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Languages at War
Find out how loan words are
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Language Interference
Three words to watch out for:
actual, eventual and important

Focus on Language

Academic Writing:
Writing an Essay — Finding and referencing sources

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New word of the month
Food for thought
Read about new words
based on food

Top Tips for the CD-ROMs
Using SmartSearch for correcting learner errors


New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

breadcrumbing noun [U]
a navigation technique which displays a list of places a person has visited

breadcrumb noun [C], verb [T]

'This technique, commonly referred to as "breadcrumbing" by designers and usability gurus, uses a series of links (crumbs) to show you a clear path back to the home page … Breadcrumbs are a nice addition that gives users another way to jump around your site without getting lost.'
(, April 2003)

A new sense of breadcrumb which is not remotely connected to Maryland chicken or Wiener Schnitzel, has been popularised by Web designers. The idea is that breadcrumbs, summary representations of the path of pages a person has visited on a website, (often displayed as a header or footer), e.g.:

home >> gift store >> books >> shopping cart

will aid a user in navigating a site and help prevent any potential confusion or frustration associated with exploring various pages and losing track of what you first intended to do.

Though popularised on the Web, this term originated in discussions of satellite navigation mechanisms, and has also begun to emerge as a term for navigational devices in conventional publishing of reference books and catalogues. The word is based on the age-old fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, who left a trail of breadcrumbs to help them find their way out of the forest.

As I examine the many new senses of existing word forms perpetuated on the Web, it strikes me that a good many are based on words which are references to food in one way or another. Food words seem to be a good option for popularisation of new senses as they are easily remembered and are unlikely to have many pre-existing alternative senses.

Of course the choice of a food word to describe a non-food concept is not always arbitrary. Spam (an acronym that stands for spiced pork and ham) was originally a kind of compressed cold meat sold in tins. Reasons underlying the choice of this term to refer to a proliferation of unwanted e-mail messages, include its enforced consumption during the Second World War, and its overuse in a sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus:

Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg, sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg, bacon and spam; egg, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, bacon, sausage and spam; spam, egg, spam, spam, bacon and spam; spam, sausage, spam, spam, bacon, spam, tomato and spam …
Vikings (start singing in the background): Spam, spam, spam, spam, …
Waitress: … spam, spam, spam, egg and spam; spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, baked beans, spam, spam, spam …
Vikings (singing): Spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!

(For a complete script of this sketch, see

The non-food sense of the term spam has been so successfully promoted that its food sense is now subsidiary. It has undergone derivational manipulation (e.g.: spamming noun [U], as the process, spammer noun [C] as the perpetrator) and other processes of word formation, (e.g. the blend spamdexing noun [U] is the activity of repeating a keyword many times on a web page in order that search engines will list this site as one of the best representations of a particular topic).

The last six months has seen the introduction of another food word to describe a related concept. Ham [U] is not now just cold meat but a coining for description of legitimate e-mail messages. The analogy is of ham as 'real' meat as opposed to 'fake' (spam). Likewise it can be used to refer to legitimate e-mail messages which are often blocked because they contain keywords associated with spam.

And so the meat analogy goes on. For instance the term meatloaf noun [U] has also been used in the online world to refer to unsolicited, but non-commercial, e-mail messages, functioning rather like a co-hyponym of spam.

It seems then that the introduction of a food term to describe some hitherto uncharacterised concept is not always connected with the intrinsic quality or taste of the food itself, but some other feature. For instance the online sense of the term easter egg noun [C] has nothing to do with shape, wrapping or chocolate, but the idea of the 'hidden element'. An easter egg is a special feature in a program or website that is not immediately obvious (rather like the treat inside the egg) but appears when clicked on, offering a special thing like a surprise image or animation.

In other cases a correlation with the essential characteristics of the food is more obvious. For instance the alternative sense of the term vanilla as an adjective meaning 'of the basic ordinary type' relates to vanilla as a kind of default, standard flavour in ice cream and other kinds of dessert. Again though this has nothing to do with taste, it's perfectly possible to talk about a vanilla wonton soup and not mean that it tastes of vanilla, but that it contrasts with something like hot and spicy wonton soup.

We'll look at more of these words from the food cupboard in coming months. One or two new foodie compounds to end with:

baked potato noun [C] a person who watches TV all day whilst under the influence of drugs (compare: couch potato, mouse potato)

muffin-choker noun [C] mainly American English an unbelievable news story (based on the idea of the reaction someone might have when reading the story in a morning newspaper)

pickle-stabber noun [C] a boot with a very high, thin heel (based possibly on the German word Pickelhaube, which was used to refer to the spiked helmets worn by the German Imperial Army in the 19th century)

For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.