I saw a reference to blancmange in an answer to another question and it got me thinking about pudding. It is very common in British English for the word pudding to be used as the general term for dessert, but in American English the word pudding seems to be reserved for a particular type of dessert somewhat akin to blancmange. Any idea why?


Pudding originally referred exclusively to varieties of sweet natural-casing sausage. The meaning grew to encompass anything boiled or steamed in a bag, then shifted to refer primarily to desserts, especially those cooked by boiling or steaming. Most recently, in American English, it has changed to refer exclusively to the thick custardy dessertstuff.

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    +1, See also the Separated By a Common Language blog on this topic, and Wikipedia. – ShreevatsaR Feb 14 '11 at 10:08
  • @Jon: did pudding ever mean any dessert in American English? The 1892 Webster's International has "Soft food variously made, but often a compound of flour, with milk and eggs". This seems to be halfway between the original meaning and today's AmE meaning. – Peter Shor Jul 20 '14 at 1:29

My understanding is that in British English it also means any "sweet or savoury steamed dish made with flour" — e.g., Yorkshire pudding. Also it can mean a type of sausage, like black pudding or blood pudding.

As to why it has come to mean only "a sweet, creamy dessert" in American English, I would suppose it is simply one more example of how, as Shaw said, "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." We say "counter-clockwise" and you say "anti-clockwise". There are literally hundreds of similar dialectical differences.

  • Another savoury example would be a steak and kidney pudding. – Peter Taylor Feb 14 '11 at 13:28

For what I can remember from my British English studies, pudding is used to generally mean dessert.
For what I can read on the NOAD (which also reports the British meaning of pudding as I reported), in American English is a dessert with a creamy consistency (chocolate pudding, rice pudding).


"Parminder was shoving bowls of cut fruit across the table for pudding."

J.K. Rowling, describing the hostess at a small dinner gathering in A Casual Vacancy, (2012, Back Bay paperback ed., p. 295).

We'd say, in the U.S., "for dessert," instead, as here pudding only means goop, like rice or bread pudding, which I have't seen since the war, as a kid, meaning, of, course, WWII.


  • Hasn’t this answer already been given? – tchrist Jul 20 '14 at 3:06

protected by tchrist Jul 24 '16 at 0:22

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