fudge

In The Prodigal Tongue I wrote quite a bit about how differences in prototype structures for word meanings can lead to miscommunication between BrE and AmE speakers, and I've written about such differences here on the blog with reference to soup and bacon sandwiches. This past week I was faced with an example I'd never considered before: fudge

I'm sure I've never considered it because I have no interest in eating the stuff. I don't even really like walking by the fudge shops in Brighton with their sickly smells pouring out onto the (BrE) pavement/(AmE) sidewalk. But then Welsh-linguist-in-the-US Gareth Roberts ran this Twitter poll and I thought "Oh, yeah. That's true, isn't it?"

f someone said they had a box of fudge for you, would you expect it to (most likely) be chocolate-flavoured?  Where are you from?  Feel free to comment to add nuance. And please retweet if you're interested in the results. Yes; from  Flag of United States / Flag of Canada   44.4% No; from  Flag of United States / Flag of Canada 4.9% Yes; NOT from  Flag of United States / Flag of Canada 7.6% No; NOT from  Flag of United States / Flag of Canada 43.1%

First thing to note: fudge in its food sense is an Americanism, and it seems to have been mostly chocolate at the start. The OED's first citation for it comes from a Michigan periodical in 1896 and reads "Fudges, a kind of chocolate bonbons." Wikipedia notes that a recipe for "Vassar chocolates" (made at the college/university in the 1890s) was actually vanilla fudge—which seems to say that fudge could be considered to be the poor student's chocolate, no matter the flavo(u)r.

At least some of the North American 'no' votes were Canadians laying a claim for maple fudge, but other Canadians agreed with most Americans that in North America fudge can be assumed to be chocolate unless otherwise specified, while BrE respondents mostly said it was vanilla unless otherwise specified. As a result, chocolate fudge turns up more in BrE than in AmE:

I should note that 20 of the 41 UK hits for chocolate fudge are followed by cake and a few more are followed by other nouns like frosting or biscuits. There's only 1 chocolate fudge cake in the AmE data, but if you look for fudge cake there, you get double fudge cake, which (I'm willing to bet) any American would interpret as an extra chocolatey cake. (The BrE data include no double fudge cakes but one double fudge chocolate cake, underscoring that you need to mention chocolate because fudge doesn't mean chocolate in BrE.)

Now, we've seen something like this, but a bit different, before: BrE use of chocolate brownies. In the case of fudge, Americans (like UKers) have many, many flavo(u)rs of fudge these days. But because the prototypical (and original) American fudge is chocolate-flavo(u)red, Americans tend to only specify a flavo(u)r where it's contrary to that prototype. 

For BrE speakers, chocolate is contrary to the prototype, and so needs specification. Looking for fudge recipes on BBC Good Food, the 'classic fudge recipe' (pictured right) and plain ol' fudge are flavo(u)red with vanilla only.

the actual jar, 2014

AmE also has hot fudge, which is a thick chocolate sauce that needs to be heated to make it pourable. One of my best blogger moments was when a US reader came to see me talk in Reading (England) while she was on her holiday/vacation. Knowing she would see me and knowing that I went to college/university in western Massachusetts she brought me a jar of hot fudge from Herrell's, a Northampton, MA ice cream shop that happened (she didn't know this) to be in the same building as where I held my first full-time job. I think I heated up one bit of it for an ice cream (orig. AmE) sundae. The rest I ate spoon by spoon straight out of the fridge over the next few months. Hot fudge is not literally heated fudge, but instead fudge here "Designat[es] sweet foods having the rich flavour and dense consistency associated with (esp. chocolate) fudge". The OED marks that definition as "Originally and chiefly U.S."

Back in the UK, Cadbury Fudge is bar of chocolate-coated fudge in the BrE sense. They typically come in a small size and are the kind of thing that children with not-too-much pocket money might get after school.


This led me to wonder if fudge is used differently as a colo(u)r name in the two places and sure enough, this is what happens when you search for "fudge paint color" in the USA:


I couldn't find as many brands offering fudge-colo(u)red paint in the UK, but the one that does seems to go in the vanilla fudge direction:



So, if you're travel(l)ing to another country and need to describe yourself to the person who'll be picking you up from the airport, I'd advise against saying you'll be the person in the fudge-colo(u)red jacket.

A few more fudge facts:

  • The meaning 'to do in "a clumsy, makeshift, or dishonest manner"' (OED) is over 200 years older than the food meaning. That came from an earlier word fadge, and it's thought that the vowel alteration was symbolic: people fudged the pronunciation to indicate they were talking about something fudged.

    Fudge the food might well get its name from the fact that it was a way to make candy/sweets at home, "fudging" the usual processes for making fancy chocolates and the like.

