Are these British expressions British?

It seems to happen once a week that I'm talking or listening to someone and some interesting new combination of morphemes (meaningful word-parts) is uttered. The conversation will go something like this:
A:  Ooh, this cake has real taste-itude. 
B: Ha! Taste-itude, is that even a word?
Lynne: It is now.
People are saying it, people are understanding it. It's made out of morphemes and it's not a phrase. It's a word. It might not be a word that's going anywhere, but it's a word. And I'd go so far as to say it's an English word, since it's made of English word-parts according to English rules, pronounced with English sounds, and understood by English speakers.

Recently someone on Twitter took me to task for giving BrE versus AmE uses of tortilla as my Difference of the Day, protesting that tortilla isn't even an English word; that the difference is between European and Mexican Spanish, not British and American English. My response was: yes, the word(s) came from those Spanishes, but you can find tortilla in English dictionaries and how English speakers use tortilla can differ from how Spanish speakers use it. So, is tortilla an English word? It is now.

This isn't to say that any non-English word in an English sentence automatically becomes English. If I wrote "My favo(u)rite Swedish institution is fika, the social coffee break", a lexicographer would look at it and say: we don't need to put fika in our English dictionary because (a) it's been marked as foreign (with italics), (b) the writer felt the need to define it, indicating that it's unfamiliar in English, and (c) it describes something in another non-English-speaking culture. When the glorious time comes that English-speaking cultures embrace fika, we'll say things like "I'm just going to fika with Jo. Care to join us?" and the lexicographers will put it in English dictionaries.

All of this is preamble to thinking about what a "British word" is and what happens when an American word "becomes British". When words/meanings/expressions move from one dialect to another, it's not so easy to tell that they're foreign, because we don't tend to get those markers of 'foreignness' that we got in the fika example. The words are generally made out of English parts, and often their meaning is recoverable from the context. If we say that an American expression has 'become British' (or the reverse--but let's stick with one scenario) we could mean:
  • the expression has become less specific to America, and therefore British people say it as well as American people because it is now 'general English'.
  • the expression used to be American, but now British people say it and Americans don't. Thus, it is not 'general English', but 'British English'. 
This kind of thing has come up on the blog before when British media have distributed complaints about "Americanisms" coming to Britain, and people like me point out "Many of your so-called 'Americanisms' came from Britain, but the British forgot about them". (A nice example of that is now-AmE expiration versus more-recent-BrE expiry.)

This week, we can analy{s/z}e whether the same happens when Americans talk about Britishisms. (Of course, what's different is that Americans are likely say "That's so cute! I'm going to start saying that!" rather than "Those people are ruining our language with these silly expressions!")
Here's a list of "British expressions" that has been going (a)round the web:

Like many things on the interwebs, there's no source-citing here. Judging from the 'we say' at zed, it's by an American who knows a bit about Britain. Some of the translations are fairly poor and some of it is fairly dated (chap illustrates both these charges).

What struck me about the list was that I was pretty sure that some of these were American English (originally, if not currently). And at least one I knew to be an Australianism. So, since I have finished my external-examining (it's a British academic thing, and it's a lot of work), I am celebrating by looking into all the items on the list. I won't bother to say "yes, that's originally British" about the majority that are. (Some of them have been discussed already on this blog; you can use the search box on the right to look for them.) But let's think about the ones that aren't.

(the) bee's knees This is 1920s American slang, and as far as I can tell it has never been more popular in the UK than the US. Yes, some British people say it, but Americans are saying it more. And whoever is saying it, they're probably elderly or affecting a vintage style.

know your onions Another old US phrase (the first two OED citations - 1908 and 1922 - are American; first British one comes in 1958). It is definitely used more in the UK now than in the US. World Wide Words has a nice post on it.

wicked to mean 'good, cool' is something that may have been re-invented in the UK (negative words have a way of being made positive in slangs), but it was certainly something I said in the 1980s in the US, earlier than it was being used in UK. OED lists it as 'orig. U.S.' and cites F. Scott Fitzgerald for its first recorded use:
1920   F. S. Fitzgerald This Side of Paradise i. iii. 119   ‘Tell 'em to play “Admiration”!’ shouted Sloane... ‘Phoebe and I are going to shake a wicked calf.’
(a) tad To quote the OED: "colloq. (orig. and chiefly N. Amer.)." The 'chiefly' there is out-of-date; it's well used in BrE now (new ways of achieving understatement are always helpful in BrE). But it's never gone out of use in AmE, so its presence on the list is a puzzle.

(a) shambles To mean 'a scene of disorder or devastation', the OED says 'orig. U.S.' And yet it is in the list twice. (It is used more in the UK, but it's not unused in the US.)

skive Now, I've written about this word before (great word--didn't know it before coming to the UK), but in doing so I failed to mention that it started out in America, seemingly derived from French esquiver. Again, from the OED:
 1. intr. U.S. College slang. At the University of Notre Dame: to leave the college campus without permission. Also in extended use with reference to other disciplinary matters. Freq. with away, out, etc. Cf. skiver n.3 1. Now disused.
 2. trans. orig. U.S. College slang. To avoid (work or a duty) by leaving or being absent; (now) esp. to play truant from (school). Now chiefly Brit. colloq.
nosh comes from Yiddish and is "Originally: to nibble a snack, delicacy, etc. (chiefly N. Amer.)" (OED). Nowadays, in BrE it refers any food, not just a snack or delicacy. Use of the word in the US is particularly New-Yorkish (as Yiddish-derived words often are), and the verb is not used so much in BrE.

uni Here's the Australianism. BrE speakers above a certain age will tell you it came into Britain through the soap opera Neighbours in the 1980s. BrE speakers of university age now probably have no idea it came from Australia. It is used a lot in the UK.

So, about 12% of the lists are expressions used by the British, but not invented by the British. So, they're British expressions in the sense that British people say them.

Some are not invented by the British and not exclusively said by the British. Seems a bit odd to call those ones British expressions.

These not-so-British expressions on the list probably indicate that the writer fell into an old trap: if you don't know an expression and then you hear someone with a different accent say it, it's easy to conclude that the expression is a regionalism that is particular to people with that accent. I fall into the trap too, like when I assumed station stop was a Britishism because I had only heard it in Britain (but then, I take trains more in Britain).  It's our duty as people who care about language to try to resist those easy conclusions, because we have to admit that our individual experience of vocabulary is an imperfect, biased, and ahistorical view of the language.

The other problem with the phrase British expressions (and one that plagues this blog) is what's "British enough" to be British. For something to be called a British expression is it enough that it is used in Britain? Is a Yorkshireism or a bit of slang from Multicultural London English a British expression? Or, for an expression to be British does it have to be used across the whole country (or at least the whole island)?

So, what do you think: should we call the originally-not-British items on this list British expressions? The next time a British person says Can I get a latte? and someone else says "That's not British!" should we say "It is now!"

Postscript: I just can't resist mentioning what I've learn{ed/t} about a British-British item on the list:

arse-over-tit is British through and through, but it was originally arse-over-tip. Its current form lends support to my belief that British English will find any excuse to say tit as often as possible.


  1. Lynne --

    Some random observations:

    Wicked - surprised you didn't mention how heavily this word is used in eastern Massachusetts, especially Boston. Indeed, it's so strongly associated with that region of New England that anyone can do a dimestore impression of a local simply by dropping the "r"s (you know: Pahk your cah in Hahvahd Yahd) and substituting the word "wicked" for "awesome".

    Speaking of This Side of Paradise, when I read it half a dozen years ago I was startled to come across the word "cool" used nascently as a term of approbation. Which seems appropriate for the guy who coined the term "Jazz Age".

    Skive? Wow, there's a word I've never heard of. On the other hand, what about the provenance of the totally unrelated word skivvies? Merriam-Webster claims it's a trademark, like BVDs, I suppose. Who knew?

    Tad. I can't read or hear this word without thinking of Woody Allen addressing Diane Keaton after her uneven nightclub singing debut in Annie Hall: "The audience was a tad restless."

    Arse-over-tit. Where does that leave ass-over-tea-kettle? It clearly means the same thing, but, as you say, since the English never pass up an excuse to work "tit" into their conversation I suppose arse-over-tea-kettle never had a chance (despite the English fondness for tea).

    And one other thing:

    I thought kip was informal British English for a home, flat, or room. I seem to recall Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, enraged over the dire state of housekeeping in the Martello Tower he shared with Stephen Dedalus, exclaiming "What kind of a kip is this?"

    -- Dick

  2. I'd tend to say yes, "naturalized" expressions are part and parcel of the dialect they're now a part of. They are inflected in ways, culturally and phonologically, distinct to that dialect.

    "Go missing", "baby bump", "to vet" -- they're all now AmE expressions. Frankly, I was shocked to learn that "to vet" was of British origin. So, vice versa would be true too.

  3. The particularly Boston 'wicked' is related, but different--it's used as an intensifier, more synonymous with 'very' than with 'cool'. So, in my days in Massachusetts, we'd say 'wicked cool', which means 'really, really cool'.

    (Actually we'd say 'wicked pissa cool', but then I'd have to talk about 'pissa' as well and it's late...)

    As for 'kip', the 'nap' meaning came later than the 'place you can sleep' meaning--though the 'nap' meaning is now more common in Britain. But we also have to remember that Joyce (not to mention Buck Mulligan) was Irish, not British, and that use of 'kip' might be more Irish. It's down as 'Irish' at this site--which might be as reputable as the list of British expressiosn that I've dissected here...

  4. I recently had the pleasure of coming across the phrase "to hive off" in a mathematical research paper (written twenty years ago by a mature Englishman). The phrase was new to me, but the meaning was fairly clear from context. I don't thik we say that over here (US).

  5. I have noticed that US FB friends are using 'wanker' more nowadays but it seems to be developing a life of its own in the US (a sign it's been REALLY naturalised?) and it feels indefinably not the way a UK speaker would use it. Any comments?

  6. I have always heard it as "arse over tip."

  7. I remember the first time I came across "tad". I made my first visit to the US in 1980 and discovered the Doonesbury comic strip. About a year later I came across some of the book collections of the strip and one of them was called something like A Tad Overweight with Violet Eyes to Die For (a description of Elizabeth Taylor, I recall). I had never seen the word "tad" before. Can't remember how I then found out what it meant.

  8. "Tad" is a fairly new word to me; I first became particularly aware of it as one of the many anachronisms in the BBC drama "Lark Rise to Candleford", set in the 1890s.

    Many of these translations are of course ungrammatical; it should say "go arse over tit" for "fall over". And surely the American equivalent of "chap" is "guy"?

  9. One of the first things that strikes me is that neither of the words translated as "idiot" actually mean "idiot". They target a person's behaviour, not their intelligence. It's as if the compiler decided that all insults are indistinguishable.

    On the other hand, "bugger" = "jerk"? I don't think so. More like "person", surely. "Jerk" would have been a better translation for "wanker".

  10. On nosh, and its use (or lack of same) as a verb: to my BrE ear the noun form sounds fairly dated now - it might've been something we said when I was growing up in the 80s and early 90s, but I can't remember the last time I heard it.

    As for the verb... um. 'To nosh someone off' is something of a fellatio euphemism...

  11. I don't agree that "uni" arrived from Australia via Neighbours. Well-heeled Oxbridgians might have talked of going "up" but Liverpool where I studied physics in the early 1970s "uni" was definitely common currency.

    1. enitharmon, I accept 'uni' may have been used by some students prior to the 80s, but it was certainly Australian TV shows that made the word commonplace in the UK. You'd be unlikely to hear 'My eldest son is at uni' or 'I am hoping to go to uni' prior to the 80s, and without the context being obvious, I doubt many Brits would have readily understood what the speaker meant.

      A bit off-topic, but it's only since the "Neighbours era" that the British in general have adopted the Australian pronunciation of the city "Melbourne". At school in the 70s/80s, our teachers taught us about "Mel-borne", and British newsreaders also used this pronunciation. Nowadays, it's much more common that even the most RP-speakers would say "Mel-bin" or "Mel-bun". Indeed, there's a thoroughfare in our city (Newcastle upon Tyne) called Melbourne Street, now often incorrectly pronounced (including by me) as 'Mel-bun Street"!

  12. "Arse over tit" may not be the original form of the phrase but it's the one in common usage now and for several decades.

  13. I thought kip was informal British English for a home, flat, or room. I seem to recall Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, enraged over the dire state of housekeeping in the Martello Tower he shared with Stephen Dedalus, exclaiming "What kind of a kip is this?"

    Not something this 60-year-old Brit has ever heard. To kip or have a kip is to have a nap. Suggesting that the language used by a Dubliner in Joyce's Dublin is "British English" would be courting trouble. It might be different in the mouth of the vacuous English flatmate Haynes but it wasn't!

