Usage notes from the kitchen

Two familiar phenomena in English usage illustrated from food and cooking: a partially conventionalized t/d-deletion in scramble eggs for standard scrambled eggs; and the use of stainless (for stainless steel) in stainless bowl and stainless flatware — a beheading.

Scramble eggs. Drawn to my attention at breakfast on December 7th at the Peninsula Creamery in Palo Alto, where the specials board offered


I failed to get a photo of this event, but here’s part of the menu at the Open Kitchen Diner at 847 Upshur St NW in DC, with another attestation:

(#1) From a 10/9/12 review on the PoPville site (which “chronicles the happenings in Washington D.C.’s neighborhoods”)

This menu gives evidence of its having been assembled by a non-native speaker — the spelling KICHEN and the variable use of plural markers (2 Egg, 2Egg, Scramble Egg vs. 3 Pancakes, 2 Wings) — so you might put the final consonant cluster simplification in the spelling of scrambled /skræmbǝld/ down to features of the writer’s native language, and such effects are well attested. (I happen to know that the person who put up the sign at the Peninsula Creamery is a native speaker of English, so we can put that possibility to the side for my Palo Alto example.)

Also well attested is the omission of the final stop in word-final … C + t/d (as in /ajm kol/ for /ajm kold/ I’m cold) — a much-studied phenomenon of casual speech in English, known under various names: on this blog, t/d-deletion, with a Page of annotated links to postings on the subject, especially in expressions where the t/d represents the PSP verb inflection in a modifier, notably in Vpsp + N names of food and drink — what I’ll call Food PSPs — among them:

ice tea ~ iced tea, cream corn ~ creamed corn, whip cream ~ whipped cream, chop salad ~ chopped salad, and (also on the menu in #1) corn beef ~ corned beef

t/d-deletion is especially favored utterance-finally and in expressions in which the next word begins with a consonant, as in all of the examples on this list.

In the first instance, t/d-deletion is a simple matter of variation in pronunciation, but many of the simplified Food PSPs have become to some degree conventionalized for some speakers, who have come to treat the two variants as synonymous alternatives and are then inclined to spell them differently. Hence, the spellings ICE TEA, CREAM CORN, CHOP SALAD, CORN BEEF, etc.

Some of these alternatives are so widespread that they are treated as alternatives in dictionaries. For example, from NOAD:

noun iced tea (also ice tea): a chilled drink of sweetened tea, typically flavored with lemon.

noun corned beef (also corn beef): North American beef brisket cured in brine and boiled, served hot typically with cabbage, or cold, sliced for sandwiches.

But for scrambled eggs, NOAD provides no alternative, even though scramble eggs is attested in print; the simplified FoodPSP is to some degree conventionalized, but is not (yet) widespread:

noun scrambled eggs: 1 a dish of eggs prepared by beating them with a little liquid and then cooking and stirring gently. …

Simplified scramble eggs is, however, somewhat unexpected, since the word following scramble(d) begins with a vowel, not a consonant; in connected speech, the final [d] of scrambled could just be phrased with the following material (as if the expression were scramble deggs). But perhaps under the influence of the other Food PSPs, we see t/d-deletion in scramble eggs.

And not just there. Eggs seem to invite t/d-deletion. In my 12/9/17 posting “poach egg”, starting with an example that was clearly from a native speaker of Spanish, and going on to others that might have come from native speakers. (The same expression can arise from different sources.)

And then in a follow-up on 12/10/17, “Revisiting 16: pouched and scrumbled eggs”, these two variants plus the simplified variants of these, pouch egg and scrumble egg.

Stainless bowls and flatware. Then on Boxing Day I went to get some mixing bowls for a small kitchen exploit and went for the metal ones, the stainless bowls, because they were the least fragile (though also the least microwaveable), and then reflected on the expression stainless bowl, and its kitchen relative, stainless flatware (taking in stainless knives, forks, and spoons — rather than silver ones).

As a matter of fact, all of the bowls in my house — metal, glass, ceramic, plastic  — are stainless, in the root sense, as in NOAD:

adj. stainless: unmarked by or resistant to stains or discoloration…

(I have no plain iron or copper bowls that will stain, rust, tarnish, or discolor on contact with water, acid substances, or whatever.) But the bowls that I refer to as stainless are in fact stainless steel bowls. From NOAD:

noun stainless steel: a form of steel containing chromium, resistant to tarnishing and rust.

Then from the Adj + N stainless steel, we get the N stainless ‘stainless steel’, by the word-formation scheme I’ve called beheading:

Mod + Head > Mod ‘Mod + Head’ (where the derived item is of the category of the Head)

(There’s a Page on beheading on this blog.)

