1) A Wordorigins thread made me realize I didn’t know anything about the word candy (I never did have much of a sweet tooth). So I looked it up in the OED:

[a. F. candi in sucre candi; cf. It. zucchero candi […], med.L. saccharum candi; a. Arab., orig. Pers. qand sugar, the crystallized juice of the sugar-cane (whence Arab. qandah candy, qandi candied); of Indian origin, cf. Skr. khanda ‘piece’, also ‘sugar in crystalline pieces’, f. khand to break. As in the other langs., the full SUGAR CANDY (q.v.) appears much earlier than the simple candy.]

1. Crystallized sugar, made by repeated boiling and slow evaporation, more fully called SUGAR CANDY; also any confection made of, or incrusted with this. (In U.S. used more widely than in Great Britain, including toffee, and the like.)
[c1420 Liber Cocorum 7 With sugur candy thou may hit dowce. 1543 TRAHERON tr. Vigo’s Chirurg. Interpr. Straunge Wds., A syrupe they calle sugre candie.] 1769 MRS. RAFFALD Eng. Housekpr. 241 To a pound of double refined sugar put two spoonfuls of water, skim it well, and boil it almost to a candy, when it is cold, drain your plums out of the first syrup, and put them in the thick syrup. 1808-17 FOSTER in Life & Corr. (1846) I. lxxv. 410 Handing round candies and cowslip wine. 1844 EMERSON Young Amer. in Wks. (Bohn) II. 302 One man buys.. a land title.. and makes his posterity princes; and the other buys barley candy. […]

I didn’t even know it was short for sugar candy. And I wouldn’t have been able to make even an educated guess about how it was used in the U.K., if at all; a commenter at Wordorigins who grew up in southeast England knew it only from the phrase candy floss (what we Americans call “cotton candy”) and added “when I was small I don’t think I had any idea what the word meant; it was just a name for this particular sugary stuff.” Does this accord with the experience of my readers from across the Atlantic?

2) Eve Kushner, who just got back from what sounds like a wonderful (and multilingual) visit to Europe, sent me a link to this webpage, which itself links to a page (pdf) called “Hawaiian in Kanji.” Yes, that’s right, Hawaiian written in kanji:

Unlike English, Hawaiian has a structure well adapted to being written in kanji. In some ways, Hawaiian is even better adapted to being written in kanji than is Japanese. Most meanings in Hawaiian are symbolized by a single word, as in Chinese. While resembling Chinese in having meanings symbolized by a single word, Hawaiian resembles Japanese in its sound structure with a concise set of syllables that form words through endless combinations. Dr. Wilson realized that Hawaiian could be written on an East Asian model either syllabically or through single words….

Learning to read Hawaiian in kanji has strengthened the overall reading ability of students in Hawaiian since it reinforces the successful Hawaiian system of reading by syllables while pushing students to move on to the larger units of words. Linguists have shown that logographic-based kanji are stored in a separate part of the brain from the phonemic-based letters of the Roman alphabet, thus exercising a different part of their mind. Similarly, cognitive psychologists have shown that learning to recognize and write kanji strengthens cognitive abilities that relate to geometry….

Hawaiian reading of kanji has connected the students of Nāwahīokalani’ōpu’u School with the broader community of descendants of East Asians in Hawai’i and with ancestral homelands in Asia. It has allowed students to see the parallels in the traditional Hawaiian hakalama syllabary with Japanese hiragana and katakana as well. The kanji have attracted considerable interest in visitors from East Asia who can read the Hawaiian logographic kanji with the same meanings as they are read in Hawaiian. There is now strengthened interest in students at Nāwahīokalani’ōpu’u to visit East Asia. There is also a better understanding of how Chinese characters spread out from China to a larger world, that now includes Hawai’i.

Who’da thunkit?


  1. Yes, that’s the only usual sense in England; there’s also ‘candied’ though, as in fruit. ‘Candy’ is actually a useful word, as the British have no equivalent which is a) a mass noun and b) covers the same semantic range. We’re forced to say things like ‘sweets and chocolate’.

  2. Yes, that’s what puzzles me: why give up a useful word when you’ve got nothing to replace it?

  3. So barley candy I think only has barley to give it a starchiness that easily absorbs other flavors–it doesn’t taste like barley. Or at least, I know lemon barley water, a UK summer beverage, doesn’t really taste like barley.
    I had always assumed UK “sweets” and American “candy” were interchangeable. Apparently not.

  4. Coulter’s candy is one of Scotland’s best loved lullabies. the chorus goes like this:
    Ally, bally, ally bally bee,
    Sittin’ on your mammy’s knee.
    Greetin’ for another bawbee
    To buy some Coulter’s candy.
    A quick search suggests that it was written by a Robert Coulter/Coltart as an advertisement for his confectionary business in the mid-nineteenth century. But now that I think of it, this is probably the only context I ever heard the word candy used as a child.

