“Pot” (of yogurt)

Comments to the recent post on “potted,” meaning summarized or abridged, led me to understand that British people use the the word “pot” to refer to smallish containers for food, whereas for Americans, a pot is strictly the thing you cook in, frequently mentioned in company with pans. (British) Catherine Rose commented:

Potted food is in pots. It isn’t even always in a closed pot – potted shrimps are in an open-top pot which is sealed with a layer of butter, and has a very short shelf-life. Sometimes it’s in a ceramic pot with a ceramic lid, and sometimes in a glass jar with a lid that closes down with a seal (like a Kilner jar).

That made me remember that in Britain, a single-serving receptacle of yog(h)urt is called a pot, whereas I would just call it a container. (Being a native New Yorker, I would use the same word for the vessel in which you get coffee to go, properly pronounced “a containuh of cawfee.”) Some research confirmed this distinction. For example, consider this Google Ngram Viewer chart showing phrases’ frequency of use in books in the Google Books database:

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 4.13.54 PM

I included British “container of yoghurt” in my search, but it doesn’t show up on the graph because, seemingly, that phrase has never appeared in a British book. The Brigham Young University Corpus of Contemporary American English, comprising 560 million words of text uttered or written in the U.S. between 1990 and 2017, allows you to search for the words that most commonly occurred before the phrase “of yogurt.” Here are the results:

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“Cup”‘s 100 percent margin of victory over “container” is a bit misleading, I would say, because the word is also a unit of measurement (8 ounces), and is used that way in many of the thirty-four hits in COCA. But “cup” definitely is also used for a single serving (and not a measurement), as seen in this photo of a Dannon yogurt’s nutrition label I snapped at a supermarket. The serving size is listed as “1 cup,” but 150 grams is only 62 percent of a measuring-cup cup.


For additional research, I created separate Twitter polls for British and American people. Here’s the result of the British one.

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And here’s the American one:

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That 20 percent “Something else” response is a sign of a poorly designed survey. The Twitter comments revealed that the most popular other term was, you guessed it, “cup.” “Thing” and “carton” also got some mentions.

The question remains, is “tub of yogurt” a Not One-Off Britishism? The phrase occurs exactly once in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, in a 2007 New York Times article about a redesign of the 1957 Fiat 500: “In France, … the original 500 was lovingly known as the ‘pot de yaourt,’ or pot of yogurt, for its soft shape.”

But the 5 percent showing in my American Twitter poll, and its presence in the Ngram Viewer chart, suggests “pot of yogurt” is making a U.S. incursion. My daughter Maria Yagoda, the digital restaurant editor at Food and Wine magazine, wrote me that she felt “pot” had gained popularity in the last ten years or so: “Because ‘container’ just wasn’t a good, specific enough word so we jumped on the opportunity to use pot.” A few examples pop up when you search in Google News. Last year, in Elite Daily, American Jordan Bissell wrote, “Who wants a little plastic pot of yogurt when you can have a frozen stick full of delicious, nutritious goodness?” And in 2017, the Wall Street Journal published this headline:

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 4.49.36 PM

Bottom line, expect to see more American “pot of yogurt.”



32 thoughts on ““Pot” (of yogurt)

  1. As an American in the midwest (specifically, Minnesota), I have never in my life heard anyone here refer to “a pot of yogurt”. I suspect that an editor at Food and Wine may be more likely to encounter Britishisms like this than a typical American would in normal conversation.

    Regarding “the vessel in which you get coffee to go”: Are you referring to a single-serving vessel (which I would just call a cup), or one of those box-with-a-spot-on-it things in which you get coffee to go for a group of people? (If the latter, I don’t think I’ve ever known or even thought about what to call it.)

      1. Wow; I have never heard anyone refer to a takeout-cup of coffee as a “container” before. I wonder if that’s regional. (Then again, I almost never get takeout coffee, so maybe I’m just not hep to the vernacular.)

  2. I just asked a half dozen Australians and Kiwis – all of them said tub.

    Also, talking of pot – what do you call the container you grow a small plant (a potted plant) in? Because that’s the main thing I think of apart from cooking as a pot.

    1. Actually, I was just thinking about this – I would say “tub of yoghurt”, but if it was empty, I would say the “yoghurt container”. Weird (again, Australia here)

  3. Canadian, from Toronto… I’m pretty sure I would just say “a yoghurt” without specifying the packaging. If pushed I might say a”pot” but then I lived in the UK for quite some time and currently live in France.

    Pedantry alert: “The serving size is listed as “1 cup,” but 150 grams is only 62 percent of a measuring-cup cup”
    A measuring cup is a unit of volume, not mass. Grams don’t apply (except with water);
    we can’t know what percentage 150g of yogurt is without knowing the density of yogurt.

    1. Pedantry alert!!
      I was wondering that! I would say “Cup” = 250ml. I would guess 250 mls of yogurt would weigh approx 260 grams…. ??? so is that a misprint on the carton (tub)? I think it should read 250g not 150g.

      1. Arthur, I don’t think it’s a misprint, but rather that Dannon is using “cup” to mean “container” or “tub,” rather than the unit of measure.

  4. It occurs to me that when I was growing up in the late fifties/early sixties, buying yoghurt was not a thing, at least in our household in the north of England. However, when we were out and I was offered a treat of ice cream the choice was often a cornet or a tub. The latter was a stiff card container, a tapering cylinder with a flat bottom (technically a frustum). You can still buy individual ice creams like that in theatres and cinemas today in the UK.

