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French words in English dessert names


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Yeah, I agree with you on the image the Académie Française has given of itself...

I may have exagerrated about the importance of such debates but they still exist! At least in academic circles... and in semi -journalistic magazines. Maybe it's not so common in everyday life (thank god!) but the fact that such debates are still current in French society, even at its margins, reveals something about how the French people see other languages and their influences.

At the risk of topic drift, it may be worth pointing out that these discussions are de rigueur in Quebec (academically, journalistically and popularly), where it is felt that the purity of French is rather more at risk, given that Quebec is a single official French-speaking jurisdiction in a large sea of English. (Whether or not that risk is real remains uncertain.) [Edit: Actually one of two such jurisdictions, when you count New Brunswick.]

 

Without being too rigorous about it, it seems clear that there are at least two explanations as to why the French terms are used: because there's no equivalent English term (macaron, crème brûlée, soufflé) or because the French term carries a sense of prestige (chantilly, tarte) - not necessarily the prestige of the Normans conquering the Anglo-Saxons, but more the prestige of French cuisine being considered the apex of culinary achievement for the bulk of the 20th century. You could possibly also add technical precision as a third reason, although some of my co-workers in the pastry department still look at me funny when I say pâte à choux instead of choux paste, and they would certainly never say crème pâtissière instead of pastry cream. (On the other hand, yes, crème anglaise and not "custard sauce", though I did catch myself saying custard sauce to a young guest this past Sunday...)

 

As far as recent innovations in pastry, I wonder if anything out of modernist cuisine should enter into the discussion. Espuma, for example?

Edited by mkayahara (log)

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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For the majority of Americans, English is not the ancestral ethnic language, but the language our ancestors used to live in their new country. Maybe that's why it's so easy for us to pick up words from other languages as needed. We use our language to get around, we don't particularly love it or identify strongly with it. There's no reason for our language to be pure in any particular way, because we're a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society to begin with.

 

 

"French dressing", "French Dip Sandwich" and "French Custard Ice Cream"

 

These all exist. There used to be a flavor called "French vanilla" ice cream when I was a kid, which meant an extra-strong, rich vanilla ice cream. Again, the prestige factor of "French" comes into play.

 

I've also thought of crepes as another dessert that has entered the American mainstream and kept its French name. Like tarts, American crepes may be served with some very un-French fillings. What I find interesting, other American ethnic groups (like the Russians and Swedes) make thin pancakes, but the French name won out. Not even "French pancakes," the name had to be "crepes."

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I've noticed that a great number of French words are used in the pastry and dessert lexical fields and I was wondering why they were still used today, especially in dessert names.

 

 

Specifically in relation to pastry, it seems that French terminology is quite figurative (bichon, religieuse, éclair, jésuite, palmier, financier, puits d'amour, mendiant...). Maybe one reason why French names are not translated directly is that names involving imagery are less popular in the English pastry lexicon.

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...Maybe one reason why French names are not translated directly is that names involving imagery are less popular in the English pastry lexicon.

 

You mean like "spotted dick"? :wink:

 

Seriously, though, maybe you're onto something. I can imagine in times past that French names referring to the Catholic religion would not be a hit in English. Also, of the French loan words we've mentioned here, many are physically descriptive of the pastry/dessert, not figurative: creme brulee, souffle, croissant, crepes, croquembouche.

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For the majority of Americans, English is not the ancestral ethnic language, but the language our ancestors used to live in their new country. Maybe that's why it's so easy for us to pick up words from other languages as needed. We use our language to get around, we don't particularly love it or identify strongly with it. There's no reason for our language to be pure in any particular way, because we're a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society to begin with.

 

 

These all exist. There used to be a flavor called "French vanilla" ice cream when I was a kid, which meant an extra-strong, rich vanilla ice cream. Again, the prestige factor of "French" comes into play.

 

I've also thought of crepes as another dessert that has entered the American mainstream and kept its French name. Like tarts, American crepes may be served with some very un-French fillings. What I find interesting, other American ethnic groups (like the Russians and Swedes) make thin pancakes, but the French name won out. Not even "French pancakes," the name had to be "crepes."

 

delurking to quote your post as an uproarious endorsement of my exact sentiments.

Peter: You're a spy

Harry: I'm not a spy, I'm a shepherd

Peter: Ah! You're a shepherd's pie!

- The Goons

live well, laugh often, love much

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Why use French words?

Because much of pastry is French to begin with. What else would you call a soufflé?

Because foreign words can sound sexier, or more exotic, which translates to sounding more expensive. I think coulis just sounds better than sauce. But I would name the fruit in English - strawberry coulis, not coulis au frais (or whatever)

Because there is limited space on the menu and chantilly is shorter than whipped cream.

But mostly to make things seem more exotic and fancy/expensive.

I never use tarte, or tartelette unless it is a traditional French item like tarte Tatin. Why add the e when it is the same word? Comes off as trying too hard.

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Because foreign words can sound sexier, or more exotic, which translates to sounding more expensive.

