Which term is more likely to have been used by my main character, a young man from a wealthy Macon, Georgia family, in 1893?


5 Answers 5


According to Hans Kurath, A Word Geography of the Eastern United States (1949), the local term for cakes made primarily of corn meal or primarily of wheat flour and cooked on a griddle or pan varied considerably across the South in the 1940s. There is no reason to suppose that the word preferences were more uniform across the entire geographical region 50 years earlier.

Unfortunately, this reference covers the Eastern Seaboard states only to the southern border of South Carolina, but it gives a strong sense of the variety of names used slightly to the north of Georgia in the 1940s, and (I think) invites some reasonable speculation about the likeliest candidates for Georgia in the 1890s.

Kurath remarks:

Griddle cakes made of corn meal, with or without an admixture of flour, baked in varying sizes and in varying thicknesses on a griddle or in a frying pan, formerly also on a board before the open fire, are a Southern favorite. They are known under a great variety of terms, some regional, others local; some are in common use among all classes of people, others are folksy, old-fashioned, or obsolescent.

Corn griddle cake options include johnny cake "which is current in several unconnected areas: (1) in the Carolinas, (2) in Maryland, southern Delaware, and the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore of Virginia, (3) in central West Virginia"; johnnikin "in the southern part of the Eastern Shore of Maryland and in coastal North Carolina"; hoe cake "in general use in the Carolinas and in all except the west-central part of Virginia, at least in folk speech or as an old-fashioned term"; corn dodger—a term "applied to a small corn cake (two or three in one pan)"—"in the South Midland (most of West Virginia, western Virginia, western North Carolina) and in the Northern Neck and the northern piedmont of Virginia"; and hobby "in West Virginia south of the Kanawha."

Wheat griddle cake options in the South include pancake:

For a thin wheat cake cooked on a griddle or in a pan the term pancake is current in all the Eastern States, but with varying frequency. It is...uncommon...in the Blue Ridge of Virginia and not too common in the piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina. On Chesapeake Bay and in the tidewater of the Carolinas pancake usually denotes a large pancake containing eggs.

and batter cake or batty-cake:

The characteristic term south of the Potomac is batter cake (batty-cake), and this Southern term has been carried westward into the Blue Ridge and into the valley of the Kanawha in West Virginia.

Various other regional terms for wheat-flour pancakes (griddle cake, fritter, hot-cake, and flannel cake (or flannen cake) are strictly or primarily Northern terms in the states along the Eastern Seaboard, according to this reference. (Flannel cake "has been carried southward [from Pennsylvania] into the Blue Ridge and along Chesapeake Bay.") Kurath doesn't mention flapjacks at all; I suspect that it's a Midwestern term; I remember as a child in the early 1960s seeing it used in a book of tall tales about Paul Bunyan and finding it extremely odd (I grew up in Texas at the other end of the South from Georgia).

It seems highly likely to me that griddle cakes served in Georgia in the 1890s—even in a well-to-do home—would have been made primarily with corn meal, and would have been called hoe cakes. If they were made with wheat flour, they might have been called batter cakes, but I think the likelier name would have been pancakes.


During that time frame in the South, hoecakes was the term. Field workers would literally use hoes as a makeshift griddle, and the cakes were made with cornmeal.

In the North, they called them Johnnycakes.

Native Americans cooked them on hot rocks.

A more traditional breakfast in the South would have been either fish and grits or else ham and grits, both served with biscuits in either case.

  • That’s interesting: I’ve never heard of a hoecake before; do you have some references for this? I’ve edited in a few words to clarify what I think you meant; if those are wrong, please accept my apologies and fix my blunder.
    – tchrist
    Apr 14, 2013 at 18:49
  • @tchrist - I don't know if there are any books about it or why there would be. People just talk about them and everybody's granny has their own recipe. I don't know when we started eating them for breakfast, but that's a pretty modern thing - like mens wedding rings. It just kind of happened and nobody knows why. Apr 14, 2013 at 19:04
  • Hoecake is in the OED (free Americas access this week), earliest is 1745 Pennsylvania and latest is 1885 Boston (but the entry has not been updated since 1899). Still, I suspect a term that is widely familiar today would be preferred.
    – Hugo
    Apr 14, 2013 at 20:34
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    – tchrist
    Apr 14, 2013 at 20:39
  • @Hugo - hoecakes are still very familiar term to Georgia natives. If someone makes them for you, they will undoubtedly start talking about family history going back several generations. I mentioned the term specifically because the character is from Georgia and usage of the term would very much resonate with the local population as accurate. Flapjacks would be pandering to the Hollywood image of the south and while some people enjoy it, many do not. Johnnycakes would just make people angry. I'm trying to help the author with a sense of reality. Apr 14, 2013 at 22:36

Considering that nobody used hotcakes before around 1900 (see Ngrams) I'd recommend flapjacks.

UPDATE: actually, they were spelled hot cakes then, and seem to have meant the entire class of foods consisting of griddle cakes, pancakes, waffles, and so on. See Google Books.


Use flapjacks for the book you are writing, the Georgians in 1890's might have used the same more likely, for their are many a books suggesting the same when speaking of that era.

The books and articles that used [Georgia as background] :

flapjacks [1889-1900]

hotcakes [dated 1889-1900]

Note: Though hotcakes also pop out in the result but flapjack clearly outnumbers it.

Here are some more references suggesting use of flapjacks:

<1641 “FLAPJACKS, and Pan-puddings.”—‘Joviall Crew’ by Brome, II. Works 1873, by Brome, III, page 376>

<1825 “Like a FLAP-JACK in a fryin' pan.”—‘Brother Jonathan’ by J. Neal, I. page 272>

<1842 “We had a splendid breakfast of FLAPJACKS, or SLAPJACKS, and whortleberries.”—‘Passages from the American Note-books’ (1883) by N. Hawthorne, page 303>

By the way it's a personal choice you have to make for both of the words existed and were used in that era.


I live in Maryland, on the East Coast. Here pankakes are called pancakes. Waffles are waffles and french toast are french toast (french toast are sweet toasted bread that is dipped in egg yolk and cooked on the stove). In Maryland no one refers to it as "hotcakes" and the Chesapeake Bay area is right here in Maryland and no one uses the term "hotcakes". I've heard of flapjacks before in a book or something, but no one here calls it that. Even though Maryland is technically the south it at the very top of the south, its the border between East and South. We have adapted some southern ways, but also some Eastern ways as well.

  • I'm sorry I meant Maryland borders North and South.
    – Angela
    Feb 24, 2018 at 0:09

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