Just Your Type

Type, design, writing and other funny stuff

Is it ketchup or catsup?

Words matter. You want to get it right. So when it comes to ketchup versus catsup, which should you be using?

Ketchup.

See? See? I can get to the point. But I’m still going to ramble on about all the fun background bits. Like this, from our Department of Repetitive Redundancy: is “tomato” a needless modifier in tomato ketchup?

Actually, it isn’t. Tomato flavored ketchup is so much more popular in the United States that we forget about the original flavor: fish.

Funny that fish ketchup didn’t catch on here. It was the original flavor of ketchup for hundreds of years in China. Called ke-tsiap (as best we can spell it), it was a salty fermented condiment usually just called “sauce.” Like so many things, traders brought it to Europe and manufacturers began tinkering with the ingredients. There are a few other flavors available today, which nobody eats. But catsup is a little closer to the original pronunciation.

Tomato catsup became a popular staple in England, appearing in ads in the 1800s, using both spellings. Heinz began marketing it in the U.S. as Tomato Ketchup, then Catsup, then back to Ketchup again. Del Monte came out with a similar product, but labeled it Catsup so as not to be too much of a copycat. Consumers were left to figure out which was correct, and to discover the two were pretty much the same thing.

Sometime around 1988, Del Monte, seeing that most people were using the spelling ketchup, switched their labeling to match. Some companies go so far as to drop the word tomato from the label, since no one seems interested in any other flavor. I suppose you could count Heinz “Mayochup Saucy Sauce,” a mix of mayonnaise and ketchup—and apparently, sauce that is saucy. (Seriously, how much do their marketing folks get paid?) But in the end we’re all leaning hard toward ketchup, so if you want to run with the popular kids, that’s your spelling.

Previously on Just Your Type:

Kerning is king

Okay, the photo they chose for their ad doesn’t help the confusion, but is their bar name one word or two? I'm guessing it’s located close to either a hospital or a frat house. If the latter, it's spelled "rapey." And c'mon, guys: it's li’l, not lil’. The apostrophe...

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Cast of characters

#HashtagsAreAllTheRage. Oddly, that # character isn't called a hash—not in America, anyway. We call it the pound sign, or (with pinky raised) the octothorpe. (The geniuses at Bell Laboratories gave that fancy name when they added it to the telephone keypad, because...

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Prime time

When I first saw print ads featuring a prime when they meant to use an apostrophe, I considered it the sign of another amateur who got his first computer. When a similar gaffe appeared in a Time Magazine ad—the ad must have cost $30,000—I could imagine how my parents...

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Dot… dot… dot…

So I was thinking… how fast can I introduce improper use of the ellipsis?Not bad, eh? Just three words in.Strictly speaking, the ellipse is used to when something is missing or unfinished. Like when I quote “Four score and seven years ago…” and don’t finish the rest...

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Do you have to dash?

So you have a train of thought—you get siderailed—then you get back on track. That's a good time to use a dash. To make it you just type two hyphens--Ooohhhh, no you don't.A hyphen is a hyphen. Find it between the 0 and the = on your keyboard. It's used to...

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Who's this guy?

"Mick" is Michael Campbell, a book designer, graphic artist and writer. His humor column, The Dumpster, closes every issue of Food & Spirits Magazine. Author of Are You Going To Eat That?, and the new 2017 book of seventy hilarious all new essays, Of Mice and Me.
A singer songwriter too. New CD My Turn Now is available now!