Why French Fries Are Called Chips and Potato Chips Are Called Crisps in the United Kingdom

British vlogger Patrick Foote of Name Explain looked into why what the British call chips, the United States call fries (French fries), and what the US calls chips, the British call crisps.

What is undoubtedly the most popular way we serve potatoes, however, is by making them into chips. And by chips, I mean the kind of cooked things you have burger or fish, not the thinner kind that comes in a packet. I would call those crisps. Yet in the USA and other parts of the world. what I a British person, would call crisps would instead be called chips and what I call chips would instead be called fries or even french fries. 

He notes that this all started in Belgium with frites, meaning fried, which is how the term French fries reportedly came to the United States. Even though Belgians, and subsequently the British, referred to them as chips.

Apparently, during the First World War, American soldiers stationed in Belgium came across these potatoes cooked in a way that they had never seen before. They liked them so much that they brought them back to the USA with them and adapted the name of frites into fries. They specifically called them French fries because the part of Belgium they came from spoke French. 

The US version of a chip was created when a customer complained that his fries were too thick. The chef then sliced the potato very thin. This became known as the Saratoga chip, the precursor to potato chips.

The popular story of their origin comes from the USA specifically Saratoga Lake in New York State. It is that Chef George Speck who was known professionally as George Crum… received a complaint that his fries were too thick so he sliced them super super thin and dubbed them Saratoga chips. He used the term chips once again because they were little chippings of a potato.

Back in Britain, however these became known as crisps because the term chip had already been applied to the thicker version.

These chips were so popular that they made their way to the UK eventually too yet there was a bit of an issue they couldn’t really be called chips because by this point chips were already being used as the name for a different kind of potato. The fish and chips kind of chips. A new name had to be devised eventually the name crisps was landed on.

Chips Fries or Crisps
Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.