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Friday, June 3, 2011


I've been on a bit of a scone-athon lately, baking and eating alike.

For me, "scone-athon" rhymes, but perhaps for you it would need to be a "scone-athone".

Both pronunciations, one rhyming with "con" and the other with "cone" coexist on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US "cone" is more common.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary lists "con" first, which suggests that our pronunciation survey revealed that that pronunciation was more common in Canada. It could have been a 55%-45% split, I don't actually remember, and my general feeling is that "cone" may in fact be more common in Canada, so please let me know which one you use.

The Oxford Dictionary of English has this intriguing comment about British English usage:
In British English the two pronunciations traditionally have different regional and class associations, with the first pronunciation (CON)  associated with the north of England and the northern working class, while the second (CONE) is associated with the south and the middle class. 

Here's a map based on a survey the Daily Telegraph did in 2016:

 The Oxford Dictionary of English continues:

In modern British English, however, it has become fashionable among certain middle-class people to adopt the first pronunciation.

I find this interesting because I first encountered scones as a child in southern England in a middle class -- and resolutely unfashionable -- family (a Canadian one, though). I have always rhymed scone with con.

The word was originally Scottish, and definitely pronounced "scon", judging from the spellings from the 15th to 18th century. If the "con" pronunciation is indeed more common in Canada, we probably owe it to the heavy Scottish influence on Canadian English. The word is perhaps a shortened adoption of Middle Dutch schoonbrot, Middle Low German schonbrot ‘fine bread’.

In Australia and New Zealand, they apparently love their scones (rhyming only with cons) so much (and indeed I had a mighty fine tea at the Queen Victoria Tea Rooms in Sydney) that they use "scone" as a slang synonym for "head" and have developed some delightful idiomatic expressions:

do one's scone (Aust. & NZ colloq.) become angry.

scone-hot  (NZ colloq.) excellent

go a person scone-hot (Aust. colloq. dated) attack a person with vigour, especially verbally; become angry with him or her (she went him scone-hot for not paying the light bill in time).

off one's scone (Aust. colloq.) crazy; insane.

"scone n." The Australian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd edition. Ed. Bruce Moore. Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

 If all this is making you salivate, here's the Word Lady's famous scone recipe, much lauded by her friends (because in addition to being a word lover and ballet lover, Word Lady is quite the baker). You can literally "do your scone" (but not in the Antipodean sense). Yum! Enjoy your tea!

Mix together:
2 c. white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. sugar
grated rind of one orange

Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in
3/4 c. butter
until the butter is in small pieces.

3/4 c. raisins
1 c. buttermilk or plain yogourt
Combine with a wooden spoon until all wet ingredients are just incorporated into dry. Turn out onto a lightly floured board. Knead lightly a few times then pat to 3/4" thick. Cut out 2-inch rounds (I use a wine glass), place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15-17 minutes or until lightly browned.

If you like a good scone, why not check out my "Tea and Wordlady" talk. Click here for more info. 


  1. In my family, we actually use both. We enjoy playing with the fact that people have, over the ages, disputed over which is the 'correct' pronunciation. Generally, we say 'scone' rather than 'scon', but my mother has taken to the humourous mispronunciation of 'scoon' owing to hearing someone with a Scottish accent pronounce it that way.

  2. Can't wait to try your recipe - thank you!

    I typically use the "scon" pronunciation. However, one morning at a Second Cup, I ordered a coffee and scone to go, opting for the "cone" pronunciation for some reason. I am not sure why. To use the Australian phrase, the woman in line behind me "went me scone-hot" