August Food Word Origins: s’mores, sponge-cake, and chop suey


Every month seems to be chock-full of food holidays. For instance, August has no fewer than five pie days. While it all might be a bit much, so many delicious special occasions still make us hungry, not just for treats but for words.

Here we take a look at the origins of some of the most interesting (and yummy) celebrated dishes of this past month.


Heavenly crisp (Also known as S’mores)… Toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp, gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich.”

Snyder and C. F. Loomis, The Outdoor Book, 1934

Chances are you’re familiar with this deliciously gooey snack celebrated every August 10. But did you know it wasn’t always known by its contracted name? While the earliest s’mores appears in print is 1934, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), some-more predates it by 11 years. From a September 1925 issue of the newspaper, Norwalk Hour: “At the supper, two Camp Andree ‘dishes’—‘Kabobs’ and ‘Some-mores’—were introduced.”


“Pour into thin glass and insert an Orange Creamsicle. Serve soda spoon and straws on the side.”

Let’s Sell Ice Cream, 1939

Creamsicle, like popsicle, is still an official trademark name of the Unilever company although it might be used now to mean any similar frozen sweet. While a popsicle is basically frozen sugary fruit juice on a stick, a creamsicle has vanilla ice cream at its center with another layer of ice in a variety of flavors. Lauded each August 14, the earliest appearance of creamsicle in print was in 1932, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.


“You know how interesting the purchase of a sponge-cake is to me.”

Jane Austen, Selected Letters, June 1808

That’s right, the earliest known citation of the light and airy dessert is from none other than the Pride and Prejudice author, according to the OED. We’re guessing, however, Austen didn’t coin the term and that the baked good must have existed well before her mentioning it. You can celebrate the sponge cake every August 23.


“Everywhere, too, you get wafen; our wafles, and made and eaten in the same way.”

Aaron Burr, Private Journal, August 26, 1809

Yes, that Aaron Burr. While Burr’s usage is one of the earliest, the delightful-sounding compound waffle frolic predates it by 65 years: “For my own part I was not a little grieved that so luxurious a feast should come under the name of a wafel frolic.” The word waffle comes from the Dutch wafel.

chop suey

“A staple dish for the Chinese gourmand is chow chop svey [sic], a mixture of chickens’ livers and gizzards, fungi, bamboo buds, pigs’ tripe, and bean sprouts stewed with spices.”

Current Literature, October 1888

Legend says this dish of mixed meat and vegetables in a corn-starch-thickened sauce was invented on August 29, 1896 by a visiting Chinese statesmen. However, the above citation from the OED clearly debunks that. The Smithsonian chop suey most likely comes from Chinese immigrants who settled in the U.S. in the mid-1800s, “adapted to locally available foods and tame European-American tastebuds.” The word originates from the Cantonese shap sui, which translates roughly as “mixed bits.”

[Image: “Sponge cake at Top Cantonese Restaurant,” Roland Tanglao, CC BY 2.0]

Word Buzz Wednesday: props, rosehip neuron, pool spray


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your weekly roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: mad props to the Queen of Soul, a rosehip isn’t a rosehip isn’t a rosehip, a tweet-sized press conference.


“Regardless of whether ‘propers’ might be concealing something less than proper, the word has had a lasting impact on the lexicon, particularly when it got shortened to a single syllable: ‘props.’”

Ben Zimmer, “Aretha Franklin Finally Gets Credit for the Term She Popularized,” The Atlantic, August 27, 2018

In her 1967 hit, “Respect,” Aretha Franklin sings:

I’m about to give you all of my money / And all I’m askin’ in return, honey / Is to give me my propers when you get home.

According to The Atlantic, when New York Times “On Language” columnist William Safire asked the Queen of Soul about my propers, she said she “got it from the Detroit street,” that it “was common street slang in the 1960s,” and it meant “‘mutual respect’—what you know is right.” My propers gave way to the abbreviated props, which “exploded in popularity [in the 1990s] thanks to its widespread usage in hip-hop.” In 2007, props was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.


