Friday, August 22, 2014

Deciphering the Meaning Behind Chips, Crisps, and Fries

Since it's Fry-day, we thought that today we'd take a look at the incredibly confusing English terminology for two popular potato-based foods. While many native English speakers know that what Americans call "chips" are called "crisps" in Britain, we doubt that most people are aware of the full extent of linguistic confusion created by the terms for various fried potato products throughout the various English speaking countries.

We think the simplest way to explain the different usages of chips, crisps, and fries in various countries is with the aid of some mouthwatering photos.


In the United States, these are called chips, or more specifically, potato chips. They have been called by this name since the late 1800s, which is when they first started showing up in restaurants. These terms are also used in Canada and Australia, as well as parts of South Africa and New Zealand.

However, in the United Kingdom and Ireland, these delicious snacks are called crisps.


This is where things get more confusing. In the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, these thicker fried potatoes are called chips. Yes, chips. 

There isn't one clear-cut name for this product in the United States and Canada, however. In general, these would be considered a type of fries such as hand-cut fries or steak fries. If they're cut a specific way and the skins are left on, then they're sometimes called potato wedges


Finally, these are known as fries or french fries just about everywhere. Technically, the group of English speakers who call the second photo "chips" may refer to these as "chips" as well. However, you can rest assured that they will know what you are saying if you ask for some fries, largely thanks to McDonalds' spread across the globe.

Some of you with keen eyes may have noticed that in Australia and New Zealand, both thin fried potatoes and thick fried potatoes (photos 1 and 2) are called chips. We learned this fascinating fact first-hand a few weeks ago when an Australian friend asked us to buy him some "chips" from the supermarket and we had to ask for clarification since we didn't know where Australia stands in the chip/crisp debate. Apparently this doesn't cause too many issues since you can usually tell from context which fried potato product someone is referring to, but there is a linguistic solution: in some cases, they call the thick fried potatoes hot chips.