Tikka Masala and Pigs in Blankets | Word of the Month

English is increasingly used for communication all over the world. For the latest set of words that we’ve added to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online, we’ve chosen to focus on English as it is used worldwide, or World English (or even World Englishes). Many of these words are related to food (see our last blog post about banh mi), because people everywhere like to try new foods, and popular foods spread quickly around the world.

Foods that change when they travel – tikka masala and schnitzels

Banh mi is a tasty Vietnamese sandwich resulting from a mix of different cultures, and it is now becoming popular outside its native Vietnam. When food is exported in this way, it often undergoes changes, sometimes because some of the ingredients are not readily available in the new country, and sometimes because people have different tastes there, or have an idea for fusion food, mixing it with another ingredient or dish that is popular in that country.

When many people began to move to the UK from the Indian subcontinent in the second half of the twentieth century, for example, they brought with them their culinary traditions, and some people opened restaurants. The food they made quickly became popular with British people, but of course, the British at that time were not used to spicy food, so this food was adapted to British tastes. Yoghurt or cream, for example, were added to create milder dishes with a more liquid consistency, like our word of the month tikka masala (a combination of the existing dish tikka and a masala sauce. In due course, tikka masala travelled back to India and to other parts of the world and became popular there too.

Chicken Tikka Masala - Word of the month
Chicken Tikka Masala

Another example of culinary transformation can be found in the schnitzel, which in its native Europe was originally made with veal. When German immigrants took it with them to the United States, veal was not easily available, so they started to use beef instead. And when German Jews migrated to Israel, almost a century later, they began to use chicken, because that meat was cheaper there. So today, in the different countries where it is eaten, a schnitzel can be made with a variety of meats.

Foods that change over time – pigs in blankets

Tikka masala and schnitzel are terms that are entirely new to the English language. Sometimes a term that already existed in English evolves and the meaning changes as the dish’s popularity spreads. Take the snack food pigs in blankets, for example. It’s more commonly called pigs in a blanket in the United States, but then it isn’t actually the same thing there – in Britain, it’s sausages wrapped in bacon, but in the US the sausage is wrapped in pastry, rather like a British sausage roll.

British Pigs in Blanket - Word of the month
British Pigs in Blanket
US Pigs in Blanket - Word of the month
American Pigs in a Blanket





It seems that, in terms of sausages, the American meaning may have been the first one. When the pig in a blanket first crossed the Atlantic sometime around the middle of the last century, the meaning was adapted, possibly because Britain already had the sausage roll. Looking back at the origins of pigs in blankets, though, things get even more interesting. The first evidence in the Oxford English Dictionary goes back, as we can see below, to 1880, but it has nothing to do with sausages –  the term was originally used for oysters wrapped in bacon!

Oxford Learner's Dictionary definition - Word of the month
Oxford Learner’s Dictionary definition

This oyster and bacon combo, however, was not in itself an American invention, as it is mentioned in British cookbooks of the time, under the rather strange name of angels on horseback. It seems this name may have come about because the edges of the bacon turn upwards when it is cooked, looking a little like the wings of angels.

A masala of languages – chakka jam

Sometimes, too, an English word is used together with a word from another language to create a new expression. Take chakka jam, for example – and despite what you might think about jam, this one has nothing to do with food! When blocking roads became a popular form of protest in India, this term was coined from the Hindi chakka (meaning “wheel”) and the English jam, as in traffic jam. A chakka jam, though, is a type of protest, a new meaning that does not exist in either of the words chakka and jam.

So, as we can see, in all the many varieties of World English new words are constantly coming in from other languages, the meaning of existing words is changing, and words

Masala pizza
Masala Pizza

are being put together in new ways to create new meanings. Masala pizza, anyone?





Discover more words and their meanings at our Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries!

Mark Temple worked as an English teacher in Spain, Italy and Latin America before becoming an editor in the ELT Dictionaries department at Oxford University Press.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

Every year we help millions of people around the world to learn English. As a department of the University of Oxford, we further the University’s objective of excellence in education by publishing proven and tested language learning books, eBooks, learning materials, and educational technologies.

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