The Grammarphobia Blog

Truly Scrumptious

Q: A Ukrainian woman who is trying to improve her English asked me if there was any difference between “scrumptious” and “delicious.” Her Canadian brother-in-law had told her that “scrumptious” was used only with certain types of food and was not something one would use every day. I could not offer any concrete elaboration on the word. I’m wondering if you know something about it.

A: I was amused to get your email because “scrumptious” was a word my late mother always used and it reminded me of her. During much of my childhood I thought she had made it up, and was surprised to find in adolescence that it was a real word.

Now on to your question. Is there a difference between “scrumptious” and “delicious”? H-m-m-m. Not much, I’d say, but something that’s scrumptious may have more oomph and be even yummier than something that’s merely delicious.

“Scrumptious,” according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), is a word dating from 1830 that today means primarily delicious, but also delightful or excellent. It’s thought to be an alteration of “sumptuous,” M-W says.

The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology says that back when “scrumptious” was introduced, the word meant stylish or splendid or first-rate. The sense of delicious was first recorded in 1881.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists these same meanings, but it has another one too: fastidious or hard to please. This meaning has only one citation (from 1845) and apparently has fallen out of use, since I don’t find it anywhere else.

“Scrumptious” these days is used mainly to describe food, and it can be applied to anything delightfully tasty; it’s not restricted to certain kinds of food. However, I can’t imagine anyone using it to describe liver and onions. (That’s just my own prejudice, though. Mom’s idea of scrumptious and mine were not always the same.)

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