  14. I agree nosh sounds dated, although I'd certainly understand it. Scram would be another word from a similar era with a similar meaning. I'd never come across kip except as the verb to nap.

    The various mild insults are all interesting and I'm not sure how much I'd agree with them. But I'm reminded of a conversation with a French-English translator friend of mine who was basically forced to translate 90% of BrE personal swear words as Putain. It kind of feels BrE has lots of shadings of insult and if this match-up is half-way decent even AmE doesn't have quite the range... Bugger is always a tricky one, because it can shade from almost exasperated but loving "Uncle Fred is a daft old bugger isn't he" to practically grounds for a fight "Did you like buggering him you old nonce?" (Although there's a change to the verb in there too.)

    OTOH I use skive all the time.

  15. Scram would be another word from a similar era with a similar meaning.
    I always thought it was 'scran'. I only ever heard my father say it growing up, so have always taken it to be more of a 1950s-60s thing.

    "Did you like buggering him you old nonce?"
    Now *that* sounds 1950s!

  16. BrE doesn't have "arse-over-tea-kettle" because we don't have tea-kettles (or at least, it's not a usage many of us would be familiar with - we have kettles to boil water, and teapots to put it in with the tea, and arse-over-[either of those] sounds like a very implausible procedure). The standard euphemism is "tip", though why one would want a euphemism for one part of the body and not the other is a whole other issue (I suppose some very twee types might say "BTM over chesticle" but that hardly expresses the inherent indignity of falling over: FWIW my father used to say "base over apex").

    I agree with Rich Thomas: "scran" is, I think, the [regional dialect] word Eloise is thinking of (for some reason I associate it with miners and their tin of lunch brought from home to eat down the pit). "Scram" = "Vamoose", surely?

  17. Nonce is still prison slang, or so I'm fairly reliably informed. I know a variety of prison visitors and people who work in prisons as tutors. It's a phrase they hear and have used around me in the last week.

    It could be scran, not scram. My hearing is definitely worse in the last decade by was never great and I've never seen it written down.

  18. I always thought "wicked" (as in "wicked cool") was an Upstate NY thing, despite originally being from Boston I never heard my MA-based family using it while my NY friends did so all the time.

    "Shambles" may be AmE, but "shambolic" seems purely BrE.

  19. The pants/panties is wrong, it seems to me. Pants mean male underpants (I bought several pair yesterday in Marks & Sparks) whereas the American panties I think of as referring to female undergarments. Knickers might be a better translation, but that is probably a bit dated now.

    And then there's the use of pants meaning rubbish. More nineties slang than recent, I think, but it does still turn up. (Especially in cryptic crosswords were some setters use it as an anagram indicator.) Illustrating a point made above, when at work about fifteen years ago I happened to mention the rubbish usage and someone replied, "Another damned Americanism!" Only it isn't. No American I knew was familiar with the term. It appears to be British school slang. I think there was an advert about then which said something like, "Everything else is granddad's old pants." But I don't think the term originated there.

    Back in the nineties there was an American TV show called Sliders. They had a recurring group of baddies called the Kromaggs. I was on a UK discussion group about the show and someone complained, "When the Kromaggs first appeared, they were really alien, but now they've been anthropomorphised to pantsdom." A coinage in line with tastitude, I think.

  20. I second the point about idiom changing its meaning when it migrates. I've commented before on English usage of 'rain check', people who think the expression makes them sound cool, but assume it means the metaphorical equivalent of looking out of the window to see if it is raining.

    Words like 'wanker' have the idiomatic meaning of 'useless person', 'twerp' because they still retain the original less tasteful meaning lurking in the shadows. They have not lost their original meaning and it has not been forgotten.

    Incidentally, I'd question whether skive comes from a mysterious French word esquiver. Is there evidence for this? Back in the 1960s, I had a temporary job in a small leather factory in rural Northamptonshire, and was put onto a task called 'skiving' which was shaving parts of soles so that they had chamfered edges. It was a very easy job, involving virtually no skill and little effort. Ever since, I've assumed that's where the more general expression comes from.

  21. Surely "rain check" originated with the literal meaning? That ultimate source of all reliable knowledge (yes, there might be some irony there, I mean wikipedia) suggests it's a sporting term related to boy's rounders where rain would cause them to delay the event...

  22. Autolycus: Amazon UK lists dozens of stove-top tea kettles for sale. I've seen them in use in Britain as well so they most certainly do exist. How do you suppose water was boiled before electricity was introduced?

  23. Beth, the simple answer is we don't call them "tea kettles". We have teapots, in which you make tea, and kettles, with which you boil water, not only for tea. Nowadays, the default meaning of kettle is an electric kettle, but the other type, I'd call a hob kettle, if there was any ambiguity.

  24. Shambles is US in origin? I doubt it, as there have been streets in many English towns named "(The) Shambles" for centuries. Wikipedia's entry on York's street states: The Shambles (official name Shambles) is an old street in York, England, with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally 'flesh-shelves'), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat.
    I guess it may have migrated over to America and been used in a new metaphorical way?

  25. Beth, those physical objects do indeed exist, but we never call them 'tea kettles'.

    I've just looked on Amazon UK. Not a single kettle is described there as a tea kettle. A search for tea kettle fails to produce anything with that label.

    Yes we do have specialist fish kettles, and no doubt other specialist vessels. But by default the bare term kettle means 'stove-top vessel with a lid and a spout used for domestic quantities of boiling water —usually, but not exclusively, for making tea.

    I see that Paul Dormer has posted much the same reply. I'm probably older than him, so I still think of electric kettles as a sub-class of kettles, not as a default.

    They're all kettles in that
    • they boil a similar amount of water for the same range of purposes.
    • despite the difference in height, they share the features of lid and spout

  26. @Beth: We have stove-top kettles in the UK (my grandmother has one), but I have never heard one referred to as a "tea kettle". "stovetop kettle", "metal kettle", "non-electric kettle", "cooker kettle", "old(-fashioned) kettle", "whistling kettle", just "kettle"... a lot of possible names, but not "tea kettle". After all, in the UK essentially the primary purpose of all kettles is for tea.

  27. David, I'm 62 next month, so I do remember when electric kettles were not the default, but only just. Even in the sixties there was a feeling that as you shouldn't mix water and electricity, electric kettles were dangerous.

    I actually still have a hob kettle. It was useful where I used to live on those rare occasions there was a power cut. Nowadays, I live in a house without a gas supply and my cooker is all electric.

  28. We always had electric kettles, but I keep a camping-kettle for emergencies. I do remember that they didn't used to switch themselves off, though; you had to watch and unplug them when they boiled.

    Which is not what I opened the comment box to say, which is that for me (BrE, Southern) the default "tortilla" is a kind of omelette; one could, if pressed (and I tried, once) serve a Spanish tortilla wrapped in a Mexican tortilla.

    Dru, when I was at school, we were convinced that "twerp", a favoured insult, actually meant a pregnant goldfish. Whether or not it does, I haven't the faintest idea!

  29. Mrs Redboots - that's weird, when I was at school (mid 70s to mid 80s) we thought that 'prat' not 'twerp' mean pregnant goldfish.

  30. In the context of an untidy flat, I'd have expected "What kind of a tip is this?" Tip (a place where rubbish is dumped) is a common description of a messy, dirty place.

    As for those "translation lists", the real confusion happens when people decide they can just plug in one word in place of the other. This can occasionally work (lift-elevator, nappy-diaper), but it's more likely to fail. As this very blog constantly demonstrates!

    We had the example somewhere here, didn't we, about Americans encountering the word "snog", being told it means "kiss", and coming out with astonishing statements like "I snog my children every day." Connotations are important.

    Tone is important, too. You could say "that jerk" in front of your maiden aunt, but hardly "that bugger". Same with "knackered" or "the dog's bollocks". "Toilet paper" is practically genteel, "bog roll" very crude.

  31. Nick Rowe is right about shambles; The Shambles in York is where the butchers' shops were. Kendal has an Old Shambles and a New Shambles, so presumably the meat market moved at some point in its history.

  32. (Actually we'd say 'wicked pissa cool', but then I'd have to talk about 'pissa' as well and it's late...)

    Lynne: Ah yes, pissa! In 9th grade a bunch of us worked on a satiric underground newspaper and a female friend wrote a couple of wicked (yep: right word here) parodies -- down to the handwriting style! -- of the kind of notes her same-sex blue-collar schoolmates used to pass back and forth during class. One of them explained she was meeting a mixed group of boys and girls "behind Blake's" (a nearby discount department store frequented by, uh, "greasers") and ended with the ecstatic "We gonna have a pissa!"

    So yeah, wicked pissa cool. As kids over here say (though usually ironically), Good times!

    BTW: about the endless logorrhea over rain check. As a baseball fan, I can tell everyone categorically this is a term derived from baseball tickets, which, once upon a time (when you had to buy tickets to things, instead of just a scannable bar code), literally had the words RAIN CHECK printed on them. Since baseball games can be rained out, your ticket stub -- which also noted the date of the game and the teams playing one another (e.g., New York Mets vs. St. Louis Cardinals) -- served as your proof you'd attended the rained out game. The stub thus entitled you to admission to whatever makeup game the two teams scheduled.

  33. The old hob kettles didn't necessarily have to be watched; they had a device that fitted on the spout that whistled when the pressure of steam built up to let you know it had boiled. Not so with the early electric kettles and I saw more than one ruined by being left to boil dry in my childhood. By the time I got married in the mid-1970s the kettle that switched itself off was the default. Many times I've put the kettle on for a brew (there's another term with different meanings on opposite sides of the ocean) and forgotten until the water had gone cold again. Not as many times, though, as I've made a pot of tea and left it to brew for five minutes, only to forget all about it.

    I found the absence of electric kettles very striking when I first went to the States. Momma B my mom-in-law had lots of electric gadgets, including a gizmo for lighting the barbecue, but water was boiled in an old-style hob kettle.

  34. Yes, it was the electric kettles that tended to have neither whistle nor safety cut-out! I believe they are less common in the USA because the electricity there is a lot weaker than it is in Europe, which means they are not noticeably quicker than one that goes on the hob, so it might just as well go on the hob!

  35. Suggesting that the language used by a Dubliner in Joyce's Dublin is "British English" would be courting trouble

    Particularly a propos, A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man has a section on how Irish English had preserved words, like "tundish", that English English had lost.

    The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.

  36. The form 'shambles' is indeed older, but then it meant 'a place where meat is sold'. What is relevant here is the meaning 'a scene of chaos', which is an American invention.

    Note that that's the nature of a lot of dialectal borrowings--it's not a new form that's coming, but a new meaning. That doesn't make people complain about them any less! :)

  37. The OED reveals that tea-kettle was a term used in Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. This comes as a huge surprise to me. To present-day BrE ears it sounds really, really ridiculous.

  38. I'm still not convinced that 'shambles' meaning 'a scene of chaos' is sufficiently distinct from the metaphor/simile usage - it feels more like a slight widening of meaning rather than a new invention. Very much like 'carnage' which specifically relates to flesh/meat but which these days is used to describe non-fatal car crashes and even, in full hyperbole, Christmas shopping ;-)

  39. What about "the pot calling the kettle black"? (I don't know if that's an old UK saying, but it seems to me to be an old US saying.)

    Apart from that fixed phrase, I am in the habit of associating the word "kettle" almost exclusively with what people on this thread are calling "hob-kettles", but which I (US) tend to think of as tea-kettles (not that I have ever been much of a tea drinker -- so that's funny -- even when I used to make my morning coffee with a hob-kettle I always thought of it as a plain kettle, or a tea-kettle -- there's no such thing as a "coffee-kettle".

    Until a visit to the UK in the year 2001, my wife and I knew nothing of electric kettles, but now we use one every day (in spite of the lower voltage over here, Mrs. Redboots).

    I suppose I call our electric kettle a kettle, but perhaps it's equally true that I still call it an electric kettle.

  40. And of course there are kettledrums -- the same thing as tympani, I believe.

    And somewhere in my family tree, on my father's father's side, there were some people named Kettlestrings. I wonder about the origin of that name.

  41. As a Brit now resident in Sweden, I feel 'fika' is more admirable in theory than in practice. One is expected to drop everything to attend the 30 minute fika break (twice a day at our university). How they ever get any writing, marking/grading, or teaching prep done, I don't know :)

    Martin Ball

  42. "When the glorious time comes that English-speaking cultures embrace fika, we'll say things like "I'm just going to fika with Jo. Care to join us?" "
    If people say 'rooster' to avoid saying 'cock', really don't think that phrase is going to catch on.

