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In American English, à la mode means:

  • in fashion, up to date.
  • with ice cream.
  • (of beef) braised in wine, typically with vegetables.

While the first meaning matches the French meaning, the other two meanings are different. Why does à la mode have also the last two meanings, in English?

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Note that the last two meanings are not generally recognised in the UK. –  Colin Fine Jan 28 '11 at 15:31
I updated the question, as I took the meaning of à la mode from the NOAD. –  kiamlaluno Jan 28 '11 at 15:34
The first and third meanings may technically be part of American English, but only the second listed meaning is generally recognised. –  Brian Knoblauch Jan 28 '11 at 15:38
@Brian Knoblauch: That is the exact reason I wrote in American English; only in American English all those meanings would be true. –  kiamlaluno Jan 28 '11 at 15:46
@kiamlaluno I have never in my life heard of your third sense. –  tchrist Sep 26 '12 at 15:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I remember reading about the history of this expression just a month ago or so, but for the life of me I don't seem to be able to find the link right now, so I can only answer one half of your question.

Wikipedia says that à la mode in the meaning "with ice cream" was first used in the 1890s by one Mrs. Barry Hall, from whom it got picked up by one Professor Charles Watson Townsend, who was in turn overheard by a reporter for the New York Sun, who then wrote an article about it. "Soon, pie à la mode became a standard on menus around the United States."

Etymonline chooses a more careful wording:

a la mode
1640s, from Fr. à la mode (15c.), lit. "in the fashion". In 17c., sometimes nativized as all-a-mode. Cookery sense of a dessert served with ice cream is 1903, Amer.Eng.

Finally, the PhraseFinder has this:

Americans are familiar with this phrase as meaning 'with ice cream'. There are various stories concerning how this came about but, as they aren't reliably documented, I'll not repeat them here. Suffice it to say that, however the phrase was coined in that context, it had happened by 1903 when it appears in an edition of Everybody's Magazine:

"Tea and buns, apple pie à la mode and chocolate were the most serious menus."

I take this to mean that the story from Wikipedia should be taken with a grain of salt.

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From what I'm reading here, it's somewhat similar to the reason why we call all gelatin JELLO; all cotton swabs QTIPS; all bandages BANDAIDS.

Someone felt that pie with ice cream was fashionably delicious and gave it the name pie à la mode. It sounded cool and it stuck. I think it wasn't meant to mean "ice cream" though the ice cream is what made it fashionable.

That would explain why it also goes for the (of beef) braised in wine, typically with veggies.

It's just a dish jazzed up; made "fashionable"; à la mode!

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You will probably be castigated for quick forms like "y" and "some1" ... At least in THIS group they like standard English to be used. –  GEdgar Sep 26 '12 at 15:19
@GEdgar I'm less concerned about that (we have people who will edit for style) as the lack of any substantiating facts or references to reliable sources. As it stands this reads as a guess/opinion, not a reliable answer, and is at risk of being downvoted or deleted. –  MετάEd Sep 26 '12 at 15:44

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