Verbal defaults

Posted on February 2, 2014

I’m a word nerd of sorts (surprise, surprise!) and like looking at how we use language. There are some words that don’t need modifiers, and we distinguish them from secondary terms by using modifiers.

Pancakes vs flapjacks. For example, in Canada, we have pancakes, those big fluffy things over which we pour maple syrup. Those are also called flapjacks, although I’ve understood flapjacks to be slightly smaller in diameter than pancakes. Because they’re smaller, they’re stacked higher. When pancakes are really small, they’re called silver dollars and stacked quite high. When pancakes are flat, they’re either crepes (French style) or pannekoek (Dutch style) or German pancakes (German…well, self-evident). In the UK, a flapjack is an oat bar. In Canada, we’d call them a granola bar, except that flapjacks are moist and chewy, and granola bars are dry and crispy.

Hockey vs ice hockey.  Hockey is ice hockey. Any other hockey needs a modifier. Specifying ice hockey is redundant in Canada.

Bacon. More complicated. In Canada there is bacon and back bacon, sometimes called Canadian back bacon. In the UK, bacon generally means back bacon (from the loin, with far left around the edges ad cured differently).  What we’d call default bacon is called American bacon or streaky bacon. And then there’s Canadian bacon, which in the UK is almost like a ham steak, and coated in peameal. I forget this every time I order a bacon burger and it comes with a huge slab of ham on top.

Breakfast. Breakfast foods aren’t necessarily prescriptive, at least not in Vancouver. Breakfast could mean cereal, something with eggs, a protein smoothie, or maybe dim sum. In the UK, a Full English breakfast is very prescribed: eggs, baked beans, UK bacon, pork sausage (with a high starch content), grilled tomato halves, black pudding sometimes, and mushrooms that are supposedly sauteed but taste rather waterlogged to me. And in the UK, the word breakfast with the modifier of “American” means an omelet or eggs, bacon, and hash browns, and possibly pancakes.

Then there is an annoying tendency to put the word “American” in front of menu items to exoticize it. American-styled pulled pork, American style burger. American-style fridge freezers. American-style breakfast.

I’m sure there are lots of other examples, but I can’t think of any right now. This may need a follow-up post. (Feel free to chime in with examples where using a term with and without modifiers mean different things.)

Categories: My UK Adventure, Uncategorized


2 Responses

  1. Ellis Pratt:

    Biscuits means something different around the world. In San Diego they serve a scone like thing at breakfast and call it a biscuit. UK hotels will offer a continental breakfast – that’s a croissant, plus a buffet selection of yoghurt, cheeses, cold meats, cereals and fruit.

    24.02.2014 11:02

    • rahelab:

      So true, Ellis. A biscuit is a popular food in the southern US (biscuits and gravy, with a white peppery sauce that I find rather revolting, actually). In southern Ontario, it’s relatively common, too.

      10.03.2014 15:53