At least as of 2001, Pillsbury was asserting a trademark on the term "Bake-Off," at least in the U.S., even when it was used metaphorically for technical events and the like. See some legal history between Pillsbury and Columbia University over the SIP Bakeoff (a voice-over-IP interop event), which subsequently got renamed SIPit, at http://www.cs.columbia.edu/sip/sipit/pillsbury.html .

  5. The difference I was pointing out there was 'on analogy' versus 'on an analogy'--preposition in both.

    I'd originally written 'on analogy' and my BrE-speaking spouse protested that an 'an' was needed. I checked it on the Corpus of Global Web-Based English and indeed 'on analogy' is more American than British. But it's probably mostly Linguist--it's a phrase we use for how language changes because of perceived similarities between linguistic forms.

  6. Yesterday I read that the Great British Bakeoff is going to be shown here in the US starting today on PBS. So some of what you have posted here is a spoiler.

  7. I've (BrEng speaker) never encountered 'on analogy with'. I think if I did, I'd assume it was a misprint. It would, depending on meaning, either be 'by analogy with' or just possibly 'as an analogy with/to'

  8. I'd completely forgotten. There was a time when I used to say on the analogy of.

  9. I see we are about to have a programme offering an "Allotment Challenge". As I understand it that would, in the unlikely event of any US network being interested in the format, require a substantial linguistic adjustment to make sense over there?

  10. To me "Allotment Challenge" conveys something to do with gardening plots. Is there any other meaning it's likely to have?

  11. Ironically, "The Great British Bake-Off" has been renamed to The Great British Baking Show for the US market.

  12. Without the word "Pillsbury" in front, I would assume that "bake-off" had to do with an activity only done legally in Colorado.

  13. @lynneguist: "on an analogy"? Never come across that. Where does Mr Guist (!) hail from? "By analogy" or "as an analogy" would be my phrasing (like Dru then).

    @Dru: the point is probably not that allotment means something else, but that Americans don't *have* allotments in the sense the we BrE gardeners understand them. They are (I think) a consequence of English industrial and war history.

  14. Mr Guist is from London. There are examples of 'on an analogy' in British corpora, so I'm not going to change it, but we do have to keep in mind here that I'm using it as a linguistic term of art, and so it might not be what people would say outside historical linguistics. Such is life. And language.

  15. How interesting that there is a technical term of art that impacts preposition usage. I've been trying all day to think of another example.

  16. vp: I suspect that's due to the same Pillsbury trademark I mentioned above.

  17. Nick Rowe's comment, above (the first comment on this post), prompts a question: Am I correct that BrE prefers baroque noun forms like cookery, accountancy, consultancy etc. where AmE would use a simple gerund?

    Do you have the same impression, Lynne, and/or are you aware of any data to support my intuition?

  18. That sounds like a good intuition (though there may be counterexamples), but that would be a subject for a separate post, so I'll put it on the list.


The book!

View by topic



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