À La Mode – Origin and Meaning in English

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

English has many adopted terms and phrases from other languages. Some have taken on English spellings and meanings, while others have stayed true to their original use or have grown and adapted in various ways.

Although this can be confusing for non-native English speakers, mastering some of these terms can make your speech and writing more interesting and allow you to better understand what you are hearing.

À la mode is a French expression that has been adapted into the English language to mean more than one thing. Most popularly used to describe the decadence of adding ice cream to a dessert, it also is used in its original translated form to describe stylish fashion.

Let’s learn more about it below.

What Is the Meaning of à la Mode?

A La Mode Origin Meaning in English

The adverb à la mode derives from a French expression but is usually used in modern American English as a culinary term to mean served or garnished with ice cream.

For example, you can order your pie, brownie, cookie or other dessert items à la mode when you prefer it has a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Usually, the dessert item is warmed before adding ice cream, providing not only an explosion of taste but also a contrast in temperature.

For example:

  • The diner serves homemade pies straight from the refrigerated display or warmed up à la mode.
  • She served the bubbling cobbler straight from the oven à la mode, with a generous helping of whipped cream and caramel sauce.

À la mode is also occasionally used in its original, translated sense to mean fashionable when referring to styles in the modern fashion industry.

For example:

  • Despite teased hair going out of style in the ’80s, a natural big hair trend is now à la mode and returning to fashion.
  • Always à la mode, wearing all black is never likely to go out of style.
  • Wearing bright contrasting colors is considered à la mode but is viewed by many as a fleeting and tacky style.

Is It à la Mode or ala Mode?

The proper modern use and spelling is à la mode, not ala mode. Using alamode as one word was once considered acceptable, but that use fell out of fashion in the 17th century.

Although some people use the phonetic spelling ala mode, it is not considered acceptable or correct.

Origins of à la Mode

A La Mode Ngram
Modern English Use of À La Mode

À la mode, or alamode, has changed considerably in its use since it was first documented in France in the 16th century. Its literal meaning was used to describe “prevailing fashion” and integrated into French to highlight something posh and fashionable for the era.

In 18th-century England, it was used to describe a type of beef stew, which transgresses far from its original meaning.

By the early 1900s in America, it was adapted into its modern English usage: to be served with ice cream. Occasionally, its original definition is used in English when describing something within the fashion industry.

Let’s Review

The French expression à la mode is from the 16th century to describe the height of fashion and style but took on culinary inferences when used in the English language.

By the 18th century, it was used to describe a type of stew. However, by the 20th century, it was used in America to offer a dessert item with ice cream. It is also used in its original sense to mean that something is fashionable when used in the fashion industry context.