Bill Poser at Language Log has an entry on cooking verbs, comparing the large variety available in English to the four of Japanese and the two (dry cooking versus steaming/boiling) of Carrier. This reminds me that I once tried to compare the semantic ranges of English and German cooking verbs and found they didn’t match up at all well, but my dictionaries weren’t as much help as they might have been, which brings up my standard complaint: bilingual dictionaries don’t do food terms as well as they should. Let’s change that, lexicographers!
Addendum. The Apply_heat frame is useful in this context. (Found via a blog pointed out by MM in the comments.)


  1. Did you see, incidentally, that LL links to another blog, and that is a repeat incident of a discussion on a LL post taking place on another blog?

  2. This topic might easily drift in the direction of similar discussions about wine appreciation terminology; recent TV show cookery has added many non-traditional (and arguably pretentious) terms – as satirised by Posh Nosh with its “Embarrass and hot-bubble your baby parsnips for no more than 9 minutes. Savage them into quarters and, while they’re still warm, splash-drop a top-tablespoon of vinaigrette”.

  3. I don’t find the large number cooking terms in English terribly unusual. It would seem to be, first, an example of the pig/pork, cow/beef phenomenon (e.g., “roast” is germanic, and “toast” is romantic; the Latin tostare meaning “to roast”*), and secondly, the influx of modern French terms when French cooking became de rigeur beginning in the late 18th century (braise, 1797; saute, 1813).
    We could probably get by with far fewer cooking terms (growing up, the only place I ever heard the word “saute” was on TV; at home we always fried stuff)–but only if English didn’t have the history that it does.
    I do believe that one of purposes of language is to encode history. Maybe this is because I’m a native English speaker, and English seems to hold on to history with a particular tenacity. (And yet, Esperanto encodes history just as tenaciously in its own way, so maybe English isn’t so special.)
    * Etymology cribbed from Webster’s 10th Collegiate, which happened to be at hand.

  4. As it happens, I can help with the German ones, as I kept my old copy of Lexica Translation Thesaurus. Secondary translations in brackets:
    boil -> kochen
    bake -> backen
    braise -> schmoren
    broil (AE) -> grilieren (grillen, rösten)
    cook -> kochen
    deep-fry -> fritieren
    flambé -> flambieren
    fry -> braten (backen, bräunen, fritieren, rösten, schwitzen)
    grill -> grillen (grillieren)
    poach -> pochieren
    roast -> rösten
    shirr (AE) -> pochieren
    steam -> dämpfen
    stew -> schmoren (dämpfen, dünsten)
    toast -> toasten (rösten, Toastbrot machen)
    backen -> bake (fry)
    braten -> fry
    bräunen -> fry
    dämpfen -> steam, stew
    dünsten -> stew
    fritieren -> deep-fry, fry
    grillen -> grill (broil)
    grillieren -> broil (grill)
    kochen -> cook (boil)
    pochieren -> poach (shirr)
    rösten -> roast (fry, broil, toast)
    schmoren -> stew (braise)
    schwitzen -> fry

  5. Maybe it’s just me, but personally, if just one of the two Rays commenting here could start using his last name, I’d feel a little better oriented. Though the subject matter of the comments should give it away, occasionally it doesn’t.

  6. I’m sorry. No reason whatsoever not to be Ray Girvan.

  7. I always wondered what shirr meant. It sounds so exciting. So it just means ‘poach’.
    Grillieren was new to me. It turns out to be Swiss.

  8. The Swiss seem to be especially into it; “barbecue” is a better translation. As to “shirr”; looking at recipes, it seems distinct from “poach”. Both involve cooking an egg out of its shell, but shirring involves oven-baking it – in UK English, “baked egg” – while poaching involves cooking it in or over actively boiling water. I say “actively” because if you take it off the heat, then it’s coddling.

  9. Am I mistaken, or are all of the German cooking words ending in (-ieren) borrowed? That would narrow the number of native German cooking words by a decent percentage. Not that it really matters I guess.
    Also, while I don’t object to the word “Fry,” or anything that it implies, I cook enough that I distinguish between “fry”, “saute,” and “sweat,” and probably a few others too. And while some words, like “roast,” and “toast,” may have originally meant the same thing in different languages, their meanings in English are slightly different. You don’t toast a leg of lamb, nor do you roast a piece of bread (Although both words refer to dry cooking methods.)
    Is there a point? No, not really, I just like cooking. And I like words.

  10. You don’t toast a leg of lamb, nor do you roast a piece of bread
    Exactly — this is what fascinates me, the complex distribution of verbs, methods, and objects, and dictionaries are only just starting to get serious about distinguishing them.
    “Sweat”? Dare I ask what that implies?

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