This happened on Twitter the other day. Just for your reference, the initial tweet was by Mignon “Grammar Girl” Fogarty, a popular blogger on matters of language and usage and a resident of Nevada.




I’ve blacked out the name of the person who asked “crisps or chips?” but the Internet says she’s an American and recent graduate of Columbia University. And I see to my surprise that I’ve never done a post on “crisps,” which is what the British call what Americans call potato chips, or simply “chips.”


I actually have noticed some American use of “crisps” in recent years — not so much for potato chips, which I think is pretty well entrenched as a term, as for other crunchy, marginally more healthy snack items, like this:


Or this:


And what sort of “chips” did Mignon Fogarty have for lunch? One of my favorites.

Screen Shot 2020-05-29 at 4.27.04 PM


23 thoughts on ““Crisps”

  1. I always thought that Pringles and other reformed potato snacks are called “Crisps” in the US because they are not legally allowed to be called Chips, because that word is reserved only for sliced, whole potato snacks. I may be wrong though!

      1. There’s good research in that article, but it over-simplifies on one front: what British and Irish people call “chips” are not what Americans call “french fries”. Where British-style chips are available in the US they’re usually referred to as “steak fries”, or some other such term, to indicate that they’re thicker and more spudly than the usual “french fries”.

      2. Thanks, Nancy. I *thought* I had written about crisps, but that post didn’t show up when I searched. Maybe it was too short.

      3. Actually Pringles are crisps according to law. The issue is that while most foods are VAT exempt there are exceptions to this, crisps are one of those. P&G claimed Pringles were not crisps and therefore were not liable for VAT. They won in a High Court case in 2008. HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) appealed and the Court of Appeal found that Pringles are in fact crisps. And that P&G therefore owed several tend of millions of pounds in tax.


        An update. As of 2016 this continued to be the case.


  2. Crisps are not just potato crisps in the UK, they are also corn etc. Do Americans think British chips, as in fish and chips, are like American chips?

  3. Fish and Chips is a staple in an American diner’s menu, and the chips are always as people from the UK would describe them, so I would say that most people here are aware of the double meaning.

  4. I remember my first visit to the US back in 1980. I was travelling with a couple of friends and we were having lunch one day and noticed on the menu that a sandwich was served with chips. We knew chips were usually called fries so we were amused when the sandwich came and it had crisps with it. That was the first we knew what crisps were called in the US.

    1. Paul, I remember MY first stay In England, also back in 1980! I was traveling (one L, please) with my boyfriend and in Harrogate, we stopped at a cafe for lunch. I had already learned that our chips were your crisps, and our fries were your chips. But what was this thing on the menu called a “chip butty”? My boyfriend informed me that in American, that would translate to “french-fry sandwich.” I couldn’t imagine anything more repellent … until he made me try Marmite on my toast.

  5. Blacking something out with transparent ink has got to be a joke that goes over my head, but I’m wondering what it is…

    (In Australia you just learn to handle the polysemy of “chips”. It’s really no trouble. Occasionally someone will insist on “crisps” but most of us don’t pay them much attention.)

    1. If anyone is really concerned that they’ll be misunderstood, you can specify ‘hot chips’.

      And I’ve seen sangers made with either kind of chip!

  6. Not exactly on-topic, but: On my first stay in England in 1980, I was amused by a song called “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Please” by the punk band Splodgenessabounds. No, I did not remember the band name; I just had to google it. But I remember the song very well: It’s basically a repetition of the title, with a few other lyrics added in, as the singer repeatedly tries to place an order in an apparently very busy pub. The amusing part to me was the “please.” The notion of this tough punk consistently appending “please” onto his order, even as he gets increasingly frustrated, seemed adorably English.

    1. Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps was also the title of a long-running sitcom set in a pub. It actually killed a character off when he jumped a shark.

  7. Apparently, as early as about 1906, the Battle Creek Breakfast Food Co. marketed a corn flake product called “Washington Crisps.”

  8. Mention of corn chips reminds me that there is sometimes in the UK a confusion about the term “corn”. Probably not so much nowadays, but the dictionary defines it as cereal grains in general and often means wheat in England. My grandfather (b 1900) often called corn flakes “wheat flakes”, presumably under the mistaken idea they were made from wheat.

    I once saw a double confusion involving corn chips. I don’t know if this is still a thing but I remember going to a restaurant in the US in the mid-eighties and getting blue corn chips. Apparently, it’s a mutant strain of maize. The Daily Telegraph in the UK got wind of this but mangled it to say that in America you get blue corn flakes made from a blue strain of wheat.

    1. The “blue corn” is indeed a variety of maize, but I don’t see why it should be called “mutant”. It’s no more “mutant” than any other cultivar you could point to. We’re all mutants on this bus . . .

      Down in South America they have some purple varieties of maize.

      1. I was recalling a Scientific American article about blue corn. My memory is that they referred to it as a mutant but it was 30+ years ago I read it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s