  43. empty

    what people on this thread are calling "hob-kettles"

    The operative words are on this thread. For me at least this is a brand-new ad hoc shorthand for alluding to a distinction that is not normally made. We understood when Paul Dormer used it because he established what he was talking about before he introduced the term. I for one would have struggled if he'd sprung the term on us without explanation.

    If I wanted to ask somebody to go to a shop (or website) and buy one of these for me, I'd have to say

    a kettle, not an electric kettle, an ordinary old-fashioned kettle that you put on the gas

    [Even the word hob isn't (in my experience) a universally familiar term. It was necessary when you came across stoves with electric hobs, but I can't remember when I last saw one of those. Electric ovens, yes, but my impression is that every cooker in Britain has gas rings on top.]

    but which I (US) tend to think of as tea-kettles

    Yes, that's the interesting point. For no logical reason — not that there's any call for one — AmE speakers have decided that an old-fashioned kettle and an electric kettle should be categorised as different utensils, even though both are typically used for making tea. So when Autolycus said 'we don't have tea-kettles', Beth assumed (s)he meant we don't have the utensil of that AmE name.

    It's not the utensil we lack, it's the term. (We used to have the term, but it's now long forgotten in BrE.)

    By contrast, BrE recognises one category of utensil. Once upon a time we tended to make a distinction between a kettle and an electric kettle, but that was only useful as long as there was some likelihood of having to make a choice. Now that everybody's choice is (almost) always for an electric item, that's what we assume the word kettle refers to. Hence Paul Dormer's invention(?) of the bizarre term hob kettle.

    It could well be that the phrase arse over tea kettle was responsible for preserving the term in AmE. If so, it's the reverse of what Autolycus said:

    BrE doesn't have "arse-over-tea-kettle" because we don't have tea-kettles.

    BrE doesn't have "tea-kettles" because we don't have "arse-over-tea-kettle".

  44. Although someone who has been fired from their job may claim to have been made redundant, these are most certainly not one and the same. Redundancy is equivalent to being laid off and results from a company restructuring, downsizing or going out of business. It follows a consultation period and the employee is generally entitled to severance (redundancy) pay and other benefits.

    Employees are usually fired ("given the sack") for poor performance or misconduct and are not normally able to claim unemployment pay.

  45. Much though I wish all ovens in Britain had gas rings, visit most rented accommodation and you'll see plenty of electric rings. You can also find fitted kitchens with ovens higher off the ground and separate hobs, be they gas or electric. The only thing that seems to have had it's day and gone, although I'm sure you can still find them, is the induction hob, which is really a fancy form of electric hob.

    I would suggest, although we in the UK don't (or most of us don't anyway) put a kettle on literally, unless we're camping or similar, we still use that term, dating back to a time we used a kettle on a hob. The US might use the distinction more because with their lower voltage supply the current required to heat water rapidly becomes worryingly, even dangerously, high. But your stove has a separate high-current supply so you can heat water efficiently on the hob still.

  46. David, hob is certainly the term I use. As I said in an earlier post, I don't even have a gas supply, let alone a gas hob. I even use a preparation called Hob Brite to clean it. And I'm sure that things like soups and pasta sauces have instructions on the container giving cooking instructions both for microwave and for preparing "on the hob".

    Incidentally, it's also my impression in the UK the term "stove", used by some people in this discussion, has now been replaced by the term "cooker". Certainly, when I was replacing mine about ten years ago, that was the universal term for the appliance.

  47. David, there are definitely LOTS of electric hobs in the UK - we replaced our gas hob with an electric one (we used to have an awesome halogen hob in our old house) because they are so much easier to use & keep clean. Google trends puts the ratio at about 2:1 gas to electric while it's much closer on the Currys website: 156 gas hob models v 138 electric hob models.

  48. Stove/cooker might be an age or regional thing. I'd understand cooker but stove would be the word I'd use.

  49. For me (AmE, northeast, mid-40s), my default meaning of “kettle” is “large cast-iron cooking pot,” i.e. like a cauldron but perhaps somewhat smaller. And I don't think I'm unique in this — “kettle-cooked potato chips” make no sense otherwise! This also seems clearly to be the analogy being made in the term “kettledrum.”

    The whistling object in which you boil water on a stovetop is a “tea kettle,” even if you're not making tea. I haven't thought about it before, but presumably this is to distinguish it from the other sort of kettle.

  50. Yes, Jonathan Lennox, that is exactly my thinking! In the US There are kettles and there are tea kettles. The tea kettles we have in the US are for boiling water on the stove top no matter what the water might be needed for. Tea is just one of the many reasons you might want boiling water but we always call the thing a tea kettle. I also have an electric kettle (as do many people I know) and I find it boils the water exactly as quickly as my gas stove top tea kettle does (I've timed it) but I like the shut-off feature so I use it most of the time but never for tea because I don't like tea.

  51. AmE speakers have decided that an old-fashioned kettle and an electric kettle should be categorised as different utensils, even though both are typically used for making tea.

    Actually, David, you might be surprised to learn that electric kettles are a rarity in American kitchens or offices. Speaking as someone who's bought a few tea kettles in his life but never shopped for an electric one, I can assure you that we don't use the adjective tea in front of kettle to distinguish a kettle that needs to be put on the hob (another term virtually unknown in American English) from a kettle that needs to be plugged in.

    A tea kettle is what you shop for when you need a self-contained utensil to put on the stove to boil water. Personally I prefer whistling tea kettles, since, obviously, they tell you when your water is boiling. But since Americans as a people don't drink tea often enough to require the convenience of a kettle that can be plugged in anywhere, generally there's no need to distinguish a tea kettle from an electric one.

    Even stranger, though, is that the plug-in utensil some Americans do have at work for boiling water has, in my experience, more the profile of a coffee pot than a kettle. Don't ask me why ... as with so many aspects of American cultural identity I never gave it a thought until I started reading this blog.

  52. I don't think I've seen a mini-cauldron type kettle on sale in the UK, certainly I don't own one. (Reminds me that recently I needed to replace a kitchen utensil and I didn't have a name for it. I only think of it as that plastic blade thingy I use when frying for turning things over or lifting them out of the pan. Turns out "turner" is the official name for them.)

    My feeling is that my electric kettle does boil water faster than putting a pan on the hob, and when I'm cooking pasta or an egg I'll heat the water first in the kettle and then pour it into a pan when it has boiled.

    But I've never timed it. I did once do the maths, though. The kettle was rated at 3kW and I worked out how long it should take to heat 1 litre of water from room temperature to boiling - about 80 degrees from 20C to 100C - and theory agreed with practice quite well.

    I was buying a new kettle a few years ago and the one I chose had in big letters on the side, "Save energy. Uses 30% less electricity." Then, in small print it added, "If you boil 30% less water."

  53. I'm going to take two tangents in one reply: The only way I've heard "hob" used in AmE is on hob-nailed boots, which in these days of much better glue is pretty much an obsolete term. I'm sure folks weren't walking around with stove tops on their feet.:)
    On the electrical front, American electric stoves are typically run on 240V branch circuits, not the 120V circuits that are used in most of the rest of the house. In addition, these dedicated circuits are typically at least 30 amps and sometimes 50 amps or more--which can supply much more power than a typical 13 or 16 amp 240v British circuit. Of course, a typical British house may also have a dedicated larger stove or oven circuit, but I don't know that. In any case, it's the watts that do the work.

    Of course, if you want to get electrical, we can talk about that quintessential British institution known as the "ring main".:)

  54. In the UK the electric oven/stove/cooker typically has a dedicated 45A 240V supply. Although for us, the 240V part is the same as the rest of the supply of course.

    And from that simple application of Power = Current x Voltage lets you work out the power available.

  55. Sophie Sofasaurus11 June, 2015 19:54

    Years ago, we had an American working in our British department. When she left, I asked her what she liked best about the UK. I was amazed at her reply: "the kettles".

  56. Sophie: how intriguing!

    Is the takeaway that "the kettles" boiled water so quickly? Or did your American colleague find something else magical about them we should know?

    About the speed of kitchen appliances: in our house we have a pricey toaster oven and no dedicated bread toaster, so well-toasted toast literally takes 4 minutes. (The pricey toaster oven has a countdown clock, so there's no doubt about the time required.) Some years ago my wife and I spent a weekend at my sister's in rural Connecticut and one morning I made toast in her dedicated bread toaster; it came up well-toasted in no more than 45 seconds ... perhaps 30. Given what I'd grown used to, I was stunned.


  57. Western Canada here, throwing in with the UK on this one. Every kitchen I know, including the lunch room at my work, has an electric kettle.

    To through one more method into the ring, I recently read a funny list of differences between Canada and the US that included the anecdote that Canadian kitchens include an extra dedicated appliance to boil water (electric kettle) because we have a superstitious dislike of boiling water in the microwave. Which is apparently common in the US, according to that list anyway, any truth to it?

    It may even be correct on our feelings, I have put water in a microwave and it will bubble, and yet I just don't trust it enough to add to the pot with my Lady Grey.

  58. Our microwave oven went on the fritz years ago and we never bothered replacing it, but while it was working I'm fairly sure I never used it to boil water. On the other hand, I may have occasionally stuck a cup of lukewarm tea in it to heat it up again. I never considered the microwave useful for doing much of anything beside reheating leftovers.

  59. To me (US, but originally from Russia), kettle and teakettle are the same thing (I have only a sense that the latter is a leftover from another dialect where pots were called kettles, BrE, I thought) and while we didn't have an electric one back in Russia (back in the 80s and early 90s), we most certainly have one here now, and I'm under the impression that that is the default.

    As for what we have at work, I haven't heard of any workplace having an actual teakettle of any sort. You can, however, find and make tea at all places I've worked. Either you have a water cooler (which also dispenses hot water), filtered water directly from the tap (also both cooled and heated), or one of those single-cup coffee dispensers (you can either dispense tea from it directly or just use it empty for a cup of hot water and put a teabag in later).

    On the other hand you do get a dedicated coffeemaker of some sort everywhere I've worked (at home most people just use a kettle with instant coffee).

  60. As for the list, I find no foreign markers (as in I'd use these myself) in gutted, sorted, wonky, wicked, tad, and one off (that's originally British? It sounds so American to me). Gobsmacked doesn't sound British. If anything, it's a bit archaic. A lot of the others I wouldn't understand if used in conversation. Wanker, I always thought, was Australian in origin in both its literal and figurative meanings. You can throw a wrench in the works in AmE. As for spanner, I knew it was a type of tool because they have hyperspanners on Star Trek, but I thought it was a screwdriver, not a wrench. And no, I hadn't heard about the sonic screwdriver until later. Still, a hyperspanner belongs on Doctor Who more than on Star Trek I would think.

  61. enitharmon, I accept 'uni' may have been used by some students prior to the 80s, but it was certainly Australian TV shows that made the word commonplace in the UK. You'd be unlikely to hear 'My eldest son is at uni' or 'I am hoping to go to uni' prior to the 80s, and without the context being obvious, I doubt many Brits would have readily understood what the speaker meant.

    A bit off-topic, but it's only since the "Neighbours era" that the British in general have adopted the Australian pronunciation of the city "Melbourne". At school in the 70s/80s, our teachers taught us about "Mel-borne", and British newsreaders also used this pronunciation. Nowadays, it's much more common that even the most RP-speakers would say "Mel-bin" or "Mel-bun". Indeed, there's a thoroughfare in our city (Newcastle upon Tyne) called Melbourne Street, now often incorrectly pronounced (including by me) as 'Mel-bun Street"!

  62. Paul & Kirk, I believe ordinary US 120V sockets are only rated to deliver about 2kW. So, in the US plug-in electric kettles take a lot longer than in the UK and end up not boiling any faster than using a pan on the stove (and probably slower than using an enclosed kettle on the stove). Of course, the US has the ridiculous habit of making tea with hot water (instead of with boiling water) leading, of course, to a beverage "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea".

    1. My Chinese grandfather taught me to make tea with water that was just shy of the boil because boiled water loses oxygen and tends to taste flat. Similarly, he found the British habit of drinking tea with milk and sugar "ridiculous." Just because the British drink a lot of tea doesn't mean they are the authorities on what is "proper," it's just a way to prepare a beverage and preferences are just that...

  63. Graham: Yes, the electrical code requires 120V outlets to be on 15 amp (or, more rarely, on 20 amp) circuits, so 1.8kw would be the max you _should_ be able to have. On the other hand, hot tea hasn't been all that popular since a certain incident 240 or so years ago.:)
    Boris: There is a type of wrench known as a spanner in AmE, though usually it's called a pin spanner:
    But as far as I can tell BrE spanner = AmE wrench almost one for one.

