Pudding: a straightforward, inoffensive sort of word, right? So why on earth, I hear you ask, is it the word of the week? Well, dear reader, I’ve chosen to feature ‘pudding’ because as words go, it’s a veritable wolf in sheep’s clothing. For when used in sense number 1 mentioned below, the word ‘pudding’ is that most loaded of things in British society: a class indicator.
Social climbers take note. As anthropologist Kate Fox explains in her entertaining book Watching the English, referring to your dessert (or afters, or sweet) as ‘pudding’ generally marks you out as a member of the upper middle or upper classes.
Personally—as befits such a lowly specimen as your humble correspondent–I think this use of ‘pudding’ sounds infantile and (worst of all) imprecise, especially when dessert is something other than a pudding in sense 2 above. When I hear dinner (or should that be supper) companions refer to ‘pudding’ I’m put in mind of vast slabs of suety, golden syrupy goodness, after which the inevitably titchy portions of sorbet which do materialise just don’t hit the spot.
The use of the term ‘pudding’ also gives rise to bizarre constructions such as, “…a slice of pie for pudding” (this from recent lifestyle book The Fast Diet by Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer). Readers in the USA and other countries where English is used more rationally must have been deeply confused by this sentence. Especially since pudding in the US appears to be a custard-like confection bearing no resemblance at all to our own steamed, doughy cannon balls (perhaps it’s the dish described in sense 3 above).
Confused yet? Let me try and wrap up the matter neatly. I always refer to pudding as dessert, or if I want to be provocative, I choose the decidedly working-class term ‘afters’. Both are short, precise enough and don’t make the user sound as though they’re in a high chair waiting for nanny to spoon junket off their bib.
Of course, many of you won’t agree with my feelings about ‘pudding’. But whenever you decide to use the word from now on, you have at least been fully briefed.