 

 

I'm kind of surprised that this hasn't been suggested earlier than the second page.  It's particularly true of French because of the popularity and reputation of their cuisine.  In addition to food names and techniques (the latter of which may come more from classical French instruction), we also borrow words like café and bistro.  Even in brand names like Nescafé.  We don't do this so much with, say, German - unless it's something related to beer.  Italian might be a close second to French.  We choose words that evoke the heritage and culture.

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For the majority of Americans, English is not the ancestral ethnic language, but the language our ancestors used to live in their new country. Maybe that's why it's so easy for us to pick up words from other languages as needed. We use our language to get around, we don't particularly love it or identify strongly with it. There's no reason for our language to be pure in any particular way, because we're a multi-ethnic and multi-racial society to begin with.

 

Interesting theory, but it kind of falls down when you consider that English had been absorbing words from different languages for around 1500 years before the USA even existed.

Chaucer is full of borrowed vocabulary, much from French but also elsewhere. As is Shakespeare..

 

I can see why eG tries so hard to keep us on culinary matters. Most of the linguistics opinions in this thread have been utter nonsense. To be a linguist, you need to do a bit more than be able to talk.

 

Like cooking. I can eat, but it doesn't make me a cook.

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Interesting theory, but it kind of falls down when you consider that English had been absorbing words from different languages for around 1500 years before the USA even existed...I can see why eG tries so hard to keep us on culinary matters. Most of the linguistics opinions in this thread have been utter nonsense. To be a linguist, you need to do a bit more than be able to talk...

 

I didn't realize my post would be interpreted as an attempt to posit a linguistic theory for the ages. In fact, I was responding to this comment made by the OP, which concerns people's attitudes about language.

 

What struck me when reading your comments is that you don't really see the point (or at least you don't feel it's important) in studying such French words and to wonder why they were adopted in English as such or if they were adapted to the English language. In France, there are recurrently great debates about "how to keep the French language pure?" ...

 

 

In particular, I was presenting my point of view as an American of non-English descent whose family's primary language is English. While there has been mention elsewhere on this thread of English as a mongrel language (and I agree), I was focused on the use of English in America and my own personal experience.

 

Most people on this thread may not have formally studied linguistics, but we all live in this world, use language, and are entitled to speculate or voice an opinion on what it may all be about. I would point out that no field of knowledge, including linguistics, is close-ended, because our perceptions of our world and our ways of relating to it are always changing. Or to put it another way, today's crackpot idea may be tomorrow's college text--and true scholars recognize that.

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Most people on this thread may not have formally studied linguistics, but we all live in this world, use language, and are entitled to speculate or voice an opinion on what it may all be about. I would point out that no field of knowledge, including linguistics, is close-ended, because our perceptions of our world and our ways of relating to it are always changing. Or to put it another way, today's crackpot idea may be tomorrow's college text--and true scholars recognize that.

 

Totally agree.

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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I would like to have a reflexive feedback on the use of French loan-words so that I could compare what YOU think of those French words and what I think.

 

Do you feel that the words in the example are French. And, if so, why do you think they are used?

Do you use the same terminology when talking to your friends or family?

Do you understand the above-mentioned words?

Do you sometimes use French words on purpose? and, of course, if so: why?

 

 

In the interest of the original request, I thought I'd quote the original questions posed and answer them from my own personal perspective....

 

Do you feel that the words in the example are French. And, if so, why do you think they are used?

 

Yes they are French - at least in intent.  If they've been mangled in translation, it's not by intent but by ignorance (or by adaptation to rules of English).  Why? Sometimes to fill in a blank for which we have no word, but often to evoke the 'frenchness' of the creation.

 

Do you use the same terminology when talking to your friends or family?

 

One can be far bolder with friends and family, than the general public.  The issue is that French word usage in daily English conversation walks a fine line between the enlightened and the pretentious.  For instance, my son and I have been engaged in an on-again, off again, Thanksgiving holiday pastry competition.  One year, I had it in my mind to do a French  inspired entremet with decidedly American ingredients.  Brownies, ganache, whipped cream, Coco Puffs - all topped off with a gelee of YooHoo (well, at least until I discovered that YooHoo has no flavor whatsoever - then it got changed to gelee of Swiss Miss). 

 

When my son asked me what I was bringing I said that it was an Entreme Americaine. I thought it was hilarious - lowly American comfort food with a high faluin' French name.  But when I arrived at our newly minted in-laws house I said it was 'a cake'.  It was well received, but my joke went no further.

 

Do you understand the above-mentioned words?

 

I would say that I understand them in a superficial sense.  My level of understanding of the French language earns me a 90% score on random internet beginning French quizzes, and a more meager 40% on intermediate ones.

 

Do you sometimes use French words on purpose? and, of course, if so: why?

 

Yes, almost always for effect - with familiar company.  With exceptions for practicality (there's no English equivalent of 'croissant') or precision (e.g. julienne)

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