Linguistic purity in the EU

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"Europe heroically defends itself against veggie burgers", The Economist 6/29/2019:

The european union gets a lot of flak. All right, it isn’t literally blasted with anti-aircraft fire, but you know what we mean. One ongoing battle (ok, nobody died) involves the use of words. Earlier this year, the European Parliament’s agriculture committee voted to prohibit the terms “burger”, “sausage”, “escalope” and “steak” to describe products that do not contain any meat. It was inspired by the European Court of Justice’s decision in 2017 to ban the use of “milk”, “butter” and “cream” for non-dairy products. Exceptions were made for “ice cream” and “almond milk”, but “soya milk” went down the drain, lest consumers assume it had been extracted from the soya udder of a soya cow. The court has yet to rule on the milk of human kindness.

The article's ending:

Not all the union’s governing structures are taking their linguistic responsibilities seriously enough. When earlier this year Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, spoke of “concrete measures” to extend the single market and a “level playing field”, listeners might reasonably have looked forward to a multi-billion-euro infrastructure project to shift French and Italian mountaintops to the low-lying bits around Brussels.

The Treaty of Rome speaks of the need to respect member states’ culture (no, nothing to do with yogurt) and bind them together (please put the string away). In view of those aspirations, Europe’s leaders need to get on board with this reform. Not literally, obviously. It’s not a ship. Never mind.



  1. Laura Morland said,

    June 29, 2019 @ 4:45 pm

    Ah, I was hoping that you had the rest of the article on the site, but no….

    Here's the second paragraph:

    "Greens are mounting a campaign against the committee’s decision, which they suspect is supported not only by linguistic purists but also by the meat industry. This newspaper thinks the parliament is quite right to protect citizens from the confusion they would no doubt feel were they to find that no part of a “veggie burger” was made of the flesh of a dead animal. Indeed, this praiseworthy initiative needs to go further."

    However, to READ further, one must subscribe to "this newspaper" (which we no longer do in my house).

  2. Jeff Erickson said,

    June 29, 2019 @ 6:07 pm

    Huh. Apparently these English-purity rules haven't reached the Netherlands, where every espresso shop offers "oat milk" (even if the carton says "haverdrank") and lots of burger restaurants offer "vegan burgers" (for example;

  3. AntC said,

    June 29, 2019 @ 6:22 pm

    What was the wording in languages other than English for 'prohibit the terms "burger", …'? I.e. do they all use "burger" for meat patty inside a bread bun?

    Do they plan to ban "hamburgers" that don't contain ham and/or that aren't produced in Hamburg?

    Since "burger" is such a mongrel term anyway, I see no problem nor anything misleading with "veggie-burger".

    For the average burger I see, I'm doubtful there's much meat in them anyway: they seem to be mostly gristle, rusk, and unspeakable sweepings from the abattoir floor.

    Or is the whole story made up? As the British press does frequently about European legislation.

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 29, 2019 @ 7:19 pm

    AntC: Here's an article in French. The story is probably not made up.

    But I agree that they might have been expected to ban "hamburger" for anything that doesn't come from Hamburg (and "burger" for anything that doesn't come from a place with "-burg" in its name?).

    I am shocked that the EU is so lax that it allows "ice cream" to be used for not only non-cream products, but non-dairy products! In the U.S., according to law, "in no case is the weight of milk fat or total milk solids less than 8 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of the weight of the finished ice cream."

    Mm, microcrystalline cellulose.

  5. Monscampus said,

    June 29, 2019 @ 9:27 pm

    This makes me feel sorry for Bavarians who coined their very own linguistic variant of a meat only patty, Fleischpflanzerl. It's become a misnomer now. They could create a Pflanzerlpflanzerl, though.

  6. DaveK said,

    June 29, 2019 @ 11:30 pm

    So what do they call peanut butter in Europe if they can’t call it butter? Peanut royale?

