15 Pudding Cups of British Pudding Terms and Idioms


In the U.S., pudding has a relatively small life, nutritionally and lexically. But when you look back at jolly old England, this seemingly one-dimensional word has lived a vibrant life in metaphors and idioms. This word’s versatility was foreshadowed by its history: Originally, it referred to entrails, not dessert. Over time, pudding has referred to sausage, fireworks, ropes, clowns, penises, bombs, dummies, fetuses, and, of course, the sweet dessert the word signifies today. That diversity of meanings has spawned plenty of idioms that are ripe for American adaptation.


This term, which dates back to the late 1800s, refers to being pregnant. A pregnant woman can also be in the pudding class or pudding way. Why pudding? It’s related to the expression pudding in the oven, which is more often a bun among Yanks.


On a similar note, pudding house has occasionally meant the belly, as seen in a Thomas Nashe use from 1596: “What a commotion there was in his entrayles or pudding-house for want of food.” In other words, “Your stomach’s rumbling so loud it scared Odin’s ravens.”


These sound about as delicious as a cart and pit could be, but don’t be fooled: A pudding cart hauls garbage or animal guts, and the pudding pit is where such gross stuff gets tossed. These meanings have been around since the 1500s.


Since the 1500s, this has been an alternative to “not worth a damn.” Here’s a 1602 example collected by the Oxford English Dictionary: “These youths of the parish, that are so spruse in their apparell, haue little money in their purses, and their verses and their tales, are not worth a pudding for our trade.” The sense of pudding as offal was definitely intended.


When things go pear-shaped, they’ve gone sideways—in other words, badly. A 2004 Daily Star article includes a rare synonym: “Cambridge's season is going distinctly pudding-shaped following the dismissal of French misfit Herve Renard.”


This term has usually been literal, but it has had a few derogatory senses, and, according to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, one professional sense: pimp.


This rare term, spotted around 1400, refers to crappy ale. If you can imagine a beer with the consistency of pudding, you’d likely swear off beer forever. Or, maybe, look for a spoon.

9. A PUDDING OF A ______

As far back as the late 1700s, this has been a way to say, “That man, woman, child, or beast is huge.” As far back as the late 1700s, you can find descriptions such as, “A great fat pudding boy.” Besides plus-size-ness, this expression can also indicate idiocy.


Cockney rhyming slang is a huge assortment of clever, covert terms, like when apples and pears refers to stairs. Green’s Dictionary of Slang collects several rhyming terms from the pudding shelf, such as pudding and gravy, which has referred to the British Royal Navy since at least 1972. Also, if you’re pudding chef, you’re deaf, which puts a lot of pressure on your pudding and pies: eyes.


This refers to any good thing, but especially money. A 1643 OED example suggests trading blasphemy for bucks: “You courted God for caikes and pudding.” That’s a no-no in any holy book other than the Pastry Bible.


This word has the look of an internet coinage, but some things have been called puddingy since the 1700s. It turned up in an 1825 New Monthly Magazine article in a description that would be considered hurtful today, or any day: “A face ruddy, plump and puddingy.” This word is one of many proofs that, in English, there is almost nothing to which the suffix –y will not stick.


Back in the 1500s, this term had the literal meaning of that blessed time when pudding was served. Later, pudding time referred to any lucky or fortuitous time. To come in pudding time was to arrive at the perfect time. English essayist Joseph Addison explained the saying back in 1716: “The ordinary Salutation is, Sir, I am glad to see you, you are come in Pudding-time.” Though they come from different sections of the menu, pudding times are later remembered as salad days.

Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters

According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

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


More from mental floss studios