  5. Nothing to replace candy, LH? Surely confectionery covers both so-called “sweets” and chocolates, along with a multitude of sundry gustatory peccadilloes. How well does candy cover chocolates, in any case? (It were better, surely, that chocolate cover candy.)
    In Australian supermarkets the aisles have signs for confectionery (or confectionary: SOED distinguishes these two, but has them sharing some senses; one supermarket I know has the a spelling on side of the aisle, the e spelling on the other). Only occasionally do people call confectionery candy, and this is still deprecated as an Americanism. We call your candy floss fairy floss; and we call ordinary “candy” (British “sweets”) lollies.
    But of course, all that will change, and our quaint local usages will be obliterated in the continuing tidal wave of Ameriglobularisation.
    Incidentally, I took a photo of the interior of a Nanjing supermarket, with these signs visible in the aisles:
    Swelled foods
    Necessities of daily life
    Living creatures
    Aha. Another way to apportion things.

  6. I meant: “We call your cotton candy fairy floss.” Seems it’s the British that call it candy floss.
    What I really like about confectionery is that confected is the most direct Euro-Latinisation of saṃskṛtam. Say what you will: Sanskrit is an artificial concoction (as LH and I agreed here, some time back), and that is what the word means.

  7. Certainly the American sense of candy is far broader than chocolate: lollipops, cotton candy, peanut brittle and more are all candy here in the States. I don’t know that confectionary does it; would one refer to a Snickers bar as a confectionary?

  8. Jinx! (re Hawaiian kanji).
    As for “candy”, as an Australian, I grew up feeling that the word was a synonym for “boiled lollies” (=”hard candy”?). Eventually I learned that people in the U.S. used the word more broadly, but for some reason my language circuits have never come to terms with the word being used to refer to chocolate, and still flag this kind of usage as an error.

  9. “Confection” is a word I use regularly for all kinds of sweets and chocolate — especially as I live in Japan, and the Japanese love all kinds of confections that are neither sweet nor contain chocolate. I’m sure it applies to a Snickers bar as well.
    And speaking as a Canadian, “candy” is reserved for small sweet confections, and does not cover chocolate. What Americans would call a candy bar, we always call a chocolate bar — at least where I’m from.

  10. Where I’m from (Northwest US) a “chocolate bar” could be a Snickers, but it’s more likely a flat piece of milk or dark chocolate, divided into smaller bits that might easily be broken apart for sharing. While a Snickers bar is certainly “candy” a plain chocolate bar might or might not be, and a chunk of semisweet baking chocolate is certainly not.

  11. Regarding candy, as you probably know, there’s a similar transatlantic rift over the word “cookie” (the edible one, not the computer one), which again has a more general meaning in the US. In England, “cookie” mostly refers to a chocolate-chip cookie, the general term being “biscuit”. In Scotland, I think “cookie” is a type of bun.
    And Snickers bars used to be called “Marathon” here until they were renamed in 1989. Bad move.

  12. Isn’t Hawaiian an Austronesian language, and thus originated in Taiwan ? It is an East Asian language…

  13. SnowLeopard says

    But “candy” also covers a few items that aren’t really sweet, or at least don’t have sugar as their dominant flavoring. Cinnamon candies are hot. In Iceland and the Netherlands, you can buy salty licorice that leaves a strong ammonia aftertaste. You can also find salted plum candies (and more exotic flavors) in Japanese, Thai, and Chinese supermarkets and candy stores, as someone posted while I was typing this. On the other hand, potato chips and most other salty junk foods aren’t candy, so whether I call something “candy” seems to depend on my purpose in eating it: for the pleasure of tasting a concentrated flavor, rather than as food per se.

  14. What then is the origin of the surname Candy?
    In my teenage years I was hopelessly smitten with an older girl whose last name was Candy…

  15. mollymooly says

    The British National Corpus has
    365 matches for “candy” , but hasn’t annotated the proper names correctly; many matches are for the heroine of a Mills and Boon romance called “Lover’s charade”. It has 729 for “sweets” and 114 for “sweet” as a noun (which is also a non-U word for dessert) , again with lots of misannotations
    I disagree with Conrad: mass nouns are inferior to count nouns. “A sweet” is nicer than “a piece of candy”. “candystripe” and “kid in a candy store” are current British, though the store is otherwise a “sweet shop”.
    and Hat: I wish you wouldn’t put 2 unrelated items in a single posting; it makes the comments confusing.