  7. Chandra said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 12:14 am

    @DaveK – Something like peanut spread, I'd guess. But it isn't widely eaten there and is generally considered a weird American thing, so it probably wouldn't ruffle too many feathers to have it go by a different name anyway.

  8. AntC said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 12:16 am

    @Jerry F, thanks for the link, I agree not made up.

    Ils veulent mettre fin à la confusion dans l'esprit des consommateurs.

    Bien je jamais, comme ils dit.

    This consommateur suffers no confusion that "burger" necessitates meat — or not anything that was ever recognisable as meat. Then it is a case of meddlesome Euro-bureaucracy wasting taxpayers' money; and Boris should get Britain out of the EU ASAP before the glorious (almost) meat-free British burger comes under greater threat. Thank you to the British press for bringing this atrocity to light.

    (signed) Outraged of Tunbridge Wells, Colonel (Retired)

  9. Frans said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 1:06 am


    Peanut butter is widely eaten in the Netherlands, where it's called peanut cheese.

    Wikipedia has a large section on the name here, claiming that in part it's because in 1948 the word butter was protected while cheese was not. However, it continues by saying the word was in use much earlier, and a cursory search on Delpher confirms that in 1921, for example, it was already explicitly listed in food quality standards. This article contains a much more in-depth investigation. It reveals that peanut cheese originally designated a mass of mashed peanuts with spices, from which one could cut slices similar to cheese.

    In any case, peanut butter or cheese is an exception because it's not a well-established product.

  10. Frans said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 1:08 am

    Evidently a superfluous "not" snuck into the final sentence there. I originally wrote something like "not a newcomer on the market" or "not a fledgling product."

  11. Bob Ladd said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 1:38 am

    @Chandra: Actually, peanut butter isn't considered weird in the Netherlands, where it's known as pindakaas ('peanut cheese'). I don't know whether the 'cheese' part would fall foul of any of the new regulations…

  12. AlexB said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 1:46 am

    My understanding is that the specific Dutch term 'pindakaas' for peanut butter was coined because it was forbidden to use the term 'butter' for anything other than dairy butter. That regulation was meant to make a strict distinction between butter and margarine, but it also prevented a straight translation of peanut butter. Apparently the cheese people had no such objections.

  13. Peter Taylor said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 2:11 am

    AntC wrote:

    What was the wording in languages other than English for 'prohibit the terms "burger", …'? I.e. do they all use "burger" for meat patty inside a bread bun?

    I tried searching on the official EU website, and search results show a preview

    …observatory given the specific sectorial expertise being required. A more strategic role could be foreseen. The EU COM replied that changes in relation with marketing standards being proposed by the EP are more related to lamb, but that there was also a proposal to protect meat terms (steak, sausage, escalope, burger/hamburger) in the same way as dairy terms are reserved for dairy products. Agreed…

    However, the linked page is missing.

    It's worth noting that burger doesn't necessarily imply a bread bun. In my (en-GB) experience there's a distinction between hot dog (sausage in a bread roll) and sausage, but can describe the meat by itself or in a bap.

    AntC also wrote:

    Do they plan to ban "hamburgers" … that aren't produced in Hamburg?

    Not all European foodstuff designations of geographic origin are protected designations of geographic origin (or Irish Cheddar would be a thing of the past), and some of the protected ones don't include the actually designated place (Stilton cheese being a famous example).

  14. Peter Taylor said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 2:13 am

    Either I mucked up the markup for burger before "can describe the meat by itself or in a bap" or I somehow lost it while reordering the sentence.

  15. maidhc said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 3:44 am

    In my experience in the US, a hot dog is a specific kind of sausage, on its own called a frankfurter, served in a bun. Frankfurters can also appear without the bun, as in the popular dish "franks and beans".

    Other types of sausages can be served on a bun, called by names such as "Polish" (Costco used to give the choice of hot dog or Polish, now Polish is available only in Canada), "Italian sausage sandwich"

  16. David Marjanović said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 4:01 am

    What was the wording in languages other than English for 'prohibit the terms "burger", …'? I.e. do they all use "burger" for meat patty inside a bread bun?

