What's the Difference Between Ketchup and Catsup?

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Ketchup and catsup: You've heard both words, and probably even dipped a plate of French fries in a pile of each one. You didn't notice a difference in taste, so what gives?

Ketchup and catsup are simply two different spellings for the same thing: a modern, Westernized version of a condiment that European traders were introduced to while visiting the Far East in the late 17th century. What exactly that condiment was, and where they found it, is a matter of a much wider debate.

It could have been ke-chiap, from China's southern coastal Fujian region. Or it could have been kicap, a Malay word borrowed from the Cantonese dialect of Chinese from Indonesia, also spelled kecap and ketjap, both of which are sauces based on brined or pickled fish or shellfish, herbs, and spices. Whatever it was, the Europeans liked it, and as early 1690, they brought it back home with them, calling it catchup.

The early Western versions of the sauce—which, beginning in 1711, was sometimes called ketchup, another Anglicization of the Malay name popularized in the book An Account of Trade in India—were pretty faithful to the original Eastern ones, with one of the earliest recipes published in England (1727) calling for anchovies, shallots, vinegar, white wine, cloves, ginger, mace, nutmeg, pepper, and lemon peel. It wasn't until almost a century later that tomatoes found their way into the sauce, in a recipe in an American cook book published in 1801. In the meantime, another alternative spelling popped up, mentioned in a 1730 Jonathan Swift poem: "And, for our home-bred British cheer, Botargo [a fish roe-based relish], catsup, and caveer [caviar]."

The tomato-based version of ketchup quickly caught on in the U.S. during the first few decades of the 19th century. At first, it was made and locally sold by farmers, but by 1837 at least one company was producing and distributing it on a national scale. The H. J. Heinz Company, a name that's synonymous with ketchup for most people today, was a relative latecomer to the game and didn't produce a tomato-based ketchup until 1876. They originally referred to their product as catsup, but switched to ketchup in the 1880s to stand out. Eventually, ketchup became the standard spelling in the industry and among consumers, though you can still find catsup strongholds sprinkled across the U.S.

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What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

Some three decades after he earned his doctorate, in 1989, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article was originally published in 2013.

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