Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Jelly, Jam and Jell-O, British and American Language Differences

I've been watching quite a bit of Youtube lately, all sorts of videos on different topics that interest me, sometimes things that I think will inspire or inform me for some aspect of my fiction writing, and sometimes just interesting things without any such application. I usually read the comments. Lately, I've often felt I could add something to the discussion in the comment section but didn't. Instead, I think I will post the video and my commentary here for at least one of them.

I mostly want to add some commentary on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As you can see, many of the Irish taste testers made the point that the jelly is really "jam," and many Americans commented on the American definitions of these two terms. However, I'm not sure those Americans understood how both of those terms are defined in the UK.

I find these sorts of language differences interesting. I think I'm qualified to comment on this as an American. For one, I have an uncle, aunt and two cousins who lived in Australia for many years, and there are some similarities between Australian and British English, including how jam and jelly are defined. I also read a lot of books by British authors and watch a lot of BBC programs, so I am constantly learning new things about our language differences. Just when I think I know them all, I'll pick up on a new one. So, I'd like to share some thoughts and observations on language that may be interesting to people on both sides of the pond.

As some American commenters already pointed out, Americans differentiate between jam and jelly by whether it is made with only juice from the fruit or has bits of fruit in it. Jelly is made with fruit juice. Jam is made with bits of fruit and juice.

The most classic, common peanut butter and jelly sandwich is made with grape jelly, which is probably why the sandwich has that name. Really, any kind of jelly or jam could be used. I had plenty of sandwiches as a child that were made with peanut butter and strawberry jam. I probably didn't make a point of calling my sandwich "a peanut butter and jam sandwich" on those particular days, in spite of the fact that Americans have different terms for those two different kinds of fruit spreads. We just tend to call the sandwich "peanut butter and jelly" or pb&j in either case.

For Americans, if you look up the word jelly on, the third definition, prefaced by chiefly British, is a fruit-flavored gelatin. I assume this term difference is also used in Ireland where these taste testers in the video live. So, the term jelly in the UK would not be used for a fruit spread but for a fruit-flavored gelatin. So, here is another reason why using the term "jelly" for a fruit spread in the UK might be confusing.

For British, Irish or Australian readers, most Americans call a fruit-flavored gelatin Jell-O after the most popular American brand name for this product. There are some other competing brands, but most Americans will call any brand of gelatin Jell-O regardless. We'd hardly ever use the word gelatin in this context. It sounds too formal. A recipe, that's not a recipe from the Jell-O company, might use the phrase "fruit-flavored gelatin" in order to avoid specifying a particular brand, but that's not a common phrase most Americans use informally. Also, Americans would never use the word jelly in this context.

Here's a Jell-O jingle I remember from childhood.

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