  5. In our house (in the south of England) its always been a yog pot: “I want to keep those yog pots to grow some herbs.” Larger containers that hold more than three hundred grams would be called tubs. I would never refer to a single serving of ice cream in a pot it would always be a tub.

  6. I’m terribly excited to see this post quoting my previous comment! Thank you, Ben, for following it up.

    I must say that ‘pot’ is also used in the UK for cooking vessels. In the north of England (not sure about Scotland). ‘washing the pots’ is another phrase for doing the washing-up after a meal. In my more southerly household, vessels with long handles are saucepans, and vessels with small side-handles are pots. Pots may be metal, enamel, ceramic, heatproof glass, etc.

    On another note, the sides of our yoghurt pots show nutritional values not per ‘cup’ (which as you know, confuses the bejeezus out of us), but per 100g (which only confuses the bejeezus out of people who haven’t got over decimalisation yet).

    1. I’m really going off the subject here, but with our family’s Scots Australian Canadian and English background, I have found no consistency in nomenclature and yield to the wisdom of others here. My Scottish wife says yogurt “container,” but as Catherine says, size may matter? My wife may be referring to the larger tubs(pots.) “Onken” is a brand she likes.
      I, on the other hand, got completely frustrated by my English daughters’ ridicule of my preference for using “Cup” measures. So much so, I bought a set of spoon and cup measures in Canada some years ago and to my surprise, my eldest (PhD Microbiologist) on seeing that a cup is 250mls immediately warmed to it. Her issue was that none of us are esp. used to Fluid ounces, Ounces and pounds, Pints and quarts. (always an issue when in Canada, when waiters helpfully convert Milliliters to ounces because they assume we’re American!!) The difference in Imperial gallons and therefore pints to U.S. gallons etc. is apparently due to Americans adopting the original British gallon prior to the revolutionary war. After independence, Britain increased the size of the imperial gallon while Americans continued with the old measure. Anyway, my daughters all understand Liters and Grams. The cup measure allows them to measure without finding scales, replacing the battery and then debating the uncertainty of the amount when cooking etc. ( different issue in her research laboratory!)
      So, and finally? there is tea pot, coffee pot, Pots and Pans in common use here in England amongst our friends. Not many Brits say “Layer Pan” preferring “Baking tin!” Not sure if many Brits use the expression “Pan Loaf” for bread?
      I’ll go back to sleep now!

      1. PS My understanding is that in U.S measures, a pint of water weighs a Pound. So a U.S. Gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. A British Gallon of water weighs 10 Pounds!!! (Early decimalization??)

      2. I’m told that the American mnemonic is “A pint’s a pound, the world around” which is demonstrably not true. The UK equivalent I learned at school is “A pint of pure water, weights a pound and a quarter.”
        I did chemistry to A-level fifty years ago and cooking is much like chemistry. It’s using cups for dry goods and things like butter that get me. Much easier for me to get out the kitchen scales. I wouldn’t even know how to get butter into a cup. (And our packs of butter are marked in 50g divisions.) When a recipe calls for 125g of sugar, I put the mixing bowl onto the scales, zero them, and then pour in the sugar to the right amount. No measuring cups required.

      3. Never came across “pan loaf” in England. It’s used in Scotland because pan bread (with an even crust all round) contrasts with plain bread, which is taller and thinner with a heavy crust top and bottom. Plain bread is one of those things Scots who have moved away always want you to bring them!

  7. Although I almost exclusively cook with a scale now, growing up in Canada I learned to cook with volume measurements, cups, teaspoons etc.
    Butter wrappings were marked with measurements so that you could just cut off a cup or portion thereof.
    Flour and other dry ingredients you just scooped out with the corresponding measuring cup or spoon.
    It’s actually pretty fast and easy as long as your recipes are consistent.

  8. “Pot of yoghurt” sounds wrong to my ears. I don’t think I’ve ever said it.

    “I’m having a yoghurt” or “pick up some yoghurts when you go shopping” are fine, so is “put your yoghurt pot in the recycling”, but I can’t think of a situation where “pot of yoghurt” would be used. If I did hear it I’d probably assume a bigger pot, not a single-helping (maybe because it sounds similar to other phrases I would use like “tub of ice cream”?)

    1. I’ve heard it but I’d just call it “a yoghurt”. I’d probably call the empties “containers” but might use pot.

  9. Wait until a pot of ‘potted dog’ hits the US! It’s northern English slang for potted meat (not dog, btw!), generally beef.

    1. I grew up in County Durham and went to university in Leeds, but I don’t recall ever hearing that.
      Mind you, in our household we sometimes called spotted dick spotted dog. (More recently, I saw a news item about a works canteen that thought putting spotted dick on a menu might offend, or at least lead to ribald comments, and renamed it spotted Richard.)

      1. My husband calls corned beef “corned dog”. I believe it’s army slang.

  10. If I heard the phrase “tub of yoghurt”, I would picture a very large bucket-like container! Something that would be used by a restaurant.

  11. My experience with pot is mainly via my British wife. I find it a maddening word, since she uses it for everything that I would call a jar or a small container or some other receptacle that you buy at a grocery store. It’s extremely imprecise. If I’m in the grocery store and see something that comes in a container on the list and call her to ask what size, the answer will always be, “Oh, you know, a pot.” As one of the commenters above mentioned, it seems to be anything that has an opening with a diameter between a couple of inches and a foot. And it has nothing to do with weight or volume.

    Thankfully, I haven’t noticed the word transplanting itself into American yet.

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