“It is likely cwtch is a Welsh version of couch, which itself was a medieval adoption of the French ‘coucher’, derived from Latin ‘collocāre’ – ‘to lay in its place, lay aright, lodge’.”

Rob Penhallurick, “What the Welsh-English Word ‘cwtch’ Tells Us About Dialects Everywhere,” The Independent, August 17, 2018

Cwtch, which is Welsh-English, has been voted Wales’s favorite word and means “hug” or “cuddle,” says The Independent. Moreover, cwtch can “be a noun or a verb,” refer to “a small storage place used for food or odds and ends” or a hiding place, and mean “to squat down or crouch.”

rosehip neuron

“It’s compact, bushy, and responsible for telling other neurons to shush. Beyond that, nobody is entirely sure what a newly discovered variety of brain cell called a rosehip neuron does.”

Mike McCrae, “Scientists Have Found a New Type of Brain Cell And It Looks Like It’s Unique to Humans,” Science Alert, August 28, 2018

The newly discovered rosehip neuron, with its “rather compact” and “bushy” shape, is “reminiscent of a rose with its petals removed,” says Science Alert. However, the rosehip, which is the fruit of the rose plant, actually resembles a cherry tomato.


“In addition to pepperoni and sausage, giardiniera (JAR-DIN-AIR-UH) is a standard-issue, much-beloved topping, heaped under the cheese and into the sauce.”

Kate Knibbs, “The Best Pizza Topping That You’ve Probably Never Heard About,” The Ringer, August 28, 2018

Giardiniera, which seems to translate from Italian as “gardener,” is a relish popular in the Chicago area, says The Ringer. It’s “a blend of chopped vegetables (celery, peppers, carrots, cauliflower, and sometimes olives, although they are a controversial element) pickled in vinegar.” It’s also “marinated in a blend of oils, and frequently seasoned with sport peppers for added heat.”

pool spray

“‘Any thoughts on John McCain?’ a media representative asked at what’s known as a ‘pool spray.’ No thoughts, as it turned out.”

Erik Wemple, “President Trump really doesn’t want to talk about John McCain,” The Washington Post, August 27, 2018

A pool spray, where “pool” refers to a press or media pool, is a brief meeting with a small group of news reporters or photographers. A longer meeting with a larger group would be a press conference. Pool sprays, says NPR, “are to presidential communication what Twitter is to online prose.” The earliest citation we could find in a cursory search is from 2009 in The New York Times: “At the White House today, news photographers streamed into the Oval Office for what’s known as a ‘pool spray,’ a very brief photo opportunity.”

Word Buzz Wednesday: bleisure, vomit fraud, pronkstilleven

"Still Life," Willem Kalf (c 1660)

“Still Life,” Willem Kalf (c 1660)

After a short hiatus, Word Buzz Wednesday is back! Every week we bring you a roundup of some of the most interesting words of the week. The latest: combining work and pleasure, a disgusting scam, a useless pain.


“Beyond the business and ‘bleisure’ travelers, the main reason visitors came to Boise were outdoor attractions – proximity to whitewater rafting key among them.”

Allison Maier, “It’s called ‘bleisure,’ and it’s a tourism mix that can be a boon for Boise,” Idaho Statesman, August 15, 2018

According to the Idaho Statesman, bleisure travelers are those “who make time for vacation activities” while traveling on business. The word is a blend of “business” and “leisure.”

vomit fraud

“It’s called ‘vomit fraud,’ a scam repeatedly denounced in social networks yet still taking place around the world.”

Catalina Ruiz Parra, “It’s called vomit fraud. And it could make your Uber trip really expensive,” Chicago Tribune, July 24, 2018

With vomit fraud, Chicago Tribune says, an Uber driver might claim a passenger has thrown up in their car — complete with fake photo as evidence — and attempt to charge said passenger a clean-up fee.


