John Larrysson Column: Is it really British Food?

This week is about food words that should not be on lists of words translated from British to American English. These lists are often created by people's general impressions and not serious study.


Bridge Roll & Hotdog Bun


The words bridge roll and hotdog bun are often given as examples of British vs. American English. It turns out that England uses both words and even uses the so-called American word hotdog bun slightly more often at a ratio of 1:1.4. (According to the British National Corpus) The US uses bridge roll much less often than hotdog bun at a rate of 1:3.7. (According to the Corpus of Contemporary American English). The word bridge roll is a British synonym. Britain uses both words, the Americans usually use only one.

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Sultanas & Raisins


I have been told that the word sultana is from England and the word raisin is from America. Both words mean dried grapes. Originally the word sultana meant the wife of a sultan. The types of dried grapes they liked were called sultanas. The dried-grape sultanas are raisins for the sultanas. The word raisin is from the French word for grape and in English applies to any dried grape, even sultanas. (The word raisin has been used in England for about 700 years.) Sultanas (the food) are typically golden-coloured, seedless raisins. It would be an error to describe other darker raisins as sultanas. The raisin/sultana usage ratios are 1:0.9 for the UK and 1:0.4 for the US. The word raisin is more common than sultana in both countries. The UK does use the word sultana, and presumably the raisin variety, more often.

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Candy or Sugar Coated


Sometimes a medicine might be covered in sugar to trick a child into taking it. Trying to talk about bad news in a reassuring way is compared to this medicine trick by describing the news as sugar-coated.


... reporters should "not sugarcoat evil" and can bring an end to violence by speaking up about its impact.



Carol Zimmermann (2015)


Catholic News Service


It was claimed that Americans only say candy-coated instead of sugar-coated. Checking usage again, Americans use sugar-coated more often than candy-coated at a rate of 5:1. The UK only uses sugar-coated; candy-coated is a less common American synonym.

British and American English have few significant differences. Most of these words have been wrongly defined as being specifically British or American. Some choices of synonyms are often different on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. However these differences should not be exaggerated.

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by John Larrysson

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A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.

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