Word Games…

Husk-CornbreadIt started with a simple tweet request from a tweeter.

She asked “Grammar nuts, I need your help: Corn bread is one word or two? I see it both ways but I’m not sure which is right.Thanks!”

I took the challenge and did a little research from my fairly extensive resource library (over my shoulder in my home office). I first consulted my go-to guide, Webster’s New World Dictionary of Culinary Arts (full disclosure: I’m very good friends with one of the co-authors.) Corn bread is two words, according to this resource guide.

Next, I looked at the Recipe Writer’s Handbook (Revised and Expanded) by Ostmann and Baker. There, on page 169, in the chapter of preferred spellings of commonly used food words, is corn bread. Two words. The introduction to the chapter does say that many of these words have more than one spelling and once you decide on the spelling you want to use, stick with it. Consistency trumps absolutes.

Then I checked the Association of Food Journalists Foodspell: A Guide to Style & Spelling for Food Terms, Both Common & Exotic. It, too, listed corn bread as two words. I was beginning to feel pretty confident that corn bread is two words, not one.

That same afternoon, my newest food reference book arrived (I collect them like some people collect ceramic frogs). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, edited by Andy Smith, weighs in at nearly five pounds, so it’s sort of a combination reference book/barbell. Lo and behold, I encounter my first cornbread reference. Huh.

And then I searched my own blog, and found that I’ve mentioned cornbread  — twice. One word, yet here I was making a case for corn bread. Go figure.

In the meantime, I see that SmittenKitchen has posted about cornbread — one word. Deb’s reference source was the late, great, Sharon Tyler Herbst’s Food Lover’s Companion. And even my standard desk top dictionary, the New College Edition The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, on page 297, says “corn bread” followed by “Also cornbread.”

So there you have it. Corn bread is definitively spelled corn bread. Or, cornbread.

11 replies
  1. Olin Ashley
    Olin Ashley says:

    Gwen,

    I read your blog about cornbread (or corn bread) with interest and was disheartened until you finally got around to a half-hearted endorsement of the one word endorsement.

    I just don’t understand how any red-blooded, self-respecting American girl could see it as anything but a single word is beyond me.

    Dad

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Dad! I should have checked with you first (my favorite editor, even though you retired in the 80’s, you still rock!). But I knew that you’d have that southern slant… cornbread is one word in the South, and two words pretty much everywhere else. What can I say? I love you.

      Reply
      • Tracee
        Tracee says:

        I was researching this very conundrum for my own blog when I stumbled across your article. I was born and raised in Alabama, but am now happy to be a Kentucky girl and, in my opinion, everything I have read here brings me to one solid conclusion: your father is a very wise man! :)

        I also agree with you and Gary below – Southern cornbread does not contain sugar. Yankee corn bread does. We, the experts, have spoken. May it be hailed as Truth henceforth and always. :)

        Blessings on you all!

        Reply
  2. Gary
    Gary says:

    OK… so it’s two words, except when it’s one. That just suggests another problem: does “corn bread” contain sugar (what some of us call “yankee corn bread”), while “cornbread” does not?

    Reply
    • chefgwen
      chefgwen says:

      Ah! Such a great question! Although it appears that you’ve answered it. Can we all agree that Yankee corn bread contains sugar (and in my opinion, should be called corn cake but that’s another post). Southern cornbread does not?

      Reply
      • Gary
        Gary says:

        “Corn cake” …I like that distinction. Now I’m going off in a slightly different direction (while staying on the cornmeal theme:

        Why are grits always made from white corn (except when they’re “polenta”), while cornbread — yankee or otherwise — is always made from yellow corn?

        Reply
  3. chefgwen
    chefgwen says:

    Gary, I’m going to need a little snack and more coffee before I ponder that one, especially because I’ve made what I thought was grits from yellow corn, and now I feel deceived. I’ve been serving shrimp and polenta all these years instead of shrimp and grits.

    Reply
    • Gary
      Gary says:

      Perhaps only breakfast grits are white — so the corn’s yellowness doesn’t clash with that of the egg yolks?

      These are deep waters…

      Reply

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] You don’t have to cook them Southern-style (to death, with ham or bacon fat and onions), but cooked this way they do go hand-in-hand with hot cornbread (or is it corn bread?) […]

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