    Dick: Find out what brand of toaster that was. Mine's a piece of junk, I'd sure like the one you described.:)

  64. Graham: My feeling is that Americans make tea by showing a picture of a teabag to a glass of tepid water. A couple of years ago I was staying in an hotel in Texas and after I'd ordered coffee for breakfast for several days, one of the waiters asked why I wasn't drinking tea, as I was British. I replied that Americans don't know how to make tea. But he didn't offer to try and make it properly.

    If you order a pot of tea in many cafés in the UK, they don't just use boiling water, it looks like they are using superheated steam.

  65. For the record. I just put a litre of water in my kettle and a litre in an aluminium saucepan, and switched on the hob and the kettle simultaneously.

    The kettle had reached boiling and switched itself off after one minute 50 seconds, at which point I could still put my fingers in the saucepan without discomfort. It took seven minutes 20 seconds for the saucepan to get from room temperature (21.5C) to a full boil.

  66. Kirk Poore: sure it's the watts that do the work. But if you have half the volts you need twice the amps to get the same watts, and so the system needs more robust conductors, which is why the US is so hungry for copper, and so attentive to the politics of Chile.

    CaptainSiCo: I can't agree with you about 'uni'. The 60s and 70s generation of students, for whom going to university was more commonplace than it was for an earlier generation, were the parents of the Neighbours watchers of the 80s and 90s. I'm sure that my daughter, an avid Neighbours-watcher, picked up "uni" from me long before she got it from Ramsay Street.

  67. I wonder if there's a coincidence at work here. Uni was quite probably in general usage among students that went on to HE. But pre-1960 that was a very small proportion (I think < 5%) of the population. Post some time in the 60's (I'm sure someone knows the exact date) access was ever expanding, helped along certainly until the early late naughties by "Education, education, education" and the desire to have 50% of the population with degrees. At some point that population used to using the language hits tipping point and it becomes commonplace.

    It that coincides with the arrival of Neighbours on our TV screens, it's easy to say "Oh, it must be down to the influence of Neighbours" when actually it would have happened, it was happening anyway, just a natural outcome of the rising population of graduates who were using the term. I just had a chat to my dad, who didn't go to uni, but worked with a lot of graduates. He would have gone in the mid-50's if he had. He said it was in common usage in people his age who had gone to uni so far as he remembers. Now I should really go and do some work.

  68. Oh, I meant to add, I strong suspect the change in pronunciation of Melbourne is due to Neighbours. We, as a nation, got infected by the local inflection for it, and it affected our own.

  69. Eloise,

    Much though I wish all ovens in Britain had gas rings, visit most rented accommodation and you'll see plenty of electric rings.

    Yes, I only ever thought that I, myself, personally had lost the need for the word hob. Still, I probably overestimated how many speakers shared my experience. I wonder, do the people trapped in these kitchens talk of hobs or of electric rings?

    It's mildly odd that we spoke, and still speak, of putting a kettle on the gas, but not (as far as I'm aware) on the electric.

    Paul Dormer

    David, hob is certainly the term I use. As I said in an earlier post, I don't even have a gas supply, let alone a gas hob.

    Yes, that unlined my point. The word hob is necessary if you have a thing with electric rings. But if you don't the word is unused and almost fees from memory.

    Nick Rowe

    Google trends puts the ratio at about 2:1 gas to electric while it's much closer on the Currys website: 156 gas hob models v 138 electric hob models.

    Interesting. But this is an index of newly purchased cookers. I presume there have been relatively recent technological improvements, because in my lifetime I've never used an electric stove-top and never met anyone who enjoyed using one.

  70. Kettles are used for boiling water, which isn't just necessary for making tea. It also makes coffee in a cafetière, almost universal in the domestic setting these days, instant coffee (often ghastly) made with powder and cup-a-soups. Surely, even if they are called something different, those hot drinks must be just as prevalent in the US as they are here? When instant coffee first appeared here 50+ years ago, one of the widespread brands advertised itself as 'America's favourite coffee'. You must make them with boiling water from a 'something' much like what we use, even if you call it something else.

  71. Jonathan Lennox, Beth

    The utensils you describe are entirely absent from British kitchens. I believe something similar can be found on building sites. Also, I believe, larger versions with variations on the name kettle can be found in factories.

    Thank you for solving the mystery of the term kettle chips. It makes no sense to BrE speakers.

    So it wasn't the phrase arse-over-tea-kettle that preserved the term tea Kettle in America.It was the existence in the kitchen of another type of kettle.

  72. David: I'm not sure that hob is specifically electric. As I said, I'm sure I've seen preparation instructions for pasta sauces and soups that give two sets of cooking instruction, one for the microwave and one for "Cooking on the hob". Indeed, I've just found a tin of Bird's custard powder in my cupboards that has just that wording.

  73. I concur; I have an electric hob, whereas my parents have a gas hob. They're all hobs to me.

    On 'cooker': this is a word I associate only with the all-in-one things like this. When they're separate (as they overwhelmingly are in the UK nowadays unless your kitchen is pretty old-fashioned) they're a hob and an oven, at least in my mind.

  74. Note this page from the Currys website, showing cookers "with gas hob":

  75. I went to university in the UK in the mid 1970s and never heard the word 'uni' then. I didn't come across it until much later when my nephew, now around 30, went to college. "Neighbours" is unfamiliar to me since I had left the UK by the time it was broadcast. For some reason I had the impression that 'uni' was a continental import, perhaps from Germany. I don't know why I thought that.

    I'm perplexed that a discussion of language differences between the US and the UK has devolved into a discussion of differences in kitchen appliances.

  76. David L: Perhaps it's because the German word for June is Juni, pronounced the same as uni. :-)

  77. David said:

    So it wasn't the phrase arse-over-tea-kettle that preserved the term tea Kettle in America.It was the existence in the kitchen of another type of kettle.

    David! I beseech you, as a regular here at Separated by a Common Language, to give up on the idea that Americans or Britons use particular words or expressions for reasons that have the slightest relationship to reason or logic. Americans don't call a kettle a tea kettle to distinguish it from the kettles used to make soup (we make soup in a pot or, possibly, if you're of a certain age and from a certain region of the US, in a Dutch oven; never a kettle) or deep fry potato chips/crisps. Tea kettle is just the word we use for that lidless, self-contained vessel used to boil water. It's no more complicated than that.

    As a counterexample, I give you uni. Many pixels have been spilled here about where the word comes from and when Britons really began using it, but for an American like me the only matter of relevance is that uni isn't in common usage here. Yes, we have plenty of university students -- my own daughter is currently trying to decide where to apply -- and thus plenty of opportunities to use this labor-saving abbreviation in conversation. But we don't. (Since I don't hang out on university campuses I can't swear that armies of 18 to 21 year old university students aren't actively using it in the privacy of their dormitories. But I do watch enough American television that I'd notice if this usage were percolating up from the sociolinguistic depths.)

    We could spill lots more pixels debating why uni has captured the linguistic imagination of Britons and not Americans (the cultural differences between American and European higher education could well be a factor; who knows?), but I'm pretty sure we'd end up shedding far more heat than light. It's a word you use and we don't, just as we say tea kettle and you don't.

    The mystery begins and ends right there.

  78. @Dick Hartzell: Surely the reason Americans don't use the word "uni" is that most American university students say they are at school, which here, almost exclusively, means what you would call "high school"; our children wish to leave school so that they can go to university (or not, given the amount of fees they have to pay to do so, but that's the same on both sides of the Atlantic, I believe). Actually, we do say "Medical school", but that's about it for higher education. Even our sixth formers (Years 12 and 13) quite of often go to Sixth Form College and are very firmly at college, not at school!

  79. Mrs. Redboots:

    Sure -- that's part of the reason. There are others, too (American university students also say they're in college), but to my mind the core, very inscrutable difference is that a 19-year-old Briton will say "I'm at university" and a 19-year-old American won't, even though she's a second year student at the University of Colorado. Why they won't probably has something to do with the American distinction between a college and a university (it's not unlike the distinction Americans make between being in hospital and being in a or the hospital) -- and at this point we've waded into a pretty tedious bog about whose distinctions are meaningful, important, and, uh, clarifying and whose aren't.

    So the real reason probably has more to do with the inexplicable differences between British and American English in the use of definite and indefinite articles. Or prepositions.

    Undoubtedly there are pedants who might enjoy probing the underlying reasons for these differences. (Inexplicable? Not a bit of it!) I happen not to be one of them.

  80. I would have thought it was more to do with the distinction made in the USA between a college and a university, which is not, I think, made in the UK.

  81. Such a distinction exists, but to my mind it's a red herring in this conversation.

    The closest equivalent to "I'm at university" in American English is "I'm at college." But someone who's a student at the University of Colorado will offer "I'm at college" as a shorthand answer when asked what she's doing with her life at age 19. If she wants to elaborate, she'll say "I'm a sophomore at the University of Colorado." But the point is that in American English the pool of available nouns requiring no definite or indefinite article here is limited to college; university isn't on the table.

    The same is true of hospital. Americans typically can't use the word without an article, and when comparing British and American usage whenever a Briton says "He's in hospital" the American must say "He's in the hospital." I'd imagine you're well aware of this difference.

    I can't explain the difference, and I'm guessing you can't either. If there's one thing I have learned hanging out here, it's how much American English is essentially British English from a century and a half or more ago. So perhaps your ancestors once felt compelled to use articles with hospital or university.

    If the answer is that simple, I'll gladly accept it. If it isn't ...

  82. Paul Dormer

    David: I'm not sure that hob is specifically electric.

    That's not what I said.

    In a mental universe where only gas rings exist only on top of electric ovens, there is no call for the word hob. It's enough to say on the gas.

    In a mental universe where both electric and gas rings exist, there's a need for a term to cover both of them. It would be different if we used the expression on the electric, but we don't.

  83. In the UK, we used to have a type of tertiary educational establishment called polytechnics, which became independent universities in the 1990s. In my schooldays, it was much more common to hear polytechnic shortened to "poly" than it was to hear university shortened to "uni". You would even see "Univ. of York" or "Manchester Univ." used as the default written abbreviation, almost suggesting that the general public wouldn't understand "Uni of York" or "Manchester Uni", which we often see now. I'm not entirely convinced that Aussie soaps did not introduce the word to Brits in general, or at least expedite its usage by the general public.

    As a matter of interest, how do Americans generally pronounce "Melbourne"? Has this changed in recent decades, with a shift towards the Australian pronunciation?

  84. David L

    For some reason I had the impression that 'uni' was a continental import, perhaps from Germany.

    Yes, you remind me of something I'd forgotten. When I was in Germany in 1978-79 the word Uni was used by students — whether speaking German or English. It sounded alien to me then — just one year after a postgraduate (in the BrE sense) year in Edinburgh.

  85. I would say Vet School and Dental School as well as Medical School. But we only have 6 Vet Schools in the whole country and I'm not sure how many Dental Schools but fewer than Medical Schools so you probably don't hear the terms used as often. Several decades ago (well the 1980's) I studied at the University of Liverpool which had all three though and talked about them that way.

  86. Yes, but you would have specified when asked what you did. My American boss will tell you that her daughter is "at school in [a certain city]" which, to my British ears, makes her sound as though she's at boarding-school; in fact, the young lady in question already has a very good degree, and is studying law. Your mother would be more likely to have referred to you as "A dental student" or "A student vet" or similar.

  87. CaptainSiCo: In my experience Americans try to pronounce foreign names, even in English speaking countries, as if they were written in AmE unless given a good reason to otherwise. So Melbourne is still "Mel-born" and will likely remain so.

    California has two universities called polytechnics, California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and at Pomona. They're typically called Cal Poly SLO and Cal Poly Pomona. A good friend of mine went to SLO to become an architect. There are a few other ones in the US, but I'm not sure if there is a standard way to refer to them.

  88. Captain SiCo - I'd pronounce it Mel-burn (with r, the r isn't going anywhere). It doesn't come up in conversation very much, so I don't know how other americans would say it.
    I use kettle or tea-kettle interchangeably for both the electric and stove-top kind. A kettle could also be a pre-modern iron soup pot that goes on a hook over an open fire or its industrial descendent, but context would make that clear. My gas stove boils water faster than an electric kettle on US current would, so I don't have one. I had one when I was in college, a younger sibling inherited it and I haven't really missed it.
    College was also the last time I had styrofoam cup ramen noodles, which I assume is the same thing as the cup-a-soups Dru was talking about? If it is, they exist, but they're only common between ages 15 - 25 or so. (I've had stove-top ramen and canned soup aplenty before and since, but not the styrofoam cup kind) Instant coffee is also less common here because drip-coffee machines are pretty universal--just about every house, employee break-room, hotel room, etc. in the country has one.
    I've never heard, much less used, the phrase "ass over tea-kettle."

