Commenting on my post on main, the redoubtable Nancy Friedman commented on Twitter: “I’ve seen ‘afters’ on a menu in SF [San Francisco]. It’s right up there with ‘stockists‘ on the pretension index.” To which I replied (in so many words), “Do what now, Nancy?”
She explained that afters means “dessert,” and sure enough, the OED tracks it to a 1909 article in the (London) Daily Chronicle: “They could not all afford ‘dinner and afters’. Many had to be content with ‘afters’.” Interestingly, the word was still getting the quotation-marks treatment in Jennie Hawthorne’s 1958 The Mystery of the Blue Tomatoes:  “For ‘afters’ to-day she made them all an apple crumble.” (Note to self: check how long the hyphenated “to-day” remained a thing.)
Fortunately, an admittedly less-than-comprehensive search suggests that the United States is still, for the most part, safe from afters. I went back three years on Google News and the only non-Commonwealth use of the term was from a January 2012 New York Times restaurant review (significantly, of a place specializing in Singaporean food): “For afters: sticky toffee pudding ($5).”
I have no doubt that Nancy has seen what she has seen in San Francisco, but the one afters-using restaurant I’ve been able to turn up is Moe’s, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, which affirms on its website: “The afters are listed on another chalkboard, this one on wheels so it can be rolled to your table in place of the ubiquitous dessert cart loaded with Madame Tussaud’s finest.” Worth a detour, I should say.

18 thoughts on ““Afters”

  1. >(Note to self: check how long the hyphenated “to-day” remained a thing.)

    Probably not much longer than “Yugo-Slav”.

    After “afters”, I guess we can expect “pudding” (= “dessert”, even if that dessert isn’t actually a pudding) to gain a bit of traction.

  2. The term might be acceptable in the privacy of your home, but any restaurant with “Afters” on the menu is best avoided – likely have “Ducks” and “Drakes” on their lavatory doors, or some other naff labels.

  3. Phoebus: Au contraire! Wherever it was I saw “afters”–now that I think about it, it may have been in a restaurant review, not a menu–it was connected with an expensive, pretentious restaurant. The writer was searching for something loftier and more lyrical than plain old American “desserts.”

    I see that there is (or was) an Afters Cafe in Baltimore that serves/served only desserts.

  4. “Afters” on a menu, along with other unusual section titles, would seem to me quaint; but in any other context, such as a restaurant review, for example, would seem to me somewhat like “Behinds”. (“And if you’ve had too much to eat or drink, our lavatories are quite nice and well-kept.”)

  5. In Spain the dessert course is the ‘postres’ which I have always translated in my head as ‘afters’. Maybe it’s a European thing.

  6. What amuses me is that in Britain “afters” is quite informal, the sort of thing you’d say at home – “What’s for afters?” – it’s “dessert” that’s seen as more formal, for restaurant use only. At home we’d say “pudding” or “afters”.

  7. There is another meaning for afters: in football (that is our football, not yours), it is when, having tackled an opponent, you stick the boot in anyway, just to let him know, hoping that the referee’s attention has moved on.

  8. “Afters” is quite uncommon in the UK (though it might be regional – I’m in London). If used, it would only ever be in conjunction with “for”. It would never be used to describe the category of puddings, which in my experience is the usual British word for the final course of a meal. If one is going to be really pedantic, dessert is different from pudding: it’s a course of fruit and nuts which can come before or after “pudding”.

  9. I am British and agree with Jamie C to an extent. It’s not a term you’d see on a menu, unless it was a gastropub or somewhere trying to be self-consciously ‘informal’. I am from the North Wales and would always say ‘for afters’ as Jamie C says; as in ‘What’s for afters?’, meaning ‘what’s for dessert’. It’s not a term that’s really used as a term on its own.

    ‘To-day’ lasted among older people into the 70’s I think. Certainly it wasn’t so uncommon as to be remarkable at that time, but was not written thus by younger people.

    1. I think the expression is more usually, “brekker”. Hateful , baby talk to one of the jaundiced, mug of black coffee, a large Jamesons and four aspirin post-wake up input.

  10. I thought restaurants serving only “afters” were always called “Just Desserts”.

    I can’t agree with Jamie C on his claimed difference between “dessert” and “pudding”. I have only ever come across them as equal synonyms for the “sweet” course, “sweets” or “sweet course” being other Britishisms for dessert. There’s a distinct “U versus Non-U” level of distinctions going on here, incidentally: “afters” and “sweets” are firmly working-class, “dessert” much more middle class and “pudding”, if I’m not mistaken, more upper class: “pudding” would cover everything from ice-cream to spotted dick and custard. (Mmmmm – spotted dick …)

    ‘To-day” is certainly found in British newspapers until the 1950s, alongside the odd habit of hyphenating addresses, ie ‘Oxford-street”.

      1. I have never seen any British reference to “dessert” meaning “fruit and nuts served before or after pudding”. I have never seen “fruit and nuts served before or after pudding” given any specific name at all. I have only ever seen “dessert” usedin Britain for the sweet course.

  11. “Afters” is also used in the context of violence…..for example, two men fight, one is vanquished but returns to confront his opponent. The previously victorious man might say, (in the spirit of contempt), “have you come back for some afters?”…( it might be a play on afters as a desert, the follow up to the main course).

  12. Afters is also used to describe a bit of belated revenge, – usually in contact sports, where the perpetrator is taking seeking retribution for a previous act of foul or over aggressive play. “Joe Bloggs went in for some afters while the ref’s back was turned”.

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