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In school I learned to say crisps but I don't want to mix it with french fries. So what's the correct term to use, and what synonyms are there?

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Do you really mean to say "term for the word"? That doesn't sound right at all. –  hippietrail Jan 12 '12 at 18:49
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4 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Wikipedia has a nice list of Terms at the beginning of their article:

Potato chips (known as crisps in British and Hiberno English; either chips or wafers in Indian English; and chips in American, Australian, New Zealand, Canadian, Singapore, South African, and Jamaican English) ...

They chose potato chips as the article's lemma, which seems to be the least ambiguous term in common use.

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so for a international term that works everywhere is potato chips recommended? –  Alvar Jan 6 '12 at 13:59
    
It is if you ask me :) Even though I can't find any good citation or recommendation by anyone authoritative - it seems very sensible. –  Stefano Palazzo Jan 6 '12 at 14:03
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Now that chefs are making chips(=French fries) out of beetroot, turnip and other vegetables, potato chip in the UK would just mean (US) 'normal French fry', so I fear there is no international term. BTW, what would the AmE be for a (BrE)turnip chip? –  TimLymington Jan 6 '12 at 14:21
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In the UK, potato chips never means the things we call crisps. Normally [potato] chips are the things you eat hot (with fried battered fish, for example). But sometimes (particularly when "potato" is specified) it means those snacky things that come in packets, 4-6 cm long, with 6-8mm square cross-section, made of reconstituted potato powder, air, and oil (I have no idea whether they can meaningfully be said to have been "fried"). –  FumbleFingers Jan 6 '12 at 17:33
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If anything "potato crisp" would be least ambiguous, because it is potato that has been thinly sliced then fried to a crisp. At no point is it ever chipped! –  Matt Эллен Jan 6 '12 at 18:31
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In British English, chips are deep-fried pieces of potato cut in varying lengths and with a profile that can also vary, but which might roughly be 1cm square. In American English, these are, I understand, called French fries, or just fries. Very thin deep-fried slices of potato, usually sold in bags and typically eaten as an accompaniment to beer are crisps in British English. Elsewhere, I believe they are confusingly called chips. So, no, there’s no one term that is internationally reliable. If in doubt, ask to look before you eat or buy.

EDIT:

Chips can also be bought frozen to cook in the oven. They're known by the strikingly original name of oven chips.

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And there's even, in the same sequence of decreasing flavour, micro-chips, for "cooking" in the microwave. Alternatively you could eat the cardboard box! –  Chris H Sep 16 '13 at 13:38
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Wouldn't they be very small ones? –  Barrie England Sep 16 '13 at 13:53
    
They should be, shouldn't they. –  Chris H Sep 16 '13 at 13:59
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Chips (British)

These are potatoes cut into pieces about the width of a finger, and deep fried in lard, beef dripping, or some other fat with similar cooking properties, until the middle is cooked.

In Britain, they are known as "chips".

In the USA they are sometimes known as "chips" (when served as part of "fish and chips"), but they are more frequently called "French fries" - although an American might well complain that these French fries weren't crispy enough.

enter image description here

These are potatoes cut into narrower pieces, and deep fried in vegetable oil, with the aim of getting a crispy outside.

In Britain they are known as "French fries" on packaging and restaurant menus. Many British people would still call them chips.

In the USA they are known as French fries, or just "fries".

enter image description here

These are potatoes sliced very thinly, and fried until they are rigid and crispy.

In the UK they are known as "crisps". In Britain, if you asked for "chips" and received crisps, you'd be surprised.

In the US they are known as "potato chips" or sometimes just "chips".

enter image description here

These are an arbitrary pre-packaged snack that are not made from potato. Although these ones are corn puffs with spicy flavouring, the picture is meant to represent the whole range of crunchy savoury snacks that come in bags.

In the UK, although the packaging will never say "crisps", a person might casually refer to them as "crisps" anyway - knowing it's not strictly accurate, but not caring.

I think an American might similarly refer to them as "chips". Perhaps an American can comment and confirm?

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Your last picture is what I'd call "cheese puffs". Though the ones in the picture don't look like they're cheese flavored, at which point I don't know what I'd call them. –  Marthaª Jan 13 '12 at 16:07
    
I think this is the best answer as it clearly covers both terms for both items. As for the the bonus bit at the end, we have a great question on this very topic! Does British English have a word for dry, starchy savoury snacks that are not fried slices of potato? –  hippietrail Sep 16 '13 at 13:39
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Speaking as an American: I understand that in British English, "potato chips" refers to wedges of potatos that are fried but still have a soft center. In American English, "potato chips" are very thin sliced and fried to a crisp. What the British call potato chips, Americans call "home fries" or "potato wedges".

I don't know of any term that would mean the same thing on both sides of the Atlantic.

To an American, "french fries" are potatos cut into long, thin strips, traditionally "crinkle cut" but McDonalds introduced straight-cut fries and that has become something of the norm.

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Your understanding is incorrect. A chip is not typically wedge-shaped, but rather an extruded rectangle. –  Marcin Jan 6 '12 at 16:17
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Having eaten fish and chips in England, I believe English chips are indeed American french fries. Look at the results of a Google image search for fish and chips and tell me these aren't french fries. –  Peter Shor Jan 6 '12 at 16:20
    
@Marcin: they're not supposed to be extruded potatoes, at least in the U.S. (and I assume in Britain as well), but cut potatoes. You can't assume that McDonalds serves real french fries (or hamburgers, for that matter). I believe the chips I've eaten in the U.K. were cut. –  Peter Shor Jan 6 '12 at 16:23
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@PeterShor - Many Brits use both chips and French fries. The skinny fries you get at fast food places (especially US chains) are often called French fries while chip shops would normally sell what Americans would call steak fries as chips. Sometimes pubs and restaurants will offer the choice of French fries or chips, and if not the type of chip an establishment serves can determine whether people choose to eat there or not. –  Mark Booth Jan 6 '12 at 17:36
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@PeterShor: I mean that the shape is (at least ideally) an extrusion, regardless of the mechanical process by which the chips are manufactured. –  Marcin Jan 6 '12 at 19:18
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