  • The exclamation Oh fudge! similarly predates the candy/sweet. I'm sure many people these days think of it as a minced way of saying another word that starts with fu, but the first interjection use of fudge in the OED in the 1700s predates their first use of that other word as an interjection (and the one in Green's Dictionary of Slang) by nearly 200 years. The original use of fudge as an interjection meant something more like "Nonsense!"

  • The usual BrE mnemonic for the high notes of the treble clef is Every Good Boy Deserves Favour. In AmE I learned Every Good Boy Does Fine, but a more recent AmE version is Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge. Click here for an n-gram chart, showing the rise of fudge.


44 comments

  1. What I think of as the Standard American Fudge, aka what my grandmother and aunts and cousins make, is made with melted chocolate chips, butter, and Marshmallow Fluff. (So it's obvious that we are New Englanders.) That has a sufficiently distinctive flavor that people who are Not From Here complain about it.

    Note that we also have peanut-butter, "Neapolitan", mint, and vanilla fudge but I concur with your judgment regarding the prototype. Most of the non-fudge foods that are described by comparison to fudge are also chocolate flavored, even though as a food descriptor "fudge" primarily refers to the texture and not the flavor.

    We also have a brown sugar fudge called "penuche" /p@'n(j)u:chi/, which unlike all the other flavors can stand alone — although a similar-flavor frosting used to be popular and was also called that.

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  2. Interestingly, in the US fudge is also used as a name for "Mockolate", something that looks and somewhat tastes like chocolate but cannot be called chocolate due to the FDA's definition. So, you can have "fudge" coated oreos or other types of cookie, despite it not really resembling fudge in texture at all. In the UK, this would be called a "chocolatey coating" or suchlike to comply with similar rules.

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    1. I've only seen (Br£) "chocolate flavour coating" to describe such things.

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    2. Apparently the technical/industry term for that sort of fake-chocolate flavour coating in the UK is "Blackpool coating"

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  3. My mother has been making fudge 2 or 3 times a year for the best part of the past 70 years. I dislike it, but for the rest of the family it wouldn't be Christmas or Easter without a small plastic bagful of the current offering. I am not sure of the exact recipe, but I do know it contains golden syrup, condensed milk and butter. No vanilla or other flavourings, as far as I know. I don't even like the smell of it being cooked - golden syrup, yuck! This year, because we were unable to go and see my mother, my daughter made it, and gave my husband a bagful during our (socially-distanced) doorstep present-swap!

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    1. Should add we live in the UK. Chocolate fudge is a thing here, but not something I eat, although black treacle fudge, which looks similar, is really rather nice, in extreme moderation!

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  4. In case you read the post earlier, check again if you'd like to read about hot fudge & Cadbury's Fudge.

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    1. "A finger of fudge is just enough/to give your face a treat" - one of the less forgettable advertising jingles!

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  5. How might a US or UK confectioner refer to chocolate-fudge coated with chocolate?

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    1. I’d not refer to such a thing at all.

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    2. Fudge creams. They're similar to vanilla creams, maple creams, etc, and you find them in boxes of assorted chocolates. The center is basically a ball of chocolate fudge and it's dipped, or enrobed as confectioners like to say, in chocolate. I've never seen anything as big as the Cadbury's Fudge bar with a chocolate center (we can buy those and other foreign bars like Violet Crumble at Cost Plus World Market, but they're not common in regular grocery stores).

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  6. As a Canadian who is getting up in years, my default and that of my spouse when we thought of "fudge" would be vanilla or maple. But my adult son just advised that his default assumption would be chocolate so there may be a generational gap in the Canadian concept of the word. When I was a kid, we would get Laura Secord fudge from a sweet shop named after the Canadian heroine who, back in 1814, sneaked out of her house after it was taken over by Americans and walked miles in the bush to warn the British of a planned invasion by Americans. I recall that as being a vanilla fudge but it might just be that I liked vanilla fudge best.

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  7. On Vassar fudge: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/who-invented-fudge

    It was a fairly mild and tame form of rebellion to cook fudge over your gaslamp after curfew, apparently.

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    1. I have often read of American college students - women, usually, in women's colleges - trying to make fudge, more-or-less successfully, in something called a "chafing dish", whatever that was. Usually set in the last years of the 19th or early years of the 20th century.

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    2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chafing_dish

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  8. Fudge, to me, is softish; in my native Scotland we also have tablet, which tastes much the same but is harder.

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    1. I've read (possibly apocryphal) tales of Tablet being rebranded "Scottish Fudge" by people who wish to sell it to tourists, Tablet having medicinal connotations to many people.

