Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
||crisp vs. crispy
It seems that ''crispy'' is used more frequently than ''crisp'', at least in some
contexts, and I'd like to understand why. I suspect that this might have
something to do with difficulty of pronouncing the complex coda ''sp'', but I
haven't found any corroboration.
I'm even more interested in understanding the difference in usage between
the two words. Although ''crispy'' may be used more frequently, its meaning
seems to be narrower. One never hears of a ''crispy Autumn morning'' or a
''dry crispy Chablis''; only solid foods are ''crispy''. Moreover, there are two
distinct sources of crispness in food and ''crispy'' seems to apply only to one
of them. Raw fruits and vegetables are crisp because of absorption of water
through osmosis and the resulting intercellular pressure, whereas cooked
foods are crisp for precisely the opposite reason: surface water loss through
exposure to high temperatures. While ''crisp'' is commonly applied in both
cases, it seems that ''crispy'' applies only to dry crispness. (a Google search
for ''crispy apple'' turns up pies, tarts, crumbles, etc., but not much raw fruit.)
Why is this?
My suspicion is that dry crispness is a stronger stimulus (i.e., tastes better)
and therefore demands a more onomatopoeic word, and that ''crispy'' works
because a plosive consonant followed by a vowel is stronger than one in
word-final position. However, I have no idea what I'm talking about.
Personally, I think of "crispy" as an artificial word drawn from Chinese-restaurant vocabulary, i.e. invented by Chinese who knew English but were not native speakers, which has subsequently been adopted by a wider section of the population; and if this is correct it might explain the limited application of the word, to some things that get served in Chinese restaurants but not to raw fruit & veg which on the whole do not figure on their menus. However, I don't know whether this surmise is correct. To check it, one might begin by searching to see how long the word has been used (few British people had encountered Chinese restaurants before the late 1950s, I think, so if "crispy" was used here long before that my idea would probably be wrong). Even if the actual origin of the word proved to be different from what I suppose, that would not affect my feeling that it is not really a fully-paid-up element of the proper English vocabulary; I am familiar with it, but I would never think of using it myself.
Geoffrey Richard Sampson
click here to access email
Re: crisp vs. crispy
Back to Most Recent Questions