  89. No Cup soup and the ramen noodles you refer to (known here as Pot Noodles) are two different things; cup soups are sachets of dried powder to which you add boiling water and stir, this produces an over-salty (usually, although the Ainsley Harriott soups are the exception that proves the rule) liquid that might pass as soup on a very dark night.... actually, to be fair, some of them are quite nice (I particularly like Ainsley Harriott's Hot and Sour), and some of them can add flavour to a home-made soup. Not a noodle in sight - even a chicken-noodle soup only has a few tiny pasta rings.

    Which points up another difference between our two cultures, in that a soup here may or may not have solid particles in it; often it has been blended to produce a homogeneous liquid. In the USA, as I understand it, this is far less likely to have happened.

  90. I've never heard, much less used, the phrase "ass over tea-kettle."

    Clearly that's because you've never had a weird Canadian mother-in-law.

    Wiktionary offers a less amusing but more principled definition here, complete with the usual British English suspects (I mean variants).

  91. P.S. The name of Woody Allen's longtime art director is Mel Bourne.

  92. cris: Oh yeah, definitely- I boiled water for tea and cocoa in the microwave as a matter of course before I picked up an electric kettle (which my whole dorm floor was fascinated by) and I'd automatically expect pretty much any other American to do the same thing. Mug of water, two minutes in the microwave, add your cocoa powder or teabag or loose-leaf tea ball or what-have-you, drink. It's really that uncommon elsewhere? I guess I'd been assuming that people in electric-kettle countries had just bumped "microwave" down to the bottom of their ways-to-boil-water list since they had this other, more convenient option- I didn't realize it wasn't on the list at all. Huh.

  93. Ah. We have dried soup mix here, but it's mostly used for flavoring other things, not making soup.

  94. Well, I am surprised to see 'tad' in the list - I always think of it as an AmE term, meaning 'a little bit' .... Never heard it used in anything other than TV shows or sitcoms...
    I never use the 'arse over t-' phrase, preferring 'base over apex' .... But perhaps that is too priggish!
    Blindingly obvious to me, but perhaps it needs to be pointed out that a daft/silly cow is a female idiot, while a tosser/wanker is a male! Again, I wouldn't use any of these phrases.

  95. "Cow" is more nuanced than that. To call a woman a cow, unqualified, is definitely disparaging, it's to say she's an unpleasant person, probably one who is regularly disparaging of others, but not necessarily an idiot. "Stupid cow" is the above plus the suggestion of idiocy, but "daft cow" would be more affectionate: you might say "you daft cow!" to a friend who has done or said something unfortunate. "Daft", I think, is more a northern English term but has spread southwards in my lifetime. "Daft bugger" would be similarly affectionate to a man. "Poor cow" is sympathetic, but from a safe distance – older readers may remember the Nell Dunn/Ken Loach TV drama from the 1960s about a young woman trapped in an abusive relationship.

  96. Boris Zakharin

    To me (US, but originally from Russia), kettle and teakettle are the same thing

    In your homeland, kettles and teapots, although not exactly the same thing, have the same name — chainik. I'll call them 'kettle-chainik' and 'teapot-chaink'.

    Things may have changed, but in Soviet and immediate post-Soviet times it was possible to make sweeping generalisations about kitchen hardware. This is because the range in the shops reflected not the customers' choice but the convenience of factory production targets and sales targets. There were two objects called chainik, both used in the making of chai 'tea'.

    A kettle-chainik was significantly larger than kettles as we know them.

    A teapot-chainik was small — like a teashop 'pot for one' or possibly 'pot for two.

    This reflects the way Russian make and serve (or made and served) tea. A small quantity to tea-liquor was brewed. Then a serving of tea consisted of a little of the brewed tea and a lot of boiled water.

    [This allows tea (i.e. packets of leaf tea) to go a long way. Some relatives of my wife spent part of the Second World War in Britain — the husband was in shipbuilding. His wife was delighted to find that her tea ration was more then adequate for their needs, and British housewives were desperate to give other highly prized ration coupons in exchange for her tea-coupons.]

    The hole for pouring water into a kettle-cahinik was large enough to hold the small teapot-chainik and keep it warm, once thewater was boiling and the lid removed. The handle of the kettle-chainik was often hinged to allow space for the teapot-chainik. This reproduced an earlier technology, whereby the teapot-chainik rested on the top of a samovar.

    A kettle chainik could, of course, boil water for other purposes, but its name was based firmly on tea. Hence the really weird use of the word chai in certain contexts to mean 'water from the kettle'.

  97. Mrs Redboots

    cup soups are sachets of dried powder to which you add boiling water and stir

    The usual term contains reduced of. Cup-a-soup was originally a brand name but now seems to be generic.

    But the linguistically interesting thing, as recently discussed by the linguist David Crystal, is that cup-a-soups are almost always made not in cups but in mugs.

  98. Anonymous in New Jersey14 June, 2015 17:21

    Dick Hartzell wrote: Americans don't call a kettle a tea kettle to distinguish it from the kettles used to make soup (we make soup in a pot or, possibly, if you're of a certain age and from a certain region of the US, in a Dutch oven; never a kettle) or deep fry potato chips/crisps. Tea kettle is just the word we use for that lidless, self-contained vessel used to boil water. It's no more complicated than that.

    This is my experience, too. When I think of the "mini-cauldron" sort of kettle, I think "historical re-enactors" or, perhaps, "actual people from the distant-ish past". When I first became aware of them, "kettle-cooked chips" (as well as "kettle corn") were a mystery to me.

    That said, I've owned several electric kettles and several stove-top kettles, and I long ago developed a habit of calling them kettles without the "tea" before it. I was probably influenced by having lived for a time with an Irish family, however.

    Someone (many someones?) here said that it's most commonfor Americans to use microwaves to heat water for hot drinks other than coffee. Fellow U.S. residents: Is that true? I've done it a few times when I've had no other alternative, but it has always resulted in a nearly undrinkable mess. Disgusting, actually, even when I could choke it down. I'm far more accustomed to either using my kettles, asking for a pot, or going without a hot drink altogether.

    It also drives me batty when restaurants and diners serve me a cup (or tiny pot) of hot water with a teabag on the side and expect me to make tea of it. Over the years, I've had only a few servers at such establishments immediately recognise something in my facial expression as meaning that I wanted to make a "real" cup of tea. (These few have offered to get me boiling water without me having to say a word. I'd be too worried about causing offence to ask for it. It's probably also worth noting that only one of those didn't share that their parents were immigrants.)

    – AiNJ

  99. The original Melbourne (which gave his title to the Lord Melbourne after whom the Australian city was named) is not far from where I live in Derbyshire and it's pronounced Mel-borne.
    Empty - Yes, "the pot calling the kettle black" is known in the UK too. I take it to refer to a cooking pot and a water-heating vessel hanging side by side over a fire.

  100. @David Crosbie,
    While what you say about Russian chainik is true, if you use the word in a sentence without prefix, it is a kettle and not a teapot. I should add that the other (more old-fashioned) way to make tea in Russia was with a Samovar, a self-contained device for boiling water originally powered by coal. This results in us immigrants calling an electric water boiler samovar even though we didn't have such a thing (nor a real samovar) in Russia.

  101. Boris

    My wife and I bought an electric samovar in 1970 or 1971. Not very practical, but it did the job of boiling water, albeit slower than an electric kettle. And, unlike Western kettles, it allowed us to rest a teapot on top, It was a talking point, anyway.

    I don't agree with the need for a prefiix. If you went into a china department of a store and asked for a chainik, you'd certainly be offered a teapot. In your own kitchen most of the time you'd just say chianik and expect people to guess which utensil you meant. In practice, they guessed with ease.

  102. Is anyone else entertained by the definition of "dog's dinner" as dressed nicely. As I recollect, "all dressed-up like a dog's dinner" meant that you had dressed, but not to any beneficial effect

  103. There is another post that covers 'dog's dinner'

    (and others on some of the others that have come up here.)

  104. Dick Hartzell and Anonymous in New Jersey already addressed this to an extent, but as an American my one thought while reading all of this was "Why would you use a kettle to boil water for anything besides Tea? (or another non-coffee hot beverage)"

    When I boil water for any purpose other than a hot beverage, I use a pot...perhaps a small pot, but a pot nonetheless. And I can't think of the last time I made a non-coffee hot beverage. If I am making "cup noodle" I follow the instructions on the side and pour in water and microwave it...This is another thing I can't think of the last time I did.

    Now I know that the traditional way to make tea involves boiling the water, then transferring the water into another container to serve it. (That may be an oversimplification, but you get what I mean) So the Kettle is used to boil the water and the pot is used to serve it. In the US, if you used a Tea Kettle, you would pour the water directly into the cup with the tea bag, so the kettle is both for preparing and serving.

    But I am stumped as to what else the kettle would be used for other than that specific purpose.

    When I boil water, 90% of the time, I will then be putting rice, or pasta, or potatoes, or whatever into it, so using a kettle is completely inefficient, since I would need to get another vessel to hold the food item, then pour the boiling water over it, then heat it all up to continue to cook the food.

    Now this will likely be a "silly" question, and I am fairly certain I know the answer, but I think it is something that has not really been discussed...

    When you type "kettle" into Google over here, you get links to things like this:

    But there is also the tiniest inclusion of these sort:

    I can see using the second version for tons of uses, just not in a modern kitchen...I would use a basic pot/saucepan/etc. for everything that kettle would be used for.

    So I guess my silly/obvious question UK kitchens use some sort of modern version of the second one? Which seems to have a lot more practicality if you are boiling water for more than just tea? Or is a Kettle used for nothing more than to boil water for beverages?

  105. British kettles look like this. We use them for boiling water to pour over our pasta or rice because they're so, so much quicker than the interminable wait for the hob to bring a pan of water to the boil, even with a lid on.

    Yes, adding the boiling water to the room-temperature pan+pasta will cool the water down a little, so you'll have to bring it *back* up to the boil with the hob (which only takes a minute), but in the same way, adding room-temperature pasta to a boiling pan on the hob would cause the water to go slightly off the boil anyway.

  106. In case it's not obvious from that linked image, the kettle sits on a powered base that has the flex coming out of it, so you can pick the kettle up easily without having to unplug it. Like this.

  107. It was NOT obvious...and in fact it was something I wasn't even wondering...but that is very interesting.

    I just assumed it plugged in and was all one unit.

  108. This style only came about maybe 15 years ago; before then, kettle leads all plugged into the side of the kettle itself towards the bottom (with one of these). The fact I've completely failed to find a decent photo of a kettle clearly showing this arrangement in situ is evidence of how ubiquitous the 'cordless base' style now is...

  109. Out of curiosity...sparked by the Plugging in thing...and completely off-topic so hopefully this will be brief...

    But with the different Electrical outputs and standards in the UK, (I know that outlets in the toilet are rare, if not totally unheard of...)

    But are items like "Immersion Blenders" used over there?

    For reference...

  110. I had to click your link to find out what an immersion blender is—we have them over here, but don't call them that. They're most commonly called hand blenders I think. See. They're mostly used as a cheaper, smaller alternative to a full-on food mixer, particularly by people like me who rarely bake!

  111. Ah...
    I was mainly wondering if there were concerns over there about holding something inside a liquid while it was still plugged in, due to different Electrical concerns.

  112. Incidentally, the thing called a kettle lead above is also used for connecting computers to the mains, and are still called kettle leads by computer techies.

  113. (American here) I have both an electric tea kettle and a stove top tea kettle but I tend to use the electric version more often. I do not like tea and I find instant coffee to be an insult to the word coffee. I never use the microwave oven to heat water. Things I do use or have used a tea kettle for include: French press coffee, pour-over coffee, aeropress coffee, filling hot water bottles, pouring down the drain to really flush it out or into a bucket for mopping the floor or general cleaning, adding to something already cooking on the stovetop when it's important not to let the temperature drop, sanitizing cooking implements that cannot go in the dishwasher. My tea kettle has never been used to prepare tea.

    By the way, I live in Wisconsin near the Kettle Moraine forest.

  114. @enitharmon, @Eliose

    Chronological list of early hits for going to Uni from Google Books:

    1969: Papua New Guinea (!?)

    1978: Australia.

    1978: US

    1985: Australia

    1986: Australia

    1987: Australia

    1988: New Zealand

    While Brits may have been saying "Uni" in the pre-Neighbours era, they don't seem to have been writing it down much, relative to Australians (or even Americans!)

  115. Bill said he might boil water in a small pot, and Rich mentioned a pan .... I think you each mean the item that Brits call a saucepan (it has a straight handle on the side, and usually a circular lid). One can boil water, cook vegetables, and make sauce in such a pan, which may have a non-stick interior. I believe that in AmE usage pots are metal, rather than pottery, and pans are sometimes used for baking (cf BrE cake tins, and roasting tins for meat). So BrE has tins, (sauce)pans and pots: the last are usually for storage, such as pots of jam or chutney. Mmmm but these are glass! I suppose they were pottery in the old days.

