Back to the shrimp/prawn debate

Lynne Murphy m.l.murphy at SUSSEX.AC.UK
Fri May 15 20:11:04 UTC 2009

This has been part of a recent discussion in the comments on my blog.  See:



--On Thursday, May 14, 2009 15:21 -0400 Victor <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:

> A few months ago, ADS-L covered a variety of interpretations of the
> shrimp/prawn distinction. Aside from the various attempts to distinguish
> by size and/or species, if I recall correctly, there was also a
> discussion of the US/UK dichotomy in terminology. Picking up a recent
> BBC story I find one theory confirmed--the reference to a "prawn
> cocktail", which would be virtually unthinkable in an American food
> establishment. Yet, the distinction is immediately questioned as both
> "prawn" and "shrimp" appear in the same sentence!
>  >Stocks of northern shrimp, the essential ingredient in the ubiquitous
> prawn cocktail, could be badly affected if ocean temperatures rise.
>  >Researchers report, in the journal Science, that shrimp eggs hatch
> within days of each spring phytoplankton bloom - the main food source
> for the larvae. ...
> Interestingly enough, there might be no mystery here--the reference to
> "prawn cocktail" appears to be regional, but the use of "shrimp" might
> be a part of bio-jargon, in particular, referring to the species of
> northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis). There is, of course, another
> possibility--the Science article was penned by Americans (or, at least,
> directly influenced by the US members of the "international" research
> team), while the BBC piece was written and edited by BBC's own. So the
> BBC writers who read the article kept the original Science language,
> while the top graf was added by an editor who didn't much care for the
> original language and likely just assumed the term to be jargon (and
> never read the source).
> Still, I wanted to share this bit as a follow-up in earlier discussion.
>     VS-)

Dr M Lynne Murphy
Senior Lecturer in Linguistics
Arts B357
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QN

phone: +44-(0)1273-678844

The American Dialect Society -

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