“In some traditionally Islamic countries, families or groups of families may choose to purchase a sheep, goat or other livestock animal for what’s known as qurbani, an animal to be sacrificed, representing Ibrahim’s sacrifice of a ram in place of his son Ishmael.”

Steve Longo, “Eid al-Adha 2018: Everything you need to know,” The Daily Mail, August 21, 2018

The sacrificing of the qurbani traditionally occurs on Eid al-Adha, or the Festival of Sacrifice, an Islamic holy holiday celebrated by millions of Muslims around the world, says The Daily Mail.

dirty pain

“To take up the challenge of separating clean from dirty pain is a small but meaningful step in reducing suffering generally—most of all our own.”

Virginia Heffernan, “The Importance of Letting Go of So-Called ‘Dirty Pain,’” WIRED, July 26, 2018

Dirty pain, says CNN, refers to the pain associated with ruminating and worrying over an issue, rather than the issue itself. In other words, clean pain comes from a painful reality while dirty pain is from painful thoughts about that reality.


“These artists were masters of the Dutch still life paintings known as pronkstilleven.”

Jenni Avins, “17th-Century Dutch Painters Were the Original Instagram Influencers,” Quartzy, June 28, 2018

Pronkstilleven translates from Dutch as “showy still lives,” says Quartzy. The paintings aimed to visually convey “the social aspirations of their owners” and acted as “catalogues of what well-to-do families aspired to possess.”

It’s official! Wordnik is now a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit!


You may remember when we first announced we had started the process of becoming a not-for-profit corporation, with the mission of collecting and sharing data for every word in the English language. Our mission remains the same, but now our status is official.

Wordnik is now a 501(c)(3) organization, which means we’re a full nonprofit. What does this mean for you? You can still adopt a word to help support us and our mission. For just $25, or less than 50 cents a day, you can own a word for a whole year. Not only that, your Twitter handle or URL will appear on the word page, and you’ll get a nifty certificate (suitable for framing!) and wordy stickers.

If you’ve wanted to support Wordnik, but adopting a word isn’t your thing, check out our new donation page! We’re currently fundraising to cover our server costs for the remainder of 2018.

We’d also like to thank PlanetWork NGO, who served as our fiscal sponsor while we applied for our own 501(c)(3) nonprofit status. (A fiscal sponsor is a 501(c)(3) that accepts donations on behalf of another nonprofit org, so that donations to the sponsored organization can be considered tax-deductible. Fiscal sponsorship is a wonderful way for smaller orgs to get started on the path to being tax-exempt organizations in their own right.)

And as always, please send any questions or feedback to

[Image via Flickr: “Nonprofit,” Sharon Sinclair, CC BY 2.0]

Word Buzz Wednesday: deepfake, shimming, gluggaveður

snow on the roof

Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: not just fake news, not a pretty shimmer, delightful and frightful weather.


Deepfakes are one of the newest forms of digital media manipulation, and one of the most obviously mischief-prone.”

Kevin Roose, “Here Come the Fake Videos, Too,” The New York Times, March 4, 2018

A deepfake is an “ultrarealistic fake video made with artificial intelligence software,” says The New York Times, such as a program called FakeApp, and may involve superimposing people’s faces onto other people’s bodies, resulting in “uncanny” hybrids.

bilabial trill

“Many of Vanuatu’s 130 languages appear to be Austronesian in origin—though some researchers say that particular aspects, including what’s known as a bilabial trill (a kind of ‘bwwww’ noise in the middle of some words), are distinctively Papuan—speaking to a kind of linguistic intermingling.”

Natasha Frost, “What Ancient DNA Can Tell Us About the Settlement of Vanuatu,” Atlas Obscura, March 5, 2018

Bilabial means pronounced with both lips, as with the letters b, p, m, and w, while a trill is a fluttering or tremulous sound.


“WalletHub, a personal finance website, says scammers have found a way to hack chip cards. It’s called ‘shimming.’”