    I remember the flat-bottomed kettles that were used on gas hobs - they were too flimsy to be put on an electric hot plate, in fact they had a rim that prevented contact. Now that I have an AGA cooker, I could use the old-style kettles as shown on their website, but they are an astonishing price and I suspect would be slower than our stainless steel electric kettle.

  116. Where the Aga kettles are so good is in keeping water hot, so that it takes mere seconds to bring it up to the boil next time you want a cup of tea - my sister-in-law keeps a full kettle on her Aga, where it stays warm, and then decants it into the electric kettle when she wants tea.

  117. I was thinking about this and realized there is an interesting "role reversal" of sorts on this topic.

    Speaking of course in the broadest and most stereotypical terms, it seems like the Americans should be the ones obsessing over what does "X" faster and better.

    But on the topic of boiling water, the Brits seem much more obsessed with it...Talking about how noticeable the difference is, not imagining waiting around for non-kettle water to boil...someone even timed it...

    Not a criticism or anything, just an interesting cultural observation...

  118. Bill

    "Why would you use a kettle to boil water for anything besides Tea? (or another non-coffee hot beverage)"

    Because we want to pour boiling water onto something. This might be

    • a teapot containing loose-leaf tea (or some other infusion)

    • a pot or cup or mug or glass containing a tea bag (or bag of some other infusion)

    • a jug or cafetière or filter device containing ground coffee

    • a cup or mug containing instant coffee powder

    • a cup or mug containing instant soup powder

    • a cup or mug or glass containing cordial or some hard alcoholic drink

    • a cup or mug containing powdered cold-relief or flu-relief

    • a bowl containing items for washing up (in the absence of hot water on tap)

    • anything that needs killing in the garden

    • a path or step covered in ice

    • in general, absolutely anything that you want to pour boiling (or just hot) water over

    Yes, we could easily use some other pan for some of these. And we could, not quite so easily, use another pan for preparing drinks. But

    1. Kettles boil water so much quicker than pans.

    2. It's much, much clearer that the water has reached boiling point.

    3. As you carry the kettle, there's much less danger of spilling scalding water than when you carry it in a differently designed pan.

  119. This comment has been removed by the author.

  120. More on the advantages of kettles...

    I forgot that they're used to pour water over pot noodles.

    When a recipe calls for a small but exact amount of boiling water, I generally measure the amount and boil it in our electric kettle, where I'm confident it won't reduce to any significant extent. I find nothing strange in pouring the boiling water from the kettle into a pan for it to simmer for the next stage.

  121. BrE university student here with a few comments as follows, in no particular order:

    -I say both 'in hospital' and 'in the hospital', and to me neither has any geographic origin connotation. Though I think I use articles more than some people in my generation, I commonly here young people say things like 'wanna go park?' or 'wanna go Kingston?' (or indeed 'going uni') which sounds strange to me.

    -To me a default kettle is an electric one, and if I wanted to heat water on a hob I'd probably put it in a saucepan!

    -I went to a sixth-from college, which referred to itself as college but we never called it 'college', we always said that we went to 'college-name'. My secondary school also started calling itself a college but no one ever referred to it as that, it was always 'school-name school'.

    -Abbreviating university to 'uni' used to annoy me but I've got used to it now.

    -'Chap' to me sounds like something someone working for the Colonial Office in Calcutta in 1936. So does 'chuffed' actually, and I thought that meant what I would probably call 'well happy'. 'Guy' sounds mildly American to me, I don't think I use it but it wouldn't sound strange to me if someone did.

    -I wasn't previously aware that Melbourne was ever pronounced differently to how it is in Australia.

    -I would never use the word 'bugger' to describe someone, no would I describe a party as a 'do', I'd understand it though.

    -I don't think I'd say 'arse over tit', but I definitely wouldn't say 'arse over tip'.

    -'Wanker' may be Australian in origin but it doesn't sound foreign to me, and it's a word my Dad uses just as much as I do (sorry Dad!). 'Jerk' does sounds American to me, but I hear it more and more amongst university friends, I reckon they watch more American programmes than I do!

    -I never heard 'bog-roll' until I went to university, but one of my best friends there always uses that term. I understood it though, being 'bog + roll'.

    Lastly, I don't think there are very many differences between the words I use and the words my Dad does but one thing he would say that I wouldn't is 'punter'. Oh and I only ever use kettles when cooking, no tea or coffee for me thanks!

  122. Anoymous in New Jersey17 June, 2015 03:07

    Biochemist wrote: Bill said he might boil water in a small pot, and Rich mentioned a pan .... I think you each mean the item that Brits call a saucepan (it has a straight handle on the side, and usually a circular lid).

    We call that a saucepan, too. And a pan. And a pot. As a kid, I would have insisted that pots and pans weren't interchangeable (in AmE), but I've since then I've learned a lot about house-to-house (or even person-to-person) variations in language usage.

    I believe that in AmE usage pots are metal, rather than pottery, and pans are sometimes used for baking (cf BrE cake tins, and roasting tins for meat).

    I'd guess that most pots are metal, but we also have pots made of pottery. I also used to get odd looks when I referred to a certain type of jar as a "pot", but most people I encounter these days know exactly what I mean. So, maybe that's become another generally recognised use for pot here.

    Pans can be for baking (where "baking" is usually specified in the name – much as many of us ass "tea" to kettle), or they can be frying pans (also called skillets), or dish pans (rubber or plastic basins set in sinks to hold soapy water* for washing up, or, as we tended to say when I was young, "doing the dishes"), or as I wrote above, a specific type of pot. There are other AmE uses for "pan", but I wanted to focus on kitchen items.

    *I recall someone saying on another post here they thought Americans all washed their dishes under running soapy water. Not in my childhood home! Water was far too expensive for that.

    – AiNJ

  123. Anonymous in NJ: Re "dish pans", a rubber or plastic basin set in a sink to hold soapy water for washing up is to me a washing-up bowl. Although "set in a sink" would suggest it's a fixture whereas a washing-up bowl is a separate item which just usually rests in the sink.

    Which brings back a distant memory. Back in the fifties we had a large washing-up bowl made of enamelled metal. It was a ritual in our house that every year sometime around October, my mother would prepare the Christmas puddings, doing it then so they had enough time to mature before Christmas. And she had no mixing bowl big enough to handle the amount of ingredients involved, so she used the metal washing-up bowl. And when all the ingredients were together in the bowl, we all took it in turns to stir the mixture, each making a wish when we did so.

  124. Daniel - To Brits of an older generation than you, "guy" is definitely American (as in "Guys and Dolls"), though I agree that it's now becoming more common in the UK. I've even occasionally used it myself. When I was younger, the informal way of referring to a man would have been "chap" or "bloke", or possibly "fella" (fellow).

  125. It feels like a really long time from when guy (for a man) sounded American to my BrE ears. But it seems only recently that some of us have adopted Guys and You guys (to men and/or women) as a form of address. Not that I've adopted it myself — I think I'm too old to say it without sounding false and/or patronising.

  126. AiNJ

    Pans can be for baking

    Not in BrE — at least not in my BrE. If they're used for baking, they're tins.

  127. Anonymous in New Jersey17 June, 2015 14:04

    David Crosbie wrote:


    Pans can be for baking

    Not in BrE — at least not in my BrE. If they're used for baking, they're tins.


    I didn't suggest that they could be. I, in fact, ended that paragraph with: There are other AmE uses for "pan", but I wanted to focus on kitchen items. I wrote AmE there, not BrE.

    If you'd read the entirely of my comment, you should have realised that I was responding to biochemist's comment in which she wrote (and which I even quoted and attributed within my comment):

    I believe that in AmE usage pots are metal, rather than pottery, and pans are sometimes used for baking (cf BrE cake tins, and roasting tins for meat).

    See? Not at all trying to mar the gloriousness that is BrE with my filthy and archaic AmE. ;-)

    – AiNJ

  128. Anonymous in New Jersey17 June, 2015 14:22

    Paul Downer wrote: Although "set in a sink" would suggest it's a fixture whereas a washing-up bowl is a separate item which just usually rests in the sink.

    Hmm. Perhaps that's another difference between AmE and BrE. Or perhaps I just worded that poorly. I didn't mean that it's a fixture; it's a separate item here, too.

    My grandmother had an enamelled metal dish pan! It was black or a really dark blue with white speckles and looked (to my childish eyes) as if it might be her roasting pan's older and bigger cousin.

    – AiNJ

  129. Anonymous in New Jersey17 June, 2015 14:24

    Oops! Meant to write Paul Dormer above. Writing on a smartphone is sometimes a challenge.

  130. As an English person in his sixties, a recent development in usage that I still find really odd and difficult to get used to, is using 'guys', and the address 'you guys' to refer to a group of people that includes women.

    'Guys' itself sounds a bit foreign, the sort of expression a person might use because they thought it made them sound cool - it doesn't. But to anyone my age, a 'guy' is self evidently male.

  131. To those of us fluent in Guy (I speak as a 32-year-old British man; I imagine it's broadly generational), there's a subtle, unspoken gender to 'guy' depending on context. 'A guy' is certainly male, as is 'that guy [over there in the red jumper]', or say when addressing a male subgroup in a wider mixed-gender group (eg. on something like The Apprentice: 'Guys: go and buy the widgets. Girls: stay here and strategise our strategy')*. If used in a wider sense to address a whole group ('Hi guys; sorry I'm late to our meeting') it's implicitly gender-inclusive.

    *'Guys' doesn't have the patronising potential that 'girls' does if uttered by eg. an older man but doesn't if it's used by someone within the peer group. Reclaimed terms an' all that.

  132. The older generation (to mine - people now in their 80s or more) used "Chaps" to refer to a mixed group: "You chaps". Or occasionally "Chaps and Chapesses" which was a bit icky. I (aged 62) say "You guys" very happily.

  133. and don't forget there's hobnail[ed] glassware.

  134. In response to the the line "Pans can be for baking" David Crosbie wrote,
    >>Not in BrE — at least not in my BrE. If they're used for baking, they're tins.<<

    What if your baking pan is made of glass? Is it called a glass tin?
    Also, I thought in BrE the term tin was equal to the AmE term can. A tin/can of beans.

  135. We talk of silicone baking tins - at least, I do! I'm not sure about glass; all my baking tins are either metal or silicone. And yes, we do talk about tins of beans or tomatoes, but it is normally obvious from context which tin is being talked about.

    Incidentally, we sometimes use a baking tray, specifically for that staple of the village fête known as a "traybake"! But it is a baking tin for other cakes - or a roasting tin for meat. One might, indeed, make one's traybake in one's roasting tin....

  136. Beth

    If it's a ceramic container for making soufflés, it's a soufflé dish. I do have oven-proof glass containers in which I can make Yorkshire pudding, toad-in-the-hole, steam pudding, crumbles etc. I use the name my mother used: pyrex, the name of what was then the only popular brand of over-proof glass.

    In my BrE the term bake is never used for the cooking of any of these dishes.

    The terms pan and tin are in my speech restricted to cooking containers made of metal.

    Those deep things made of heavy cast iron (often lined with enamel) that can be moved from stove-top to oven and back are neither pans nor tins but casseroles. I think I'd use the same term for earthernware thingies used for stewing in ovens only.

    As Mrs Reboot says, if it's for resting stuff on rather than containing it, it's not a tin but a baking tray.

  137. On the "large open top vessel" meaning of kettle, "Fish Kettle" is still in British use and you can rent one from Waitrose as with other party goods should you wish to poach a whole salmon far larger than any pot or pan you possess.

    Little Egret in Walton-on-Thames

  138. I sometimes bake pies in a pyrex dish.
    If it was make out of oven-proof ceramic rather than oven-proof glass I would describe it by function. I have a quiche dish/flan dish and a gratin dish, but I agree with David Crosbie, I wouldn't bake a quiche or a gratin. Having said that I'm not quite sure what I do do with them apart from cook them. The converstaional sequence would be
    "I've put the X in the oven"
    ---cooking pause ------
    "It's not quite ready/it looks done"

  139. After further consideration of the term bake in UK English, I wonder if it assumes that the item is enclosed (and could be baked in a fire). You can bake potatoes and pies and hedgehogs (encased in clay). You also bake bread. You don't bake savoury things with soft tops.

    I await further enlightenment on this matter.

  140. I just googled 'bake hedgehog'.


  141. Dick Hartzell

    whenever a Briton says "He's in hospital" the American must say "He's in the hospital." I'd imagine you're well aware of this difference.

    I can't explain the difference, and I'm guessing you can't either.

    Well, Dick, I've always tried to. It used to be my job.

