Why French Fries Are Called Chips and Potato Chips Are Called Crisps in the United Kingdom

Why French Fries Are Called Chips

British vlogger Patrick Foote, the brain behind Name Explain, delved into the intriguing linguistic journey that led the British to term what Americans call chips as crisps and vice versa. The convoluted potato lexicon takes us on a transatlantic exploration, unraveling the tangled web of culinary nomenclature.

What is undoubtedly the most popular way we serve potatoes, however, is by making them into chips. And by chips, I mean the kind of cooked things you have burger or fish, not the thinner kind that comes in a packet. I would call those crisps. Yet in the USA and other parts of the world. what I a British person, would call crisps would instead be called chips and what I call chips would instead be called fries or even french fries.

Undoubtedly, the most beloved manifestation of potatoes in British gastronomy is the hearty, chunky chips—those companions to your burger or fish, not the wafer-thin fellows that emerge from a packet, which I would categorize as crisps. In the USA and various corners of the globe, however, my crisps would be unceremoniously labeled as chips, while what I refer to as chips would be dubbed fries or, more elaborately, French fries.

Apparently, during the First World War, American soldiers stationed in Belgium came across these potatoes cooked in a way that they had never seen before. They liked them so much that they brought them back to the USA with them and adapted the name of frites into fries. They specifically called them French fries because the part of Belgium they came from spoke French.

The etymology trail, as illuminated by Foote, leads us to Belgium and the birth of “frites,” denoting fried. Reportedly, the term French fries hopped across the pond to the United States. During the First World War, American soldiers stationed in Belgium stumbled upon these unfamiliar spuds, fell in love, and brought them back stateside, christening them French fries due to their Belgian Francophone origin.

Meanwhile, in the USA, a different chip narrative was unfolding. A dissatisfied customer, unhappy with the thickness of his fries, catalyzed the birth of the Saratoga chip—the progenitor of modern potato chips. Allegedly originating at Saratoga Lake in New York State, Chef George Speck, aka George Crum, sliced potatoes to an ethereal thinness, coining the term “chips” once again, as they resembled mere chippings of a potato.

The popular story of their origin comes from the USA specifically Saratoga Lake in New York State. It is that Chef George Speck who was known professionally as George Crum… received a complaint that his fries were too thick so he sliced them super super thin and dubbed them Saratoga chips. He used the term chips once again because they were little chippings of a potato.

Across the pond, these thin delights migrated to the UK. However, a linguistic conundrum emerged—calling them chips was not an option, as the term had already been co-opted for the thicker, fish-and-chips variety. A novel name was necessitated, leading to the adoption of “crisps,” neatly sidestepping the potato identity crisis.

These chips were so popular that they made their way to the UK eventually too yet there was a bit of an issue they couldn’t really be called chips because by this point chips were already being used as the name for a different kind of potato. The fish and chips kind of chips. A new name had to be devised eventually the name crisps was landed on.

In summary, from Belgian frites to Saratoga chips, and finally crisps in Britain, the global potato lexicon is a tapestry woven with linguistic nuances, historical twists, and, of course, a generous serving of crispy, golden delights.