Three uses from cookbooks (via Google Books):

(#2) With stainless steel in the preceding context; from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich (p. 6)

(#3) With no relevant preceding context; from Flanagan’s Smart Home by Barbara Flanagan (p. 71)

(#4) With no relevant preceding context; from A Recipe for Life: The Gawler Foundation Cookbook (p. 33) by Dorothy Edgelow

On to my knives, forks, and spoons. At my Ramona St. house, these are all stainless (that is, stainless steel); the silverware (both sterling silver and silverplate, which tarnish and have to be polished) is in storage elsewhere.

The commercial term for eating utensils — knives, forks, and spoons, taken together — is flatware:

noun flatware: North American eating utensils such as knives, forks, and spoons. (NOAD)

As this entry suggests, the commercial term has been taken over by many as everyday vocabulary. Note the page “Modern Stainless Flatware”.

Then there’s silverware:

noun silverware: [a] dishes, containers, or cutlery made of or coated with silver. [b] US eating and serving utensils made of any material. (NOAD)

Sense a is straightforward; sense b is a semantic extension of it — according to which, US silverware overlaps extensively with flatware, and it becomes possible to talk about stainless (steel) silverware non-oxymoronically.

More extensive discussion in my 5/28/11 posting “Dishes”, quoting my 7/25/08 LLog posting “Commercial categories”:

“Unlabeled” categories — those that have no relatively brief, conventionalized, everyday, widely used labels that are not just descriptions or enumerations of the things within the categories — are incredibly common, much more common than most people imagine. They are all over the place in domains of meaning that have to do with social groups and relationships and with cultural artefacts of all sorts. But there are contexts in which people want to tap into those unlabeled categories. So they label them [with “semi-technical terms”].

One such context is commerce: in reference to these categories in advertisements, catalogues, directories of goods and services, department designations in stores, and the like. This is what has brought us flatware (or, for some people [note: some people], silverware, regardless of actual silver content, and excluding many items made of silver) for knives, forks, spoons, and serving implements; dinnerware (or, for some people, china, regardless of the constituent material) for plates, bowls, cups, etc. (attempts to describe the referents of such terms tend to trail off into “etc.”); glassware (or drinkware) for glasses of all sorts (glass itself referring usually only to the central members of the category, with wine glasses, martini glasses, champagne flutes, shot glasses, etc. all treated as special cases; glass on its own normally refers to a specific range of types of drinking glasses); tableware for a category that embraces flatware, dinnerware, glassware, and some other items; cookware for, very roughly, pots and pans; bed and bath for yet another category; and housewares for tableware, cookware, kitchen accessories, small appliances, bed and bath, and more, all taken together.

(Cookware takes in pots and pans plus ladles, tongs, whisks, colanders, sieves, graters, and much more.)

3 Responses to “Usage notes from the kitchen”

  1. Arnold Zwicky Says:

    Mike Pope writes on Facebook:

    I think Lynne Murphy recently posted on Twitter about Am/Br differences wrt “silverware”?

    I don’t have the patience to try to chase down Twitter bits, but Lynne did write an actual essay on the subject, in her Separated by a Common Language blog, in “stemware and other wares” on 9/23/08 (

    Stemware is but one of many -ware terms that Americans are fond of using. Another is silverware, which in AmE can apply to any of what BrE would call cutlery. In my AmE experience, the more common use of cutlery (not that it’s a common word) is to refer to cutting instruments–e.g. knives and scissors (what was traditionally made by a cutler). (Both the ‘cutting instruments’ and ‘knives, forks and spoons’ meanings are included in American Heritage; strangely, the latter sense has not yet made it into the OED.) The bleaching of the meaning of silverware is evident from the fact that the phrase “plastic silverware” gets more than 39,000 Google hits. If one wants to talk about the silver silverware, you can leave off the -ware. Or, do as my mother does and say “(AmE) set the table with the real silver”. Of course, the people selling you the stainless steel stuff would get into trouble if they called it silverware, so another term for this stuff in AmE is flatware.

    (formatting for italics and bold face suppressed; inserting the html tags by hand is just too tedious)

  2. Arnold Zwicky Says:

    Recent changes to the WordPress software make it, apparently, impossible for me to edit comments on my postings, even my own comments, so I’m unable to fix a formatting glitch in this comment.

  3. pat mazza Says:

    pat mazza

    Usage notes from the kitchen | Arnold Zwicky's Blog

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