Chip Cards Can Be Vulnerable to Hackers,” NBC Miami, March 1, 2018

Shimming is done with shimmers, says NBC Miami, “devices hidden inside chip readers” which steal your data once you insert your debit card. Krebs on Security says the shimmer is so called because it acts a shim, or thin piece of material, “that sits between the chip on the card and the chip reader in the ATM or point-of-sale device — recording the data on the chip as it is read by the underlying machine.”

trolley sleeve

“Invest in a smart carry-on that can attach to your suitcase through what’s called a ‘trolley sleeve’ or a ‘pass-through pocket.’ Whatever you choose to call it, we call it genius.”

Brittany Nims, “10 Practical Carry-On Bags That Attach To Your Suitcase,” Huffington Post, March 2, 2018

The word trolley might come from verb sense of troll meaning to move or roam.


“‘Window weather’ – weather that’s lovely to look at, but unpleasant to be outside in.”

Shaunacy Ferro, “9 Untranslatable Words for Comfort That Go Beyond Hygge,” Mental Floss, March 5, 2018

Gluggaveður is Icelandic in origin, says Mental Floss. Other great “beyond hygge” untranslatables include the Croatian fjaka, delighting in the feeling of doing nothing; the Danish morgenfrisk, a feeling of refreshment upon waking from a good night’s sleep; and the Japanese kanso, achieving clarity by eliminating clutter.

10 English Words with Surprising Chinese Origins

Heinz Ketchup

You might have heard that in recent years that the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) added several words from Singapore English into their corpus. A few of our favorites include blur or blur-blur, being slow in understanding; lepak, meaning to relax, loaf, or hang out; and shiok, meaning great, delicious, superb.

But how about common English words with Chinese roots? Today we take a look at 10 everyday English words you might not know come from Chinese languages, just in time for the Lunar New Year.


While ketchup may seem as American as the burgers and fries you slather it on, both the word and the condiment have Chinese origins.

The earliest citation for the word ketchup in English is from 1682, says the OED. It began as a kind of “piquant sauce produced in southeast Asia, probably made from fermented soybeans or fish.” The Malay word it might come from is kicap, “fish sauce,” from the Cantonese, kē-chap. Later ketchup referred to a sauce made in imitation of the fish sauce, “typically made from the juice or pulp of a fruit, vegetable, or other foodstuff combined with vinegar or wine and spices.”

In other words, ketchup wasn’t necessarily made with tomatoes, at least not at first. Back in the day, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the “most esteemed kinds” of ketchup were mushroom, walnut, and tomato, which emerged around 1800 in the U.S. and predominated from the early 20th century.

Now how about catsup? It’s just another pronunciation and spelling of the original Asian word, says Mental Floss. The OED says the variation came slightly after ketchup, around 1696, and that perhaps because of “influence from major commercial brands of sauce,” the latter became the dominant term in the mid 20th century.


Have a yen burger and fries now? You’ve got what was once known as a craving for drugs. The word yen probably comes from the Cantonese yan or Mandarin yin, of the same meaning. Yen-yen is U.S. slang for a opium hankering, says the OED.


According to Brainwashing: The science of thought control by Kathleen Taylor, xinao, which translates literally from Chinese as “wash brain,” originally referred to coercive persuasion tactics used under the Maoist government, which began in 1949. The English word, brainwashing, was first used in 1951, says the OED, referring to “the systematic and often forcible elimination from a person’s mind of all established ideas, esp. political ones, so that another set of ideas may take their place.”


This word meaning tip or gratuity comes from the Xiamen (formerly Amoy) Chinese dialect, says the OED. Kam-sia, “grateful thanks,” was apparently an expression of gratitude used by beggars.


While tycoon now means rich and powerful businessperson or magnate, it was once the title for a Japanese shogun. The Japanese taikun comes from the Chinese ta kiun, “great prince.”


A literal and figurative act of servile deference. In Chinese culture, to kowtow, or kòu tóu, refers to the custom of touching one’s forehead to the ground as a form of “respect, submission, or worship,” says the OED. In English kowtow also refers to acting in an obsequious manner or an obsequious act.


