I enjoy cooking, and I've been told I'm quite a good cook. I have several cookery books 1 at home, mostly on Italian and British cooking, but not one is written by a famous cookery writer 2. I've never taken a cookery class 3 in my life, but I have learnt a lot from TV cooks such as Jamie Oliver, Nigel Slater and Delia Smith, and I'm an avid fan of their cookery shows 4.

The term cookery in numbers 2, 3, and 4 can be substituted with cooking with no change in meaning, which suggests that the two terms are virtually interchangeable. In fact, cookery is the skill or activity of preparing and cooking food while cooking is defined as the activity of preparing or cooking food by Cambridge Dictionaries.

Nevertheless, the best alternative for cookery book is the compound noun cookbook. The instances of cooking book, which Google Ngrams turned up, were vanishingly rare, and mostly, false positives.

American English Ngram chart enter image description here

British English Ngram chart enter image description here

Since the 1970s the expression food writer has superseded that of cookery writer, but cooking writer, although rare, is still used. See Ngram

When a cooking writer pens his autobiography it is invariably written with a freshly baked, rosy glow. Tales of baking at their mother's knee is what is expected.
Toast: The Story of a Boy's Hunger by Nigel Slater

The following graphs clearly illustrate the phenomenal boom of cooking shows, and cookery programmes in the last forty years or so. The BrEng corpus demonstrates that both titles are commonly used,

enter image description here

whereas the AmEng corpus displays a distinct preference for cooking show. The description cookery show barely makes a visible dent on the chart

enter image description here

To sum up, if cooking show, cooking class, cooking skills, and to a lesser extent, cooking writer are all acceptable, what is it about cooking book that makes it sound so ‘weird’?


  1. Why is the term cookery rarely used for TV shows and books in American English?

  2. Although recipe books are about cooking, these publications are practically never referred to as cooking books. Is there a grammatical or semantic reason for this?

  • 1
    Good question about cooking shows vs cook books. At a guess, cooking books sounds like shady accounting, while cook shows sounds like reality TV about chefs. I'm not sure why "cook book" doesn't similarly evoke the idea of chef memoirs. (In case you were wondering: I don't have enough of a handle on the cookery question to venture a comment about it.)
    – Lawrence
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 7:33
  • 3
    You actually cook in a cooking show, but not in a book. Can cook book be interpreted as cook's book, a book cooks always have with them?
    – Jacinto
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 8:27
  • 1
    You might like this post: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/784/…
    – user66974
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 8:27
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA It takes a foreigner... :) But I'm afraid that's all I can contribute to the topic.
    – Jacinto
    Commented May 30, 2016 at 8:48
  • 1
    Here's a literary example: the protagonist of Roald Dahl's 1959 short story "Pig" is writing what he calls a "cooking-book". Maybe he expresses himself a little strangely on account of being raised and home-schooled by an eccentric great aunt who "lived a strange isolated life all by herself in a tiny cottage high up on the slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, several miles from the nearest village."
    – bof
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 5:46

2 Answers 2


To cook as a transitive verb has the following meaning among many others:

To alter or falsify.

As a slang, it also means to happen as in "What's cooking?" which means "What's happening?"

To cook has some negative connotations especially when it comes to the financial sector or narcotics business.

To cook the books means

to keep false financial records for an organization

I suspect the reason why "cooking book" or "cook book" is not as popular as "cookbook" is the negative connotation of the verb to cook when it is placed before the noun book with a space. I don't think it is a grammatical issue. People have chosen to use "cookbook" as it sounds better.

As for "cooking show", as @Jacinto commented, I don't think it matters that much because the show is about cooking (action) or how to cook food.

  • 1
    There has to be a reason why cook book, which later became cookbook, is the accepted term, rather than "it sounds better" to native speakers. Of course it does, they've been hearing cookbook all their lives.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 6:23
  • @Mari-LouA There has to be a reason why "underground" in the UK is "subway" in the U.S and MTR in Hong Kong and MRT in Singapore.
    – user140086
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 6:34
  • Yes, there usually is for these kinds of things. They don't happen overnight.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 6:36
  • @Mari-LouA The only reason I see is the US doesn't like the UK in the same way Singapore doesn't like HK. One thing common in three of them is they were a former colony of Britain.
    – user140086
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 6:41
  • @Mari-LouA Do you think you can vote to delete this answer? I read it and it doesn't seem to add any value. english.stackexchange.com/questions/145899/…
    – user140086
    Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 13:19

Already mentioned is the meaning of "cooking the books," but my first reaction was a visual of book burnings--where people are literally cooking books. There does seem a meaning in "cookbook" of a "cook's book" or "how-to-cook book" layered into the present usage.

As for cookery, I think of a cookie factory when I read or hear it, but I believe it is just a word that isn't in favor (at least in the US)--which seems in-line with your charts.

  • "Cook the books" is dated 1630s, but the verb cook is much older than that, it dates back to Old English coc.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 6:32
  • We're talking about present usage and I'm sure it has evolved--the charts used only go back to 1970 and 1900.
    – Genxthis
    Commented Jun 10, 2016 at 6:36

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