Ketchup, catsup, catchup

Catsup was once the predominant spelling of the tomato-based condiment, but ketchup is preferred in today’s English by a large margin. The latter more closely approximates the word’s pronunciation, and it’s also closer in sound to the likely source—either the Cantonese k’e chap or the Malay kechap, both originally types of fish sauce. Catchup is listed in dictionaries, but few writers use it.

Outside North America you are more likely to hear ketchup or catsup referred to as tomato sauce (or, in the U.K., red sauce). This is not to be confused with a tomato-based sauce mixed with pasta, which is usually referred to simply as pasta sauce.

5 thoughts on “Ketchup, catsup, catchup”

  1. “Outside North America you are more likely to hear ketchup or catsup referred to as tomato sauce(or, in the U.K., red sauce)”

    Not sure this is true. I do know people who use “red sauce” but the vast majority call it “ketchup”.

  2. I’ve never heard of ‘red sauce’ ever and I’m British — lived all over the UK as well, so not sure where you’re getting this information. We do have ‘brown sauce’, however :)

  3. Errr! Wrong answer! Catsup was popularized and dubbed by the delicatessen. Thus, it’s name and original spelling are Yiddish: קאַצופּ. As you might see, Yiddish (a.k.a. High German) doesn’t use the Latin alphabet but Hebrew. So, when a Yiddish word like this one is borrowed into Low German or English, its spelling is transliterated using the Latin Alphabet and the respective language’s phonetics. From Yiddish to German, the letter “צ” or “tset”, which is in the middle of the word above, has a standard transliteration into “ts”. That is a “t” followed by a “short S” or “sh” sound in Österreich German, which by the way is an accent as rarefied as Queen’s Received English. Notwithstanding, “צ” or “tset” becomes “ts” intending “tsh” or, in English, “ch”. The spelling “catsup” carried over into English from German originally without transliteration, because it was an ethnic food served in delicatessens (ethnically German) and we often preserve the ethnic spelling of specifically ethnic nouns without transliteration if the Latin alphabet is already applied. For example, a “taco” has never become a “tockoe”, but who knows? After all those Oscar Mayer commercials with that little kid singing about his “B-O-L-O-G-N-A”, who ever imagined “bologna” to become “baloney”. Yet, here we are.

    At any rate, delicatessens in America used the only spelling there was, the German one, which was fine because “delicatessen” itself is German. Gaining popularity, “catsup” carried forward into supermarkets, then into and homes. The spelling persisted as the standard until sometime in the 1990’s, when the Anglicized spelling, “Ketchup”, was suddenly no longer marked wrong on spelling tests and became acceptable, like hiccough to hiccup.

    A contributing factor to the catsup to ketchup transformation may have been due to the Heinz brand putting two labels on every bottle. One reads “catsup”, while a duplicate label on the other side spells “ketchup”, a spelling of Heinz’s own invention to phonetically clarify to all its new non-German consumers that they were getting the right stuff.

    By the way, the “catsup” is etymologically the combination of “cat-” and “soup”. The “cat”, though, isn’t the one that meows, but the one to form words like catalog, category, catholic, and Catholic, which connotes a universal, comprehensive, and/or complete quality, an “everythingness”. It’s good on everything and has everything in it, where 57 spices approaches everything is supposed.

    Any possible etymological link to the pronunciation of a Malaysian or Chinese fish sauce is pure conjecture. There’s no evidence of this, much less proof. One could just as easily say that their word for fish comes from our word “catch” as in “catch fish” or “catch of the day”. It does not.

    • Not one bit of this nationalist nonsense is correct. Yiddish is not High German. High German, that is standard German, is always written with a Latin alphabet. And ketchup is not a European invention. This should be deleted as false, offensive and dumb.


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