The origin of this term for a quick survey is described by the OED as either “a borrowing from Chinese Pidgin English” or “formed within English.” Look-see started as a verb (from 1862: “I went up to ‘look see’, and found that they were working away admirably”) although that usage is now rare. The earliest use as a noun is from 1876.

no can do

This phrase meaning “No go” or “Not possible” might be a transliteration of the Mandarin bùkěyǐ. While no can do first appeared in English in 1868, says the OED, the positive version, can do, is earlier, from 1845. The noun sense is even earlier (1839) while the adjective, often referring to an optimistic attitude, is from 1926.

gung ho

Gung ho meaning enthusiastic and dedicated originated as a motto of “certain U.S. Marine forces in Asia during World War II,” says the American Heritage Dictionary, and comes from the Mandarin gōnghé, “to work together,” an abbreviation of gōngyèhézuòshè, Chinese Industrial Cooperative Society.


Chop-chop!” or “Hurry up!” might be a corruption of the Cantonese term for “rush,” gap gap, or the Mandarin kuai kuai, “quick quick.” This chop is apparently the same as in chopsticks, or kuai zi in Mandarin, “fast ones.” While chop-chop first appeared in English in 1834, says the OED, chopstick was first used much earlier, in 1699.

Word Buzz Wednesday: plogging, Mongee banana, Holdo Maneuver


Welcome to Word Buzz Wednesday, your go-to place for the most interesting words of the week. The latest: the Scandinavians are it again; an incredible edible banana peel; and herebe The Last Jedi spoilers.


“Unlike the other Swedish lifestyle trend of lagom, which is all about being balanced, content, and centered, plogging sounds downright exhausting. But also pretty fulfilling.”

Andrea Romano, “This Swedish Fitness Trend Is Good for Both You and the Environment,” Travel+Leisure, January 29, 2018

Plogging refers to the act of running and “picking up litter as you go,” says Travel+Leisure. The term blends the Swedish plocka, to pick, and jogga, to jog.

Mongee banana

“Like all other fruit in the country, the Mongee banana isn’t cheap. A single piece of the fruit costs $5.75.”

Janissa Delzo, “Japanese People Are Eating Six-dollar Bananas with a Peel You Can Eat,” Newsweek, January 27, 2018

According to SoraNews24, mongee (pronounced “mon-gay”) is Okayama slang for “incredible.” Okayama Prefecture is the only place in Japan that grows this kind of banana.


“He doesn’t know why microcuentos fell out of favor; perhaps because TV became more accessible.”

Molly Glentzer, “Exhibit explores comic-book curiosities known as microcuentos,” Houston Chronicle, January 24, 2018

Microceunto is a Spanish word that means “mini-comic,” and might also be translated as “flash fiction.” The pocket-sized books, says the Houston Chronicle, “are about 4-by-6-inches,” typically “92 pages,” and “were produced fast, and cheaply, in color-coded inks that varied by genre, including suspense stories, science-fiction yarns, romances and histories.”

hot wallet

“It kept customer assets in what’s known as a hot wallet, which is connected to external networks.”

Pavel Alpeyev and Yuji Nakamura, “How to Launder $500 Million in Digital Currency: QuickTake Q&A,Bloomberg, January 29, 2018

Hot and cold wallets hold digital assets like Bitcoin or Litecoin. The basic difference is, says Medium, is that hot wallets are connected to the Internet while cold ones aren’t.

Holdo Maneuver

“According to him, despite your complaints, what’s known as the ‘Holdo Maneuver’ isn’t really a plot hole at all.”

Corey Plante, “‘The Last Jedi’ Director Rian Johnson Further Defends That Big ‘Plot Hole,’” Inverse, January 25, 2018

The Holdo Maneuver refers to a character in Star Wars: The Last Jedi  making “the jump to hyperspace inside of a another ship,” says Inverse, apparently a tactic never seen before in the Star Wars universe and assumed to be not possible.

[Image via SoraNews24]