    Yes – not so much for the patty alone as for the whole thing including the "bread" "bun", though.

    It's always given the most English pronunciation possible, so even in German there's no confusion with Hamburger "from Hamburg".



  17. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 7:30 am

    For the people wondering about peanut butter, the article I linked to says:

    Il rappelait que les produits purement végétaux ne peuvent pas être commercialisés avec des dénominations qui, telles les dénominations "lait ", "crème", "beurre", "fromage" ou " yoghourt", sont réservées par le droit de l’Union aux produits d’origine animale. A quelques exceptions près, comme le lait d'amande, le lait de coco ainsi que les beurres de cacao ou de cacahuète.

    'It recalled* that purely vegetable products cannot be sold commercially with names, including the names "milk", "cream", "butter", "cheese", and "yogurt", that are reserved by Union law for products of animal origin. There are a few exceptions, such as almond and coconut milk and cocoa and peanut butter."

    *I don't understand "rappelait" or what its subject is—apparently a decree or the principle of a decrere.

  18. Jerry Friedman said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 7:38 am

    (For "a few exceptions" read "some exceptions".)

  19. jin defang said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 7:54 am

    "peanut butter" in French is beurre de cacahuete and no one appears to have a problem with that (unlike the chocolate purists).

    Five Guys, a chain restaurant popular in the US which opened a Paris branch two years ago, calls its non-meat burgers " 'srhroomburgers" b/c that's what they're mostly made of. The store is doing a thriving business.

  20. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 10:36 am

    Maidhc: "the popular dish "franks and beans"."

    And don't forget "beans and weenies", in which the frankfurters are called wieners.

  21. Monscampus said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 11:05 am

    What a lucky escape we Hamburgers had, because the Wall was in Berlin! Anyway, hamburgers aren't really a staple diet here (imho) and they're mostly called Macs or even Mäcs, big or otherwise, even by rival companies This is because McDo failed to copyright the term. Döners are much more popular, anyway.

    What atrocity was brought to light? Surely you realised the article was written tongue in cheek? Contrary to popular belief in Britain it's a myth that a meddlesome Euro-bureaucracy is wasting taxpayers' money. They act on behalf of the industry. Isn't that obvious?

  22. Chandra said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 12:32 pm

    Ok, it isn't widely eaten in most of Europe then.

    I'm curious now if the Dutch put a layer of butter under their pindakaas (assuming that they eat it on toast, and are in the habit of putting butter on toast otherwise). I know many North Americans who won't, on the grounds that "it's already peanut butter", despite being aware that peanut butter contains no butter. So maybe there is some validity to this kind of naming restriction after all.

  23. Cheryl Thornett said,

    June 30, 2019 @ 2:48 pm

    My objection to putting peanut butter on top of butter is that it's putting one fat on another fat, even if one also contains protein. (Nor do I put cheese on top of butter, for the same reason.)

  24. Keith said,

    July 1, 2019 @ 2:03 am

    I read the article last week (I'm a subscriber to the Economist), and wondered if it would be discussed here.

    It is a good example of the Economist's kind of humour.

    Also, it's good to see that it sparked a bit of conversation on the use of the terms "cheese" and "butter" to refer to non-dairy products (cf. "pindakaas" / "peanut butter").

    Over here in France, the stuff is called "beurre de cacahuète" or "beurre d'arachide".

    I remember reading somewhere that in the region of Brittany the milk and cream from the very substantial dairy cattle sector was almost entirely either consumed locally as fresh or fermented milk or was converted to butter. None was converted to cheese in the region, and the local culinary tradition used the words "fromage" (French) and "formaj" (Breton) for pressed meat from the head of a pig, in just the same way as we use it in the name "head cheese". This was so ingrained, according to what I recall, that when dairy cheese was introduced to Brittany, it was described as "fromage de lait" and "formaj-laezh" (Breton).

