In my Twitter feed, a video available at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art, New York) showed up. In it, I was surprised by several things, but relevant to this forum, there was a billboard advertising "Washington Crisps," which I found surprising. An NGram search shows that chips has long been a more favored usage in American English (and likely the corpus size causes American English to dominate all English), though far less so in the case of potato chips.

What's notable to me about the "potato" variation of the phrase "potato chips" is the enormous spike around WWI.

I can't find a plausible explanation for this spike. What is your best explanation?

  • What is your question? – Hot Licks Jun 20 '17 at 2:48
  • If you look at the references for that Ngram you will see that the spike is simply an error in the sampling. – Hot Licks Jun 20 '17 at 2:56
  • Your NGram searches are just for "English", which includes British English. In addition, as I've noted before here with another search, NGrams occasionally bugs out and gives completely wrong results, which is why you need to verify your results by looking at the results, as @HotLicks says. – Laurel Jun 20 '17 at 3:06
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    Some problems: 'Washington Crisps' were not potato crisps, they were corn flakes. If you look at some of your results you will see that those returned for 'chips' include things about small bits of rock, collections of short extracts from lingers written works, references to Dickens' characters, small bits of wood, recipes for lemon confections, slang for 'carpenter', the sound made by some birds and damaged areas on china plates. – Spagirl Jun 20 '17 at 7:35
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is based on a series of misapprehensions, hence has no well founded question to answer. – Spagirl Jun 20 '17 at 10:18

The OED has potato chip from 1854:

potato chip n. (a) = chip n.1 2b (now rare); (b) N. Amer. and Austral. = potato crisp n.

This is a special variant of chip, which had earlier applied to a piece of any fruit or vegetable:

chip, 2.b. Cookery. pl. (rarely sing.). A thin irregular slice of a fruit, etc. spec. fried pieces of potato," is recorded from 1769, but the first specific citation dealing with potatoes is from 1859.

crisps, the preferred UK form, emerges later, first in the full "potato crisp" form in 1929, only later being shortened to "crisps" (usually plural).

From that, it looks as if "potato chip" and "chip" (specifically applying to potatoes), first appear in the US in the 1850s as a specialized form of the earlier generic "chip" (of a variety of fruits or vegetables).


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