  16. Surely confectionery covers both so-called “sweets” and chocolates
    I couldn’t say; I don’t think I’ve ever used the word, or heard it used. But there seems to be general disagreement about these words between the various English-speaking countries.
    What then is the origin of the surname Candy?
    The Dictionary of American Family Names (ed. Patrick Hanks) says “unexplained”; Rybakin’s Dictionary of English Surnames lists it as a variant of Gand(e)y [game + dey ‘farm servant’].
    I wish you wouldn’t put 2 unrelated items in a single posting; it makes the comments confusing.
    Oh, piffle! I like confusing comment threads! Embrace the blooming and buzzing!

  17. kandi caplite of sr alnka

  18. mollymooly says

    Kandy is not the capital of Sri Lanka; Colombo is.

  19. Swelled foods
    Necessities of daily life
    Living creatures
    Those which, from a distance, look like flies?
    Actually, confectionery is too broad in British English, because in some contexts it can include things like petits fours, or even cinnamon Danish, which aren’t candy as I understand it. But I think most Brits would understand “sweets” to include chocolate and toffee.

  20. Well, yes, but is Kandi the caplite of Sr Alnka?
    Matt, do “lollies” not have to be on a stick? Certainly “lollipops” do in the US. I thought US “hard candy” was UK “boiled sweets”.
    Isn’t the name “Candy” short for “Candace”?
    I hadn’t thought about nonsweet candy, but the question reminds me of the difficulty of defining “salad”. What is required for something to be a salad?

  21. And let us not forget:
    Is dandy
    But liquor
    Is quicker.
    Ogden Nash, “Reflections on Ice-Breaking”
    US humorist & poet (1902 – 1971)

  22. mollymooly says

    “lolly” in Australia means “sweet/piece of candy”, and is no longer simply an abbreviation of “lollipop”, as it is in US and UK.
    “Candy” can be a surname as well as a forename (e.g. actor John Candy); possibly, for some bearers of the forename, it derives directly from the surname.
    I would have assumed things like “candied fish” were not candy rather than merely not sweet.

  23. I never said mass nouns were better than count nouns; I merely think it is useful in this case to have a mass as well as a count.

  24. I’m not sure “lolly” is even used in the US. Just “lollipop” or “sucker”.

  25. mollymooly says

    did canti
    but Goethe
    did Werther

  26. dearieme says

    “another bawbee”; or “a wee bawbee”, perhaps?

  27. “Sweets” can be used just as easily as “candy” as a mass noun:
    E.g. “I must’ve eaten 2 pounds of sweets this week”

  28. Ginger Yellow says

    “But I think most Brits would understand “sweets” to include chocolate and toffee.”
    I certainly would. I also think that most (young?) Brits these days would understand “candy” through cultural osmosis, but wouldn’t use it themselves.

  29. janes'_kid says

    Separated By A Common Language has a few paragraphs on candy and sweets which may be of interest to some here.
    Attempt at a clickable link here
    Ah, I believe that worked.

  30. Personally I wouldn’t call chocolate ‘sweets’; there is clearly a range of subtle differentiation even among Brits. (There is the added confusion of the old U word ‘sweets’ meaning ‘dessert’ in a menu.)

  31. repeats the “unknown” explanation for the surname Candy, but adds:
    There was a family of this name in Roussillon, France, descended from a partisan of James II named Kennedy, who was exiled in France in the 17th century. The family died out in France in 1868, but may have had an American branch.
    America was more British before the 20th century in these matters: Nabisco was originally the National Biscuit Company, though its chief product is and always has been cookies in the American sense. (“Biscuit” here applies to the “small cake of shortened bread leavened with baking powder or soda”, as AHD4 has it.)

  32. Those which, from a distance, look like flies?
    Fascinating link, Chris, now that we speak of taxonomies. But no: the Nanjing living creatures were fish, mainly. To be more accurate, mostly osteichthyes, but also some chondrichthyes and mollusca, and allied clades. Then again, all living creatures seen from a distance look like flies. Then again, that’s not right. Rhinoceroses seen from a distance look like elephants, wildebeeste, and rhinoceroses from a distance. Flies at that same distance wouldn’t “look” at all – or perhaps cumulatively look like a cloud. Or like cloud (tout court), perhaps.

  33. Not quite on-topic, but I just saw a Miss Marple film where the topic of muffins came up, and Miss Marple’s friend was complaining about Americans’ use of the word. To paraphrase the conversation:
    “What they call muffins aren’t muffins at all! They’re a sort of tea cake with raisins.”
    “Those Americans have a lot to answer for!”

  34. janes'_kid says

    And at the supermarket today I saw a promotional, a new item in the candy isle, labeled a “confection” perhaps a marketing ploy to make it stand out among the many items there.