    The American usage requires no explanation. You state the physical facts with no indication as to purpose. British usage applies a general semantic rule to a class of nouns which always denote places (usually buildings) and sometimes imply the activity that those places are designed for.

    An easier example than in with hospital is to. The events described by

    1Am. The ambulance went to the hospital.

    2Am. The injured man went to the hospital.

    convey two significantly different stories to the hearer/reader:

    1. The ambulance in question was making a journey that fulfilled its function. No question of a team of mechanics waiting to treat it.

    2. The injured man had no reason to make the journey other than to receive treatment when he got there.

    British English grammaticalises the difference:

    1Br. The ambulance went to the hospital.

    2Br. The injured man went to hospital.

    The contrast is between [1] 'mere building' and [2] 'activity in that building'. Grammatically [1] is expressed by use as a countable noun; sense [2] is expressed by use as an uncountable noun — the typical form for so-called abstract nouns.

    Other nouns with this split usage are

    • places of education: school, college, university and several more

    • places of not-exactly-chosen lodging: prison, barracks

    • the noun hospital, but not comparable nouns such as clinic. Medical insiders may treat surgery and ward in this way, but we punters seldom do.

    • the noun court, but not comparable nouns such as tribunal

    Fun can be had (if you're like me) with the sentences

    The doctor went to hospital.
    The teacher went to school
    The warder went to prison.

  142. Rachel Ganz

    Although I've never done either, I would say 'make a quiche, 'make a gratin'.

    For me, a pyrex used for a deep pie would serve as a pie dish.

    My mother used a shallow pyrex for what some would call an apple pie, but she called it an apple tart. I've made only different sorts of apple tart:

    • a tarte tatin in a purpose-made Le Creuset thingy for which I have no name
    • an open-topped French-style tart, which I make in a baking tin

  143. Another word with the senses of [1] 'place' and [2] 'activity in the place' is market.

    However, to market has come to be predominently used metaphorically — just as physical markets as places of buying and selling activity have declined in number and importance.

    Even so, a British farmer might express express a distinction between

    1 taking visitors to the marker

    2 taking sheep to market

  144. There is a post on 'in (the) hospital' where comments on the topic would be much more helpful for people looking for that kind of info!

    (I'm not invoking the comments policy here, but you will notice that I'm ignoring most of this conversation. :) )

  145. British English grammaticalises the difference:

    1Br. The ambulance went to the hospital.

    2Br. The injured man went to hospital.

    And American English doesn't.

    You've offered a rationale for British English that is completely silent on the matter of American English. So I'll say it again: I can't explain the difference, and I'm guessing you can't either. (And just so we're crystal clear on this, by "difference" I mean the difference between American English and British English where constructions like these are concerned, not the difference -- or more properly, distinction -- British English makes about meaning or intention between the two sentences you offer above.)

    In any case, you might be astonished to know that American English does make the distinction between

    1 taking visitors to the market

    2 taking sheep to market

    So as Chuck Barry once sang in a slightly different context, "C'est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell."

  146. Dick

    As required by Lynne, I've moved to the other thread my follow-up post to what I posted here. I'll add a rely to you there.

  147. Dick, I responded to your specific point on that other thread.

    You more general point is, I would say pretty unreasonable. You're demanding far, far too much from an explanation. It's like dismissing Darwin's explanation of evolution through the mechanism of natural selection because the theory doesn't 'explain' the random genetic modifications that natural selection works on.

    There are (or rather could be) very interesting processes whereby the fashions of dropping tea kettle in BrE and retaining it in AmE flourished in their respective linguistic environments. Of course, somebody had to start each fashion, and a critical mass of followers had to follow them. It seems servers to demand an explanation for the chance act of innovation, and the chance outcome of multiple choices to follow. It's exactly like descriptions of a flock of birds changing direction. They explain a huge amount, even though they don't account for every single bird's response to what it perceives.

    Of course, nobody can explain why the word hospital has be chosen by BrE speakers to be categorised along with the noun class containing school, church, market and why it has not been so chosen in AmE. True, but trivial. The impossible is impossible, Quel surprise!

    The trouble with a You never can tell line is that it leads to the nihilistic proposition that nothing can be explained.


    It seems servers to demand an explanation for the chance act...
    It seems perverse to demand an explanation for the chance act...

  149. Hi Lynne I love your blog. AmE living in the UK, wondering if you know a bit about texting here. I get yelled at for not leaving an "xx" at the end of my messages, seems weird to me lol :)

  150. Rachel Ganz -
    My understanding is that "bake" means "cook in the oven", so that, strictly speaking, a joint of meat cooked in the oven rather than in front of the fire should be described as baked, not roasted. I don't see why one can't bake a quiche, though I would probably say "cook".

  151. Anonymous: sounds like you're texting the wrong Brits! Be yourself and text how you like; most Brits will be curious about you and your quirks of expression (as they perceive them)

    A couple of weeks ago I met a young American friend (Michigander now resident in Massachussetts) who was over for a few days. She was very concerned at first about whether she should adopt British usages while she was here and I told her not to try – too easy get it wrong – but to be herself and to listen. We agreed to meet in Liverpool, a city I know and love and wished to show her round – and she hadn't got past the Ken Dodd/Bessie Braddock figures on the concourse of Lime Street Station before any residual illusions of supposed British reserve were shattered – immediately a Scouser materialised to tell her all about Bessie and how she fought doggedly for her community. More Scousers in the pub I introduced her to were delighted when they found out she was from the suburbs of Detroit (she did that lovely Michigan thing of holding up the right palm and point to a spot just above the ball of the thumb) and wouldn't let her go until they'd run out of eulogies for Motown.

  152. This ageing Brit would bake a cake or a pie or loaf of bread but not a piece of meat (for some reason baked ham seems to be an exception but one wouldn't bake beef or lamb or even a pork shoulder). Carbohydrate in the form of dough or pastry seems to be required. I certainly wouldn't bake a casserole even though the term bake as in "tuna and pasta bake" is common in some subcultures.

  153. Yes, one bakes a ham, but other meat is roasted. With the exception of the extraordinary expression "funeral baked meats" to describe the food that may or may not be served to mourners after a funeral. Well, I suppose no stranger than "wedding breakfast" for what is served at the reception - both, I suppose, now obsolete. And yes, one does talk about a pasta bake - but "baking" as an activity usually refers to sweet food such as cakes and pies. Though quite why one would bake a pie but not a quiche, which is a sort of pie (or a pizza, which Americans think is a sort of pie but Britons put in a category of its own) is quite beyond me....

  154. I would certainly bake a pie. Pies, especially savoury meat pies so it doesn't have to be sweet to be baked, are inscribed into the culture up here in what some MP who ought to know better called "the desolate north-west". Pie, I think, and maybe Lynne has already written about this, means something entirely different in the US; for a long time I wondered just what was so peculiarly American about apple pie but it seems that the idea of a sweet, rather than savoury, pie came from there.

    My American friend that I mentioned above tells me she has discovered a taste for Greggs baked savouries and says she'd like to import Greggs into her own country. I find this a little puzzling as Greggs stands in much the same relationship to proper pies as McDonalds does to a proper hamburger, but there you go.

  155. Mrs Redboots

    Baked ham is an wording I recognise but I thought (no doubt wrongly) that it was an American expression. Roast ham sounds more natural to me.

    The only savoury item from the oven in my vocabulary is a baked potato. But in the linguistic tradition that I'm used to, roast has come to signify the oven-cooking of meat and baking the oven cooking of other 'dry' dishes, almost all sweet.

    And if it's not in the oven, it's not roast but pot roast.

    I say 'dry' dishes, because I'd use different verbs for the oven-cooking of thick sem-liquids (rice pudding, quiche etc) or liquids with solids in (stews).

    On the radio the other day there was a snippet recording of Rick Stein's first broadcast (as a guest on a Keith Floyd show). He said he'd deliberately chosen to call a dish by the unusual name roast sea bass instead of the more ordinary less striking basked sea bass.

    As I understand it, roast and bake had distinct meanings in the past — a distinction maintained by some culinary specialists today.

    I'm not sure how many still say wedding breakfast, but I do know the expression used by English speakers in Muslim countries: Ramadan breakfast. As this is an actual breaking of an actual fast, it takes place at sunset.

  156. But look at the difference between a roast potato and a baked one!

  157. enitharmion

    As I said to Mrs Redboots, I'd use bake for the oven cooking of 'dry' food. So although I associate bake with sweet items, and although I've never cooked a pasta bake, I can see how the name fits.

  158. David Crosbie: Have you never cooked a macaroni cheese? That is a type of pasta bake, after all.

  159. Mrs Redboots

    Without realising it, I half answered your point about quiche and pizza.

    An apple pie (for me) has a pastry lid. What a quiche resembles (for me) is an apple tart. But an apple tart is filled with dry stuff and a quiche with liquid.

    A pizza is dry and has no lid — unless it's a calzone, but then I wouldn't use an English word for it. In general, pastry things that are enclosed and free-standing aren't called pies but turnovers, slices, sausage rolls, pasties and (in Scotland) bridies

  160. Mrs Redboots

    David Crosbie: Have you never cooked a macaroni cheese?

    Never. And I've never eaten it from the oven. I thought was was supposed to be finished under a grill.

  161. Might the difference between "roast" and "bake" involve(d) the caramelisation or otherwise of the outside? That's what instinctively came into my head when I read your reference to Rick Stein's sea bass? Assuming that "basked" is a typo although that prompted the lovely image of sea bass stuffed into basking shark – very common of the coast of Cornwall.

    Of course, Cornish terminology is a whole different cricket match (she says, adhering her practice of substituting cricket metaphors for baseball ones).

  162. David Crosbie:

    In general, pastry things that are enclosed and free-standing aren't called pies but turnovers, slices, sausage rolls, pasties and (in Scotland) bridies Pork pies?

    And no, macaroni cheese should be cooked in the oven - I learnt it that way in school cookery classes when I was 12. Okay, it doesn't absolutely have to be, but it's very much nicer if you do. Plus the breadcrumb-and-cheese crust (quite the nicest topping) doesn't cook properly under the grill....

  163. Lynne Murphy: There's still time to start a blog called Separated by a Common Kitchen.

    I checked, and the domain name is available.

  164. Mrs Redboots

    Pork pies?

    A pork pie has a pastry lid.

  165. Anonymous, I'm copying your post to the the milk and tea thread, and I'll answer it there.

  166. To me, a pie definitely has a pastry top and a tart only has a pastry bottom. A pie usually has a pastry bottom, but it's still a pie if it's in a bowl, dish or whatever, with just a top. So whether that's what grandmother and apple pie implies in the US or not, to me an apple pie has a top and a bottom with the apple inside it. It should also contain cloves. and be served with custard, cream or preferably a choice of either or even both.

    On conflicting ideas about cooking, I can't remember if this has been mentioned before, but I got into a discussion once elsewhere about the odd - to us - US practice of measuring everything in recipes by 'cups' rather than accurate weights. I did discover that there is apparently a standard 'cup', rather than it just being any old cup, or granny's favourite cup, but it didn't seem to correspond to any convenient measure we use.

  167. Dru

    As I understand it, a cup is half a pint. However, it's half US pint, which is smaller than our pint. I've heard Americans say

    A pint's a pound the world around

    — which it isn't, of course. Our pint corresponds to 20 ounces (of water, that is), not 16. So a cup is four fifths of our half pint.

    Incidentally, Russians do the opposite. Instead of measuring dry ingredients in wet measures, they measure liquid ingredients in grams — which works reasonably well since 1cc (!ml) of water weighs one gram.

  168. Just to clarify, I didn't say that I would say "baked" for a joint of meat cooked in the oven.
    Traditionally, roasting meant cooking by the radiant heat from a fire and baking meant cooking in the oven. Now that we no longer roast in that way in the home, we call it roasting when we cook something in the oven and periodically baste it with fat.
    Re: measuring cups - I have a recipe booklet published by Quaker Oats, originally in the USA. For British readers they supplied an information sheet explaining that an American cup was 8 fl. oz. I still find the idea of measuring butter by volume bizarre.

  169. "I agree with Kate"

    Baked items use dry heat and no added fat, roast items use added fat - basting or larding.
    I would suggest that baked items could be baked in the ashes of the fire, therefore had to be fully enclosed, whereas roast items could be cooked over/in front of the fire, so had to be basted so as not to dry out.

    Where this leaves hams I don't know.
    I also think that roasting sea-bass would be quite different from baking it, so that gives me one more reason not to go to the reshaped Padstow.

  170. This comment has been removed by the author.

  171. Rachel

    If you google roast sea bass you get the same recipe described variously as baked sea bass and roasted sea bass. It's either a version described by Rick Stein himself or one obviously based on his recipe.

