Friday, September 26, 2014

Baffling Baked Goods: Biscuits, Cookies, and Scones

Biscuits and honey - a delicious American side dish
Just one month ago, we dedicated a post to explaining the differences between the various potato-based products known as crisps, chips, and fries in the multiple varieties of the English language. Today we're going to look at a few more tricky English food terms, this time focusing on an even more popular food group, baked goods, which we have very briefly touched on in the past.

The food pictured to the right is called a biscuit if you are American. They're delicious small breads with a hard crust and soft interior often served as a side dish. They can be eaten plain, slathered with butter, drizzled in honey, or covered in gravy, as in the popular Southern dish "biscuits and gravy".

The closest British equivalent to this food is a scone, though they are made somewhat differently, and are often sweet, while American biscuits are generally a savory item. Americans also eat scones and call them "scones", so that makes things a bit less linguistically complicated. However, there is a long-standing dispute in the UK as to the correct pronunciation of this word, which rhymes with either "cone" or "con"...

Cheese and crackers (US) / biscuits (UK), a favorite snack
Now let's head back to the term biscuit. In the United Kingdom, it is not that lovely bread-like product pictured above. British biscuits are generally small baked products that come in various forms and can be either sweet or savory.

Savory biscuits are generally what Americans call a cracker, while sweet biscuits are called cookies across the pond. To make matters even more complicated, Brits use the terms cookie and cracker as well, but only to refer to very specific types of biscuits. It's enough to make a person go crazy!

Those learning English as a second language should not feel bad at all for finding these terms confusing, as they routinely cause linguistic confusion among native speakers. Just a few months ago, I (an American) wasn't feeling well and asked a (British) friend to buy me some "crackers" from the (UK) supermarket to help settle my stomach. They turned up with chocolate "biscuits", which I would call "cookies", because they were aware of the differences in terminology and assumed that we did not, in fact, use the same term for "cracker". In any case, all these foods are delicious, so there's really nothing to complain about if you end up with the wrong one someday!