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  9. According to Fine Scottish Hampers (https://www.finescottishhampers.com/blog/category/what-is-scottish-tablet-fudge/#:~:text=Scottish%20tablet%20fudge%20actually%20has,avoid%20the%20tendency%20of%20burning.) the first extant fecipe for tablet is in The household book of Lady Grisell Baillie, 1692-1733. But I haven't found the source yet (and probably won't as I need to do some work)

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  10. I found this very interesting and the fact you live in Brighton? I'm in Hove, and because my daughter is in Spain teaching EFL for her practical year of her Spanish degree. Because she recently asked us to send her some British boiled sweets because she's got to know some American students doing the same thing, who don't know what she means by 'boiled sweets'.

    I can't believe that there isn't such a thing there, but I'm guessing candy is a generic term for sweets there, whereas we probably think of chewy type bars for candy?

    Is there a name USA English uses for the outer sugar cane type stuff of sweets like sherberts, mints, glacier jellies etc (gosh so many crossovers and alternative words for those and the contents come to mind just in that short list!)

    As for fudge I've realised I don't like the gritty taste of it at all, (I have the same aversion to the sweet shops and Lush's perfumes too) while I love caramel and toffee, both of which I presume are just the same ingredients cooked in a different way. I've never thought of fudge being chocolate related except as a specialist flavour.

    I recently came across youtubes of an Australian rock company (rock - stone, music, sweets, or solid... so many options for that word too) https://sticky.com.au/ of them spending 1-2hrs making specialist designs. Interesting from a design if you want to make millefiore type clay art but rather inane and crude banter if you listen in to it! There is a big market in USA for their sweets apparently!

    On another matter I wrote a book on Fabric Origami/quilts in 2006 and the USA publishers were confused by our use of transparent for fabric, we said 'clear fabrics that you can see through', and they came up with sheer, but sheer here I think means whited out or slightly coloured fabrics not a glass or plastic like clear effect?

    The other memory is of my Sister in Law writing a lovely story in an UK English Winnie The Pooh/ Toad of Toad hall vein style in the early 1990's which went to the Book Fairs but failed at the first hurdle because the American publishers wanted to change half the animals to American alternatives.

    Since the quirkiness of old fashions UK culture is regarded as a beautiful thing in so many other countries, we found the concept of everything having to be changed to fit a bigger country culture infuriating when all it needed is a note in the book to say what type of animal it is and a photo to back up the hand drawn illustrations. I love reading foreign books to learn about other cultures a worldwide monoculture would be so boring and close everyone's horizon right down!

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    1. Louise, if you click on the linked bit in the post that says candy/sweets, you'll be taken to the post that discusses those terms. It'll cover some of the things you've mentioned. If you have more on the topic, it'd be good to add them there, so that comments stay with the blog topics and are found by people looking for those topics.

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  11. Forgive the digression, but this discussion of fudge has made me think of the word stodgy.

    My wife is a big fan of The Great British Bake Off (as has been mentioned elsewhere on this site, it's known as The Great British Baking Show in the U.S. because the phrase "Bake Off" is under trademark here) and, while watching it together, we've noticed how often Paul Hollywood criticizes the baking contestants for producing offerings that taste stodgy.

    I just looked up stodgy on Merriam-Webster online and, to my surprise, the very first definition is this:

    1 : having a rich filling quality : HEAVY
         stodgy bread

    Most of the remaining entries define the only meanings of stodgy that have ever been familiar to me:

    3 : BORING, DULL
         out on a peaceful rather stodgy Sunday boat trip
         — Edna Ferber

    4 : extremely old-fashioned : HIDEBOUND
         received a pompously Victorian letter from his stodgy father
         — E. E. S. Montagu

    5  a: DRAB
        b: DOWDY

    Since Merriam-Webster online doesn't flag the first definition as principally British, I guess there's no point in arguing that the meaning of this word as applied to food is unique to the UK, but somehow I've spent my entire 65 years in the US without ever hearing anyone use the word about something they've eaten.

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    1. Describing an outing as 'stodgy' certainly strikes me (British) as very odd!

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    2. At my school, one of the desserts offered at lunchtime was a heavy sponge - baked in the oven but with the consistency of a steamed (BrE) pudding. It came in many different flavours but was always referred to as STODGE - chocolate stodge, raisin stodge, iced stodge, jam stodge. Very filling, which is what you need at 13 years old!

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  12. Interesting results. As an American, if someone offered me a box of fudge, my first question would be "what kind?" While I wouldn't assume it's chocolate, I am reminded of fudge being used as a modifier as in "fudge brownies" that implies more chocolatey or gooey maybe? I don't have a good sense of what fudge is doing here.

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    1. In classic American cookbooks there are often two kind of brownies: fudge brownies and cake brownies. Fudge brownies are fudgier, yes more gooey. Cake brownies are more dry, more similar to chocolate cake in bar form.