    The paradox is that the sea bass is cooked in a roasting tin in which it rests on top of red peppers and (preferable saffron-seasoned) potatoes.

    So, by conventional tremblingly, the fish is baked while the vegetables lying underneath are simultaneously roasted.


    by conventional tremblingly
    by conventional terminology

  173. Rick Stein's recipe reminds me of a quirk in our description of oven-cooked potatoes. Baked potatoes and roast potatoes are two very different dishes.

    If we re-work Rachel's definition of baking as dry roasting, it doesn't work every time for me — but it does seem to be the deciding factor here.

    That said, some things can't be baked in their dry form, but need some surrounding liquid to share the heat while moisturising the baked thingy. Imagine using dry heat alone for baked beans or pasta bake.

  174. David Crosbie:
    A pork pie has a pastry lid.

    Yes, but earlier you had said:
    In general, pastry things that are enclosed and free-standing aren't called pies

    But that is exactly what a pork pie is! A pastry thing, enclosed and free-standing!

    I have a set of measuring cups that I picked up on a visit to the USA. As a rule of thumb, I find that if you assume 1 cup=250 ml, 1/2 cup=125 ml, etc, it works very well indeed. My American friends tell me that butter is sold in what they call "sticks" as it is here, and there are markings on the wrapper, as there are here, but instead of sensible 125g markings, they are measured in tablespoonsful. Very strange, but I suppose if that is what you're used to.....

  175. Mrs Redboots

    Selective reading, I'm afraid. The whole post contained

    An apple pie (for me) has a pastry lid ...

    A pizza is dry and has no lid ... In general, pastry things that are enclosed and free-standing aren't called pies ...

    — unless they have lids.

  176. Mrs Redboots

    In the US, according to Wikipedia, a customary cup i.e. the kitchen measure is exactly 236.5882365 millilitres. A legal cup (used in nutritional information) is defined in law as 240ml.

    They define a UK cup — something I've never heard of — as
    = 0.5 imperial pints
    = 2 imperial gills
    = 10 imperial fluid ounces
    = 284 millilitres
    ≈ 19 international tablespoons
    ≈ 14.25 Australian tablespoons
    ≈ 1.20 U.S. customary cups
    ≈ 9.61 U.S. customary fluid ounces

    What does meet your rule of thumb as 250ml is what they call a metric cup — measure used in Australia, New Zealand and other (unidentified) Commonwealth countries.

    Their full spec for a US customary cup is
    = 1⁄16 U.S. customary gallon
    = 1⁄4 U.S. customary quart
    = 1⁄2 U.S. customary pint
    = 8 U.S. customary fluid ounces
    = 16 U.S. customary tablespoons
    = 48 U.S. customary teaspoons
    ≡ 236.5882365 millilitres
    ≈ 152⁄3 international tablespoons
    ≈ 11.75 Australian tablespoons
    ≈ 0.833 imperial cups
    ≈ 8.33 imperial fluid ounces

  177. Oh yes, international tablespoons. I've never heard of them either, but they seem to be something very precise, and strangely more compatible with US and Imperial measure than with the more international metric.

    1 US customary cup = 15⅔ international tablespoons
    1 US legal cup = 16 international tablespoons
    1 UK cup = 19 international tablespoons

    Besides this rather quaint and abstruse stuff, the Wikipedia article has some very useful information on the different effects of measuring different ingredients by weight or by volume. Click here.

    PS I've spotted something I missed

    1 metric cup = 16⅔ international tablespoons (15 ml each)

    which seems to raise more questions than it answers.

  178. I am pleased to say the the recipe I made yesterday (from Farmhouse Fare) required a gill of milk. Which I had to look up. There seems to be a suspicious back-story on the wikipedia page on the nursery rhyme about Jack and Jill. I will need to check my copy of Opie.

  179. In the past, pubs in the UK and Ireland served spirits in units measured as fractions of a gill. I remember reading a pub notice boasting of it's chosen fraction. Judging by the Wikipedia entry, it was probably ¼gill, while other Scottish pubs might have used ⅕gill, and English pubs ⅙gill.

    The article states that in Ireland they speak of ¼gill, although legally it's 35.5ml.

  180. Bliss it was to sing:

    the company, the brewer, the drayer,
    the slavey, the daughter, the landlady. the landlord,
    the barrel, the half-barrel,
    the gallon, the half-gallon,
    quart pot, pint pot,
    half-a-pint, gill pot
    half-a-gill, quarter-gill,
    nipperkin anner and bowl
    (?and a brown bowl)
    Here's good luck.good luck, good luck to the barley mow

  181. In the US we measure things in the kitchen (for the most part) in cups, teaspoons and tablespoons. It's not weird or confusing or wrong, as some of you claim, it is very straightforward to us because that is the way the our recipes are written and have been written for decades. A "cup" is NOT a teacup but an actual official measurement just like a "teaspoon" isn't a spoon used for tea. Most every kitchen has a set of measuring cups and measuring spoons. Butter usually comes in sticks, 4 to the pound package, with very clear measurement markings on each wrapper. Simply cut off the amount you need for your recipe. It's really very simple, folks.

  182. Beth, I don't think anybody is saying that measuring dry ingredients by volume is wrong, but many of us find it 'weird and confusing' — to us.

    Many recipes call for balanced quantities of flour, sugar and butter. But we measure those things by weight, so the balance is rather different if you measure them by volume.

    For example a US cup of sugar weighs 190g or 6.7oz, while a US cup of flour weighs (at the lower end of the range) 120g or 4.2 oz. (At the upper end of the range a cup of flour weighs 140g or 5oz.)

    So equal cups of flour and sugar produce a different mixture from equal weights — half a pound, for example — of flour and sugar.

  183. Dru: but it's still a pie if it's in a bowl, dish or whatever, with just a top

    I don't think that this is a regional or transnational difference but it is a contentious point: a stew with a covering of pastry is so not a pie! It's a stew with a covering of pastry. I'd like to think that a pie is something that you can hold in your fingers to eat, though that gets a bit difficult sometimes with some of the messier fillings for the kind of larger pie that is sliced into portions but a steak and kidney pie is still a steak and kidney pie and the individual steak and kidney pies sold round here can be eaten in the fingers even if you need something to catch the drips.

    I'm not sure where a lemon meringue pie fits in. If it's not a pie I don't know what it is. It can be eaten with the fingers though.

  184. enitharmon

    1. Have you not heard of a top-crust pie?

    2 I have no difficulty referring to that dessert as a lemon meringue tart. As a 'pie' it's just an anomalous exception.

    Still, we haven't yet found a definition that will take in mud pies.

  185. @David Crosbie:
    A pizza is dry and has no lid

    You may be unaware of this, but a pizza, although Americans call it a pie, is not made from pastry, but from bread dough.


    I would use "Steak and kidney pie" to cover both that dish made at home with a pastry lid and the kind you can buy (which never have enough kidney) with pastry underneath as well. So it may be a regional difference. But I would never refer to pizza as a pie, though; it is a different animal altogether! Elizabeth David classes it with lardy cake as "Things done with left-over bread dough", though how right she is, I don't know.

  186. David Crosbie:

    1. Yes. I've heard of a Birmingham screwdriver too.

    2. I've never heard it called a tart. But you can eat a slice held in the fingers.

  187. In regards to the whole US measuring by volume thing, I just think it is more efficient.

    Please note...a US'er here, so I won't deny a home bias...

    But for us, when a recipe needs 1/4 of a cup of flour, I just grab the "cup" out of the drawer labeled "1/4 cup" then scoop the flour and put it in the bowl. Same with Teaspoons and tablespoons...

    There's no pulling out a scale, scooping some flour, then pouring it onto the scale, adding some, maybe removing some then pouring it into the bowl. And that is assuming you are using some sort of digital scale that needs no calibrating or counter-balancing.

    I understand that there may be differences in the real world use that what I am picturing. And even if I am picturing the most efficient version (which is a large digital scale that you leave the bowl on top of and then just do the math as you add things) it still seems like a whole extra bit of work that could easily be avoided by using the volume version of things.

    I just wonder (aside from the pet peeve of the naming conventions "Why is it called a teaspoon when it has nothing to do with tea?!") what the positives might be.

  188. I just realized my entence above implied that I somehow have a drawer labeled 1/4 cup that would only hold my 1/4 cup measuring cups.

    I figure the intent gets through regardless, however this IS technically a linguistics discussion so I thought I clarified.

    I meant the CUP is in a drawer and the CUP is labeled 1/4.

  189. But I do use my teaspoon for sweetening and stirring tea.

    And for coffee and chocolate too, of course.

  190. And tablespoons (here in the UK) are also known as serving spoons. Which is what you use them for.

    To Bill: I don't think it's the efficiency that is called into question, but the accuracy - it is all too easy to overload or underload a measuring cup, which might be devastating to the resulting cake. Weighing removes the uncertainty. Plus it can be awkward. I was just reading this delicious-sounding recipe, but you will notice the faff when it comes to measuring the ingredients rather than weighing them. Of course, she could have scaled things up or down to avoid having to remove extraneous tablespoonsful of butter, etc....

    (N.B. To our American friends - it is not the fact of butter's having marks on the packaging - ours does that, too. It is the fact that a certain amount of butter is deemed a tablespoonful, rather than 25 or 50g which strikes us as peculiar. It wouldn't strike you as that, as you're used to it, but for us, a tablespoon, when not being used for serving vegetables, is used to measure liquids or, at a pinch, powders like sugar or flour, not solids like butter!)

  191. Mrs Redboots

    You only have to eat a pizza to know that it's made from bread dough.

    I've baked a few pizzas in my time, but nowadays I find it not worth the effort. The crucial variable is the oven, and if you can't have a pizza oven, you're doomed. It can be fun doing the slinging-the-dough-around-your-head thing, but it leads to only moderate success.

    The Russians go in for dishes using yeast dough where we'd use pastry. My wife wan't to call koulibyaka a 'fish pie'. I'n not sure there's an appropriate BrE term — any more than there's a suitable term for pizza.

  192. "But I do use my teaspoon for sweetening and stirring tea." "And tablespoons (here in the UK) are also known as serving spoons. Which is what you use them for."

    Although the quantities are the same, in North America these usually aren't the same things. I have actual spoons for eating (a tablespoon is the size of what I'd call a soup spoon; to me a serving spoon is larger and occasionally--though certainly not always--slotted), but the measuring spoons are a set unto themselves.

    Most commonly, measuring spoons are a nesting set (often circular) of various subsets of each kind (e.g. teaspoon, 1/2 tsp, 1/4 tsp), and you'd never use them for eating (unless you're really desperate :P). I'm sure traditionally people measured with actual spoons, but it's easier to get a consistent amount when you just have to level off the flat top of the little circle rather than eyeballing it on a slightly rounded regular spoon.

    Example 1:
    Example 2:

  193. I have seen old-fashioned British recipes (probably contributed by home cooks) which call for such things as "a breakfast-cup of flour", obviously meaning an ordinary cup pressed into service as a measure. Which reminds me of a story my father used to tell of his aunt saying "I know this cup holds x ounces" regardless of what ingredient she was measuring!

  194. A couple of notes on food stuff:
    I don't think anyone has mentioned that US liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups have slightly different volumes. I don't think that comes into play with the "Customary" and "legal" definitions mentioned above, since I think the difference is greater than that.

    Referring to pizza as "pie" is definitely an East Coast thing. It's heard elsewhere but is rare.

  195. I am reminded that my mother claimed to be able to judge how rounded a tablespoon of various stuffs corresponded to an ounce. So, if the recipe required four ounces of flour she'd spoon in four tablespoons, each one the bulge of the flour above the level of the spoon was, she reckoned, just right to be one ounce.

  196. We were taught that in school cookery classes, and a level tablespoonful was supposed to be an ounce of sugar, but when I dish it out like that into a bowl on the scales, it never is! Alas....

  197. Paul, Mrs Redboots

    It was different for our mothers. My mother was a terrific baker, but everything was based on a tiny number of pastry, cake and sponge recipes. So when she measured she could trust her instincts.

    They were in the first place visual i.e. she knew exactly what an ounce of flour or caster sugar looked like on a particular spoon. And, of course, she knew exactly what an ounce of margarine or butter or cooking fat looked like. Then she could trust her sense of feel as she incorporated the wet ingredients.

    Whether her ounces weighed exactly (or even approximately) an ounce or not is irrelevant. They were consistent measures.

  198. Click here for today's Woman's Hour with an explanation of how cups became the norm in American recipes. Start at 23.28/42:26 — or simply click on the Cooking measures tab.

    Apparently it's all down to one woman, Fannie Farmer, and her incredibly popular 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. (Both she and it have Wikipedia entries.)


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