February 12, 2006

More Biscuits

I was going to follow up the previous post by pointing out that the alleged biscuit disjunction isn't really biscuity, but I got distracted by the following question:

Americans call what British people call 'biscuits' 'cookies'. What do British people call what Americans call 'biscuits'?

That last bit doesn't need to be as convoluted as it is, but I like it that way.

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 12, 2006 02:57 PM

Nothing, generally. They don't tend to exist in Britain. If they were to appear on occasion (say, with a mock American meal), I imagine they would also be called 'biscuits'. Cf. 'muffin'. What Americans call 'English muffins' are called 'muffins' in England. What Americans call 'muffins' simpliciter didn't used to be called anything because they didn't exist in England, but now they do exist, and 'muffin' is simply an ambiguous term in contemporary British English.

Posted by: Jonathan Sutton at February 12, 2006 03:16 PM

Wow, quick service! I thought they might not exist, rather then there being something that is to 'cookie' as 'crisp' is to 'fry' (with 'chip' the middle term in that case). So there's been no drive to call them 'American muffins', along the lines of American football?

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 12, 2006 03:35 PM

Aren't American biscuits more or less the same what you get when you ask for a scone in Britain? Certainly a british scone is nothing like an American scone.

Posted by: Richard Zach at February 12, 2006 04:14 PM

There are biscuits in the sideboard or don't you want any?

It feels like cheating to phrase it as a question, but no one would ever say "There are biscuits in the sideboard or you don't want any". So cheating it is.

Posted by: Standpipe Bridgeplate at February 12, 2006 04:51 PM

Matt, I guess ambiguities in sporting terminology are much more frowned upon than in gustatory teminology -- probably the world over. (It is doubtful that both kinds of muffin would be for sale or otherwise available at the same time and place.) Not to mention, 'rugby football' lurking in the background with respect to 'American football', which is never just called 'football' and always 'rugby' and cognates. Richard, I would say the similarity is very superficial, both in terms of (surface) texture and, especially, taste.

Posted by: Jonathan Sutton at February 12, 2006 05:08 PM

The Wikipedia article on scones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scone_%28bread%29) is worth reading, if only for the dizzying succession of referents. It does compare scones to American biscuits. The first sentence, which defined "scone" in terms of "bannock," reminded me of the time I asked an English friend what "furze" was. (I'd been reading "The Return of the Native," in which the protagonist is a furze cutter.) "Furze," she began, "furze...it's a sort of gorse!"

Posted by: Matt's mom at February 13, 2006 03:18 PM

By the way, "cookie" is one of the words from Dutch in American English. As is "boss."

Posted by: Matt's mom at February 13, 2006 03:20 PM

As far as I can tell, American biscuits are quite a bit sweeter than our scones, and I can't think of another candidate counterpart. In the UK you just get chips (i.e. fries) with your KFC, and very glad about that I was too.

Posted by: Aidan at February 14, 2006 07:30 PM

American biscuits are quite a bit sweeter than our scones,

The reverse. A standard American biscuit isn't sweet at all, while scones I've had are often sweetish (or at least have raisins or currants or something sweet in them).

Posted by: LizardBreath at February 15, 2006 10:38 AM

I can't speak to British scones, but LizardBreath is right about American biscuits -- they're often served with cream gravy and sausages. 'Round here, anyway. The quick biscuit recipe I sometimes make has no sugar. And the biscuits are the best thing about KFC.

I just deleted a spam comment for watchlizard dot com. Was that you?

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 15, 2006 11:26 AM

Nope, but I just checked over my shoulder to see if it was behind me.

Posted by: LizardBreath at February 15, 2006 05:08 PM

Outside of Starbucks you can get English-style scones in the U.S. In fact, pre-Starbucks and pre-au bon pain that's the only kind of scone I'd ever eaten (didn't like them much then), but they weren't very common. Finding the clotted cream was harder. I did have them once at a reception with a kind of whipped, sugared peach and raspberry butters.

I've seen chocolate chip cookies called cookies in the UK, because they were obviously an American import.

This post has succeeded in making me want one of those Sainsbury's digestive biscuits with the wheat biscuit covered with caramel and chocolate and some brand-name jaffa cakes.

English-style scones are not as sweet as the American ones, but they are sweeter than biscuits. Biscuits are sometimes greasier than scones.

Do the British have dumplings? I'm thinking of the kind that get put into certain kinds of stews. Is this some sort of Northern European import?

Posted by: Bostoniangirl at February 19, 2006 08:11 AM

If English muffins are called 'muffins' in England, what are muffins in England called?

(You think you're the only one who can be convoluted, Matt?)

I think when you're a philosopher of language on a rainy day and you're feeling sad, you can always cheer yourself up by noting that English muffins aren't muffins, that French toast isn't toast, and delight in the fact that you are somehow especially suited to find quiet comedy in that fact, because you can explain why 'I had two slices of toast: one French, the other rye' is defective.

Posted by: Allan Hazlett at February 22, 2006 12:51 PM