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  13. Further to the mention of the Scottish "tablet" above, I wonder if there is also variation in the texture that would be considered prototypical "fudge". What is sold in Roly's Fudge Shops is a crumbly, slightly dry, substance probably closer to tablet; whereas the centre of a Cadbury's Fudge bar is chewy and sticky, perhaps closer to the US (and original?) meaning of "fudge".

    I wonder, did the American fudge originate from someone taking a Scottish tablet recipe and adapting it to create a chocolate treat, or are they actually two completely separate recipes which have at some point converged under one name?

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    1. Traditional American fudge is like you'd get in Roly's. The stuff inside a Cadbury Fudge or in a "fudge" in a box of chocolates is a different kind of stuff.

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    2. There is in fact a place in England that does a tablet-like version of "fudge" in Penrith in Cumbria (website here: https://www.thetoffeeshop.co.uk/) in butter, chocolate and mint varieties. Having had it many times it's quite honestly delicious, and actually when I was growing up there it was my prototypical instance of "fudge" in general.

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    1. Traditional (North) American fudge is likely related to Scottish Tablet, as is Quebecois Sucre À La Crème. The most common homemade fudge I remember making and eating growing up in the Mid-Atlantic US was peanut butter fudge, but you could get all manner of varieties such as chocolate, pistachio, or maple walnut from specialty fudge shops. There's also an apparently unique kind of fudge from Lebanon, PA called Opera Fudge that isn't really fudge at all, but a kind of fondant enrobed in dark chocolate.

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  15. A traditional recipe for Scots tablet: two pounds of granulated sugar and three teacupsful of thin cream or milk - bring to the boil, stirring constantly. When it has reached about 245 degrees F, put the pan into a basin of cold water and stir rapidly with a spoon, scraping down the solidified edges. When it is all sufficiently grained, pour it all in to a buttered shallow tin. Allow to cool, cut into even slices. If it is too highly grained, it will not pour flat - practice makes perfection. Worth a try during lockdown?!

    Touristy shops in picturesque parts of England usually sell fudge in a book-sized box with a local picture postcard on the lid - I expect it all comes from a single factory somewhere - and they make much of the amount of cream used in the recipe, which gives a sickly, tooth-coating consistency to the stuff, and yes, it can be stodgy. The artisan version in high-class confectioners is more crystalline, perhaps closer to the Scots tablet. Still packed with sugar though.

    And I agree that Cadbury's fudge fingers are not the same at all.

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  16. As an American, I would assume the mid-tan vanilla fudge pictured here to be peanut butter flavored. My second guess would be caramel or butter scotch. White or off-white fudge I would assume to be white chocolate.

    The idea of vanilla fudge actually seems pretty weird. In the US at least, the ubiquity of fake vanilla flavoring has made "vanilla" become so associated with bland foods that it almost means no flavor at all. (Is this not true in the UK?)

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    1. I had never thought of 'basic' British fudge as being vanilla-flavoured. A quick search for recipes suggests that the basic ingredients are just sugar, butter and milk, though some include vanilla flavouring.

      Yes, 'vanilla' can be used to mean 'the basic variety', but, I think, more with reference to ice-cream.

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  17. Here in Australia, every good boy deserves Fruit!

    https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?q=every%20good%20boy%20deserves%20favour,every%20good%20boy%20deserves%20fudge,every%20good%20boy%20deserves%20fruit

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  18. If you worked in the Herrell's building, does that mean you are a Smithie?? I came across your blog a few months ago in the course of hosting a Salon discussion about British and American cultural differences, and what a treat if I also happened upon another Smith alum.

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    1. I went there too :-) (long and winding educational road, here). It’s nice to discover the connection.

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  19. There's a comment upthread that indicates another possible difference between British and American fudges. Louise Mabbs said (in small part), "As for fudge I've realised I don't like the gritty taste of it at all...."

    A properly made fudge should not have a gritty texture. It should be firm, but the sugar crystals should not be so large as to be noticeable (which is one of the trickier things about making it). See https://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/candy/fudge-story.html for instance.

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  20. Growing up in Atlantic Canada, we enjoyed fudge almost exclusively as a Christmas time treat. There was maple fudge, chocolate fudge, and fudge (creme a sucre), all in a variety of textures from creamy to grainy (depending on who made it). I liked any fudge except the squares that slyly hid walnuts, little chunks of disappointment.

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  21. A use of "fudge" not listed above is as part of "fudge factor", which Merriam Webster defines as "an arbitrary mathematical term inserted into a calculation in order to arrive at an expected solution or to allow for errors especially of underestimation". I've never heard of it "expected solution" version, but the second gets used when you're trying to make a guesstimate or rough order-of-magnitude calculation.

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