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Ketchup and tomato sauce: Australians fret over lexical shift

Is there a difference between ‘tomato sauce’ and ‘ketchup’?

When I first arrived in Australia 70 years ago, all you could get was tomato sauce. Ketchup wasn’t available. Never mind, I thought, it’s the same stuff, that’s just what they call it here.

Then I noticed that my local supermarket began to carry both ketchup and tomato sauce. Obeying some primal American instinct, I always buy ketchup. But I feel rather silly, since there’s no difference. Or is there? Tomato sauce: thinner, less spicy? Ketchup: more vinegar?

For some people, it matters.

The term “tomato sauce” could be lost to future Aussies with Heinz, for the first time, advertising ketchup on TV.

In a move Dick Smith labelled “disrespectful” to the Australian culture, Heinz has unveiled a new national ad for Tomato Ketchup, which they say is thicker and has spices and more tomatoes than tomato sauce. “They don’t give a stuff about Australian culture or our way of life,” Mr Smith said.

Who knew the Australian way of life was less spicy, with fewer tomatoes?

Channel 9 star Scott Camm said the term tomato sauce would be lost to future generations.

“What, are we gonna start walking down the sidewalk?” he said.

“They’re infiltrating us – it’s not our way of life.”

It isn’t really about sauce. It’s about language attitudes. Australians like the way they talk, and they don’t like the thought of losing expressions like ‘footpath’, ‘giving a stuff’, or saying ‘zed’ for ‘zee’. Mind you, this is a pretty strange place to draw the line. Other far more iconic expressions have dwindled with nary a peep. (When was the last time you called someone a ‘cobber‘, honestly?) But maybe this item is extra sensitive because it’s being framed as a foreign corporation dictating language change by fiat.

So even if there’s no difference in the actual sauce, there’s a difference in the words. ‘Tomato sauce’ is fair dinkum Aussie, while ‘ketchup’ is an American intrusion to be resisted. Will this become a selling point? We’ll just have to see which way the chips fall.

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UPDATE: The ad.

23 Comments

  1. I feel their pain. I think there are times when "new terminology" indicates some sort of inferiority complex. It's like we have to adopt the American way because they're better or something.

    In motor sport we used to have "the straight", now, for no clear reason, it's "the straightaway".

    In other sports we used to have "nil", now it's "zip". American, it seems, is "more cool" or something.

    In the last year or so I've noticed the media dropping "and" from numbers over 100. So instead of "a hundred and forty" we get "a hundred forty" and especially "two thousand ten". Blech!

    Maybe it shouldn't, but it drives me nuts. Do Americans suffer similar issues – or do we actually have an inferiority complex that is illustrated not by adopting new terms but by reviling them?

  2. Australians say "zee"?

  3. Oops, thanks, Craig. Fixed now.

  4. I've been told ketchup has more vinegar… could just be noise though, e.g. in some brand that decided to use the term 'ketchup' coincidentally uses more vinegar in their recipe, which created an association.

  5. i don't like tomato sauce, but my kids do. i'm sure all recipes have different ratios of vinegar, so i don't think that argument flies. it's just companies trying to force the americanisms on us by phasing out our names. aussies should protest by refusing to buy prducts labelled 'ketchup'. what does that even mean? at least you pretty much know what tomato sauce is/tastes like. While we're on the topic, what's the difference between ketchup and catsup? When americans start adopting our terminology, maybe we'll feel less inferior about it when asked to take on one of theirs.

  6. i don't like tomato sauce, but my kids do. i'm sure all recipes have different ratios of vinegar, so i don't think that argument flies. it's just companies trying to force the americanisms on us by phasing out our names. aussies should protest by refusing to buy prducts labelled 'ketchup'. what does that even mean? at least you pretty much know what tomato sauce is/tastes like. While we're on the topic, what's the difference between ketchup and catsup? When americans start adopting our terminology, maybe we'll feel less inferior about it when asked to take on one of theirs.

  7. I never understood "zed". The Alphabet Song doesn't rhyme if you say "zed"!

  8. Oops, I've been buying the Ketchup! I grew up with no sauce. I tried it for the first time when I was about 20. I only eat it on hot dogs and burgers, NOT w/pies or pasties. I also have a sauce phobia which I would like to share now. If we have had sauce with our dinner then everyone has to rinse their own plate before I will do the washing. I just can't bear to touch or smell the stuff. Weird that I can handle eating it in a hot dog then. It has to be mostly under the sausage though, if I see too much of the sauce then I gag!

    Ok, sorry, thread jack there. I thought Ketchup and tomato sauce were different beasts. I always look for the Ketchup over the tomato sauce. I like using American words as well as keeping Aussie ones. I like to have a broad range of words to draw on and I'd like to think that I'd be accepted for whatever word I chose to whip out of my vocab.

    (p.s. Ketchup also has that great joke from Pulp Fiction to pump it up, remember it?… Mama tomato walking down the street with her baby tomatoes, one of the baby tomatoes lags behind and the mama comes over and bam, squishes it… "Ketchup" she says. hahahahha).

  9. Try asking for it in tokyo…

    Fabulous comedy of cultures..

  10. Since when do americans say zed for zee?

    zee is the name of the alphabet char.

    zed is what you say over a military comms channel like:

    my airplanes serial number is zed one six niner.

    Sorry if I misunderstood.

  11. You're only realising that now?! 😛

    (p.s. that comment I deleted was so witty that I had to remove it before you all passed out with the amazingness of my wittiness)

  12. I saw it just before she deleted it, and almost had to go to hospital.

    ps Jeff — zed is zebra.

  13. this is not the first time Americanisms have been forced on Australians. I am a Queenslander and I grew up eating peanut paste and jam sandwiches {mostly plum jam} now it is impossible to find a product labelled as peanut paste any more it has all become the Americanised peanut butter and most of what were called jams in Australia are now being labelled as jellies.
    No Craig Australians like the Canadians use zed as the pronunciation of the letter Z
    as in Zed Pee eM for a Zero Point Module and the African equids are known as Zebras not Zeebras.

    • I am 70 y.o. and Aussie. I have never heard of peanut paste. It has always been peanut butter for as long as I know.

      • I am 70 y.o. and Aussie. I have never heard of peanut butter It has always been peanut paste for as long as I know. Where do we go from here?

  14. We get both tomato sause as well as ketchup here in India and that prompted me to try and find out what the big difference could be. I'm glad I ended up here for this was quite informative. Good job guys..

  15. Not only in Australia, Canada, Great-Britain and New-Zealand and in all the further Common-Wealth, and Asia (except if the region is very Americanised like Singapore), but also here in Europe we use ZED (and not zee) for the letter Z. Funny discussion, though I would recommend the Australian people to keep their own vocabulary despite globalisation tendencies – it makes it all the more interesting! =) Good luck and enjoy your food with or without (tomato) sauce.

  16. In America (in my experience) we have tomato sauce (which is a thin tomato sauce that we put on pizza, use for spaghetti/lasagna, put in soups, etc.), tomato paste which is really thick, (I honestly don't know what it is used for. I don't like it.) and ketchup/catsup which is what we put on hamburgers/hotdogs and use in some BBQ sauces and stuff. It's flavored very differently and is a lot thicker/smoother more refined and sweeter. You can't use ketchup for the same things you use tomato sauce for.

  17. In the US using British or Australian terms is a "hip" thing to do for some things – especially since more British musicians and tv shows are becoming more popular. British slang is far more common than Australian, though.

    • Good point — some Americans are using it because they think it's cool and they want to seem able to shift styles. I've heard some Americans saying 'zed'.

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