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.

8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words

Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.


Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.


Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”


The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.


Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.


Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.


Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

Big Questions
What Is Foreign Accent Syndrome?

One night in 2016, Michelle Myers—an Arizona mom with a history of migraines—went to sleep with a splitting headache. When she awoke, her speech was marked with what sounded like an British accent, despite having never left the U.S. Myers is one of about 100 people worldwide who have been diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), a condition in which people spontaneously speak with a non-native accent.

In most cases, FAS occurs following a head injury or stroke that damages parts of the brain associated with speech. A number of recent incidences of FAS have been well documented: A Tasmanian woman named Leanne Rowe began speaking with a French-sounding accent after recovering from a serious car accident, while Kath Lockett, a British woman, underwent treatment for a brain tumor and ended up speaking with an accent that sounds somewhere between French and Italian.

The first case of the then-unnamed syndrome was reported in 1907 when a Paris-born-and-raised man who suffered a brain hemorrhage woke up speaking with an Alsatian accent. During World War II, neurologist Georg Herman Monrad-Krohn compiled the first comprehensive case study of the syndrome in a Norwegian woman named Astrid L., who had been hit on the head with shrapnel and subsequently spoke with a pronounced German-sounding accent. Monrad-Krohn called her speech disorder dysprosody: her choice of words and sentence construction, and even her singing ability, were all normal, but her intonation, pronunciation, and stress on syllables (known as prosody) had changed.

In a 1982 paper, neurolinguist Harry Whitaker coined the term "foreign accent syndrome" for acquired accent deviation after a brain injury. Based on Monrad-Kohn's and other case studies, Whitaker suggested four criteria for diagnosing FAS [PDF]:

"The accent is considered by the patient, by acquaintances, and by the investigator to sound foreign.
It is unlike the patient’s native dialect before the cerebral insult.
It is clearly related to central nervous system damage (as opposed to a hysteric reaction, if such exist).
There is no evidence in the patient’s background of being a speaker of a foreign language (i.e., this is not like cases of polyglot aphasia)."

Not every person with FAS meets all four criteria. In the last decade, researchers have also found patients with psychogenic FAS, which likely stems from psychological conditions such as schizophrenia rather than a physical brain injury. This form comprises fewer than 10 percent of known FAS cases and is usually temporary, whereas neurogenic FAS is typically permanent.


While scientists are not sure why certain brain injuries or psychiatric problems give rise to FAS, they believe that people with FAS are not actually speaking in a foreign accent. Instead, their neurological damage impairs their ability to make subtle muscle movements in the jaw, tongue, lips, and larynx, which results in pronunciation that mimics the sound of a recognizable accent.

"Vowels are particularly susceptible: Which vowel you say depends on where your tongue is in your mouth," Lyndsey Nickels, a professor of cognitive science at Australia's Macquarie University, wrote in The Conversation. "There may be too much or too little muscle tension and therefore they may 'undershoot' or 'overshoot' their target. This leads to the vowels sounding different, and sometimes they may sound like a different accent."

In Foreign Accent Syndromes: The Stories People Have to Tell, authors Nick Miller and Jack Ryalls suggest that FAS could be one stage in a multi-phase recovery from a more severe speech disorder, such as aphasia—an inability to speak or understand speech that results from brain damage.

People with FAS also show wide variability in their ability to pronounce sounds, choose words, or stress the right syllables. The accent can be strong or mild. Different listeners may hear different accents from the speaker with FAS (Lockett has said people have asked her if she's Polish, Russian, or French).

According to Miller and Ryalls, few studies have been published about speech therapy for treating FAS, and there's no real evidence that speech therapy makes a difference for people with the syndrome. More research is needed to determine if advanced techniques like electromagnetic articulography—visual feedback showing tiny movements of the tongue—could help those with FAS regain their original speaking manner.

Today, one of the pressing questions for neurologists is understanding how the brain recovers after injury. For that purpose, Miller and Ryalls write that "FAS offers a fascinating and potentially fruitful forum for gaining greater insights into understanding the human brain and the speech processes that define our species."

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