  35. marie-lucie says

    (muffins etc)
    In Canada you can buy “English muffins”, of which there are two kinds, one of which I was told would be called “crumpets” in England (they look like small thick pancakes with many small holes). Just “muffins” are the American kind, baked in oversized cupcake molds and coming in many versions (mixed with grated carrots, raisins, you name it).
    In Martha Grimes’s fake-British series of detective novels, the amateur detective hero, who is as upper-class as you can get, regularly has tea with his aunt, who feeds him “fairy cakes”. Can someone enlighten me as to what those are?

  36. michael farris says

    I hadn’t realized Martha Grimes was fake-british… I’d only read one of her books but I’d assumed she was British (I’d assumed Elisabeth George was American before I found out she was though I’m not sure why).
    Anyway, according to wikipedia (warning: wikipedia) “fairy cake” is a british term for “cupcake”.
    I remember the Miss Marple novel with muffins (At Bertram’s Hotel) and being puzzled.
    I would have assumed that muffin in England was an English muffin but I’d read an English author disowning English muffins as (paraphrasing) ‘nice and quite un-English’.
    From conversations with an Irish colleague, British muffins sounded something like small thick pancakes cooked in butter.

  37. “Candidate” and “candid” are close cousins, deriving from the Latin candidere, meaning white and glistening. In ancient Rome, candidates would wear white togas to prove their purity and disinterestedness.

  38. “Candidate” and “candid” are close cousins…
    Of each other, yes. And of [in]candescent, and so on. But not of candy.

  39. It took me a while, but I finally posted an analysis of the Hawaiian hakalama kanji syllabary design, along with a text version of the complete syllabary.

  40. The OED entry was revised in 2020 to clarify the “Indian origin.”

    What’s quoted above is really not that different from the NED (1919) original.

    repr. Arab. sukkar sugar + qandī of sugar, f. qand sugar, a. Pers. kand = Skr. khaṇḍa sugar in pieces (cf. khaṇḍa śarkarā candied sugar), orig. piece, fragment, f. root khaṇḍ to break.

    Much of that is gone now. It adds this note, Ulterior etymology of the Arabic word.

    The precise route of transmission is unclear: Arabic qand is apparently ultimately < a Dravidian language (compare Tamil kaṇṭu candied sugar, related to kaṭṭu to harden, to condense), which was also borrowed into Sanskrit as khaṇḍava, khaṇḍa candied sugar. The Indian word was probably transmitted via Persian qand; the initial q in Persian may either show later Arabic influence, or an attempt to approximate the quality of the Dravidian initial.

  41. Keith Ivey says

    the traditional Hawaiian hakalama syllabary

    I was trying to find out more about this, and “hakalama” is completely absent from Wikipedia. From what I can tell “syllabary” here means a listing of all possible syllables in a conventional order (in the Latin alphabet) for teaching purposes rather than a writing system.

  42. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    but Goethe did Werther: I’m guessing that this rhymes in some Anglo tradition for pronouncing German names. (I had German in school before I encountered English texts mentioning Goethe or indeed Werther, but anyway my mental voice pronounces them mapped to Danish where they don’t rhyme either. Obviously we didn’t read Den unge Werthers lidelser in school because 70s, but the title is a fixture and I knew it was Goethe’s main claim to fame).

  43. PlasticPaddy says

    Goethes main claim to fame is not as a novelist (probably also not as a scientist, playwright, memoirist or epic poet), but I suppose you mean international fame starting in late 18C early 19C, where the book was credited with having caused otherwise balanced individuals to commit suicide.

  44. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I mean it was the sort of thing you were supposed to have read if you were part of the cultural elite, and you were supposed to know that it was what made Goethe famous.

    I just picked up that it was something he did. If asked cold, I’d be more sure that Werther was his than that Faust was — the latter sort of lives its own life independent of the tragedist. (And the figure is not original with Goethe, though his is the best known treatment).

  45. PlasticPaddy says

    Ah, a treasure awaits you
    The selected poems are listed in alphabetical order of title, and it is a good sample. You could read them in a different order, but I would suggest trying these as a minimum:
    1. Wandrers Nachtlied
    2. Gefunden
    3. Prometheus
    4. Mailied

  46. I’m guessing that this rhymes in some Anglo tradition for pronouncing German names

    Yes, “Gur-tuh” and “Wur-thuh” or in some schools very likely “Gur-thuh”.

    My middle school teacher in the US pronounced the poet’s name “gothe” (rhymes with “both”) and wasn’t happy wit me when I corrected her.

  47. There’s a Goethe Street in Chicago; I’m told the people who live on it call it go-EETH-ee.

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