Names for food in British and American English
You say tomato, I say tomato… but sometimes we say completely different things depending on whether we’re eating in the UK or America. We’ve put together some US and UK variants for common foods, along with a bit of history – so we won’t just help you out when ordering from a foreign menu, we’re hopefully providing food for thought too. Bon appétit!
Eggplant and aubergine
An eggplant in America is an aubergine in the UK, but it turns out that this is one of the occasions where American English uses the older word. Eggplant was in use as far back as the 1760s, named because the vegetable was thought to resembled a large egg in shape and size – and, indeed, colour: the word originally only applied to the white variety. Aubergine, meanwhile, followed in the 1790s and comes (via French and Catalan) from the Arabic al-bāḏinjān (literally ‘the aubergine’). A third name is also available, particularly in Indian and South African English: brinjal, which ultimately goes back to the same Arabic word.
Zucchini and courgette
Neither zucchini nor courgette have a long history in the English language – they seem to have both emerged around the same time in the early 20th century, presumably as different consumers on starting growing and eating them. Both words use the diminutive of the word for a gourd, in Italian (zucca) and French (courge) respectively. In Italian, zucchini is actually the plural of the singular zucchino.
Garbanzos and chickpeas
Garbanzos or garbanzo beans borrows the term garbanzo from Spanish; evidence for this loanword is found as far back as the mid-18th century. Chickpea or chick-pea is a couple of centuries earlier, though, and its earlier name – chich-pease– can be found another couple of centuries before that. Chich on its own (in the same sense) even goes back to the Middle Ages. Chich ultimately comes from the Latin name for the pulse, cicer.
Navy beans and haricot beans
These beans are not blue; the American English term navy bean came about in the mid-19th century because the U.S. Navy used them so often. The British English haricot comes from French, as the silent ‘t’ suggests; earlier, it has been suggested that it might ultimately come from Nahuatl (the Aztec language). The earliest citation for the haricot bean in the current OED entry is from 1653 (as aricot), but haricot is found a few decades earlier as the name for a ragout.
Arugula and rocket
We covered this one in our post on words which unexpectedly share an etymological root; the leafy salad vegetable may have quite different names in the US and the UK, but both come from the Latin eruca, meaning ‘down-stemmed plant’.
Romaine and cos
This variety of lettuce is a very common salad ingredient whether you’re in the UK or America or elsewhere – albeit with a very distinct name. The British term cos is named after the Aegean island of Kos (formerly spelt Cos), where it was thought to have originated. Romaine, on the other hand, is the French for ‘Roman’ – suggesting that the lettuce took a circuitous route to popularity in the West. Cos is the older term, dating to the early 18th century, and evidently caused a printer some confusion: the earliest example in the current OED entry is from the fourth edition of John Evelyn’s Sylva, as the first edition had read ‘cross-lettuce’.