  25. Vilinthril said,

    July 1, 2019 @ 5:10 am

    I get most of the digs in the final paragraphs (concrete vs. specific, culture vs. civilisation, bind together vs. draw together or something), but what's unidiomatic about “level playing field”? AFAI can tell, that's just vapid Business English, but not Bad Euro English?

  26. Reading: Linguistic purity in the EU | Morgan's Log said,

    July 1, 2019 @ 10:17 am

    […] Source […]

  27. RP said,

    July 1, 2019 @ 3:05 pm

    I could be wrong, but if the intention was to mock Bad Euro English then I completely missed it. I thought the joke was simply that literalism was been enforced in matters of food naming, and yet metaphor is allowed in so many other cases. I wouldn't have thought that "concrete", "culture", "bind together" were Euro-specific or even necessarily Bad.

  28. Gwen Katz said,

    July 2, 2019 @ 12:30 am

    I have a conspiracy theory that Whoppers have always contained no beef and Burger King is just now telling us.

  29. Keith said,

    July 2, 2019 @ 1:19 am

    I've found one reference to the cheese story I recounted above. I've not quoted the part about "la Bretagne gallo" (French speaking Brittany) apparently being an "importer" and consumer of dairy cheese.

    p.292 of "L'inventaire du patrimoine culinaire de la France, Bretagne : produits du terroir et recettes traditionnelles" ISBN 2-226-07488-0, published by Albin Michel/CNAC, Paris 1994

    Selon toute apparence, la Bretagne bretonnante n'a produit aucun fromage avant notre siècle. Elle n'en a même pas connu du tout, selon Pierre Flatrès, qui fait remarquer que le terme formaj ou fourmaj ne s'y est pendant longtemps appliqué qu'au paté de porc. Au point que lorsque les permiers fromages y furent importés — avec en tête la crème de gruyère — on forgea pour les désigner la curieuse expression fourmaj lez, c'est à dire "fromage de lait" !

  30. ardj said,

    July 2, 2019 @ 8:24 am

    @Cherryl Thornett: One can surely eat cheese alone, just with bread (generally Danish rye bread, rygbrød, or French baguette for choice) or with bread and butter – though that last is best for hard cheeses in my view. A matter of how one feels at the time, despite what some Frenchmen have to say on the matter.
    But I am puzzled by "not putting one fat on top of another": would you make a bacon sandwich without butter, or fry bacon without lard / olive oil / butter / &c (produces a quite different flavour and texture from grilling), or make pizza either without oil in the pastry or else without mozzarella on top ?

  31. Tadeusz said,

    July 2, 2019 @ 11:00 am

    Interesting, it seems that in Poland the name for peanut butter does have the equivalent of butter — masło (in full 'masło orzechowe', the name does not make it clear that the paste is from peanuts, and not, e.g., walnuts, but few people would understand it any other way). Peanut butter is quite popular in Poland.
    The official name of soya milk is apparently 'napój sojowy', the equivalent of milk is not used, but the phrase 'mleko sojowe' is used colloquially.
    And, I just learned it!, thank you, the official name for hamburger cannot be hamburger, which is used colloqually. You have to use 'burger' (yes, this is Polish) or something of the sort.

  32. RP said,

    July 2, 2019 @ 12:50 pm

    "The official name of soya milk is apparently 'napój sojowy', the equivalent of milk is not used"

    Well, presumably it couldn't be (officially), due to EU regulations.
    Same in the UK – it's widely (almost universally) known as "soya milk" in speech, but it's not called that on the packaging. (The supermarket websites I checked all call it "soya drink", although I can't see the word "drink" on the packaging – . Their search engines all work with "soya milk" as the input, though.)

  33. Wanda said,

    July 2, 2019 @ 1:54 pm

    Cheryl Thornett: Do you not cook grilled cheese with butter?

  34. Ellen K. said,

    July 3, 2019 @ 10:44 am


    I wouldn't put butter on a sandwich, unless I was frying it (grilled cheese), in which case the butter's on the outside. Nor do I encounter butter on sandwiches as something others do. I'm from the middle part of the U.S. Not because any reason other than I can't imagine why I would.

  35. Chandra said,

    July 3, 2019 @ 6:05 pm

    Because it's delicious :)

    I've heard the "no fat on fat" argument before and find it strange for the reasons others have alluded to above. Butter lends an entirely different flavour to the things it's applied to than any other kind of fat. But to each their own etc.

  36. ardj said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 6:15 am

    @Wanda, @ Ellen K: thanks for expanding my horizons.
    @Wanda: I am unclear about the actual process. If grilling cheese, it needs to be on something, else it runs through the gaps in the grid. One support would be a piece of bread / toast. But this need not necessarily be buttered, though personally I usually prefer it that way.

    @ Ellen K: I am confused about what you are doing here. If frying a sandwich (novel idea to me), one would use some fat, and that would indeed be on the outside. But for grilling ? Generally I put butter in a sandwich, rather than on it (unless I am eating an open sandwich, though even there the butter would scarcely be on one or other of the two outsides).

  37. bratschegirl said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 11:58 am

    I believe I read once, though I have no recollection of where or when, that in England what we in the US call "peanut butter" is referred to as "ground ground-nuts."

  38. bratschegirl said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 12:04 pm


    In my experience, a "grilled cheese sandwich" is cooked either in a skillet (at home, most likely) or on a griddle, a solid flat heated surface (this would be most likely in a commercial kitchen such as a restaurant, but some well-equipped home kitchens have stovetop grill pans), and not on a "grill" proper which has gaps between segments as you correctly observe. The outer surface of the bread is buttered, both sides, to keep it from sticking to the cooking surface and also because it's just more decadent that way. The sandwich is fried on both sides until the cheese within has melted. There are variations where tomatoes are added, or perhaps a slice of ham etc., but the ur-grilled cheese sandwich is just bread and cheese.

    I don't know why it became called a "grilled" cheese sandwich rather than a "fried" one or a "griddled" one, but I've never heard it referred to as anything else.

  39. RP said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 1:57 pm

    That's an amusing thought about an alternative name for peanut butter, but I've lived in England all my life (41 years) and have never heard of "ground ground-nuts", whereas "peanut butter" is very well known.
    I also couldn't find "ground ground-nuts" (with or without the hyphen) on Google Ngrams.
    An ordinary google search does turn up some instances but it's not clear that they're referring to peanut butter. Many are from recipe books, e.g. "Delights from Maharashtra" by Aroona Reejhsinghai (Mumbai, 1975) has a recipe that specifies "1 cup peeled and nicely ground ground-nuts".

  40. Mary Kuhner said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 5:28 pm

    I am quite allergic to dairy products, and one nasty minefield in my day to day life is "non-dairy creamer." Due to similar protective actions by the US Dairy Association (I'm told, anyway), something can't be called "creamer" unless it has a certain percentage of cream, and must be "non-dairy creamer" otherwise. But a large proportion of "non-dairy creamer" does contain milk!–often whey, milk solids, or powdered skim or whole milk.

    Imagine yourself asking if the bubble tea is safe for you to drink, and having the vendor reply "Yes, it's fine, we use non-dairy creamer." I got sick twice by taking vendors at their word before I realized the problem. But the bubble-tea vendor will probably get confused, if not offended, if you ask "Can I check the non-dairy creamer to see if it is non-dairy?" (One shop did say promptly "Ours is soy-based" and as a result that's the only place I drink milk tea anymore.)

    Short form: Nothing should be legally required to be called non-dairy unless it is, in fact, non-dairy!

  41. BZ said,

    July 8, 2019 @ 12:13 pm

    I'm pretty sure that "non-dairy" creamers are called that because they contain no lactose (even though they may contain other milk-derived ingredients), rather than for some legal reason. What I find odd is that there don't seem to be "dairy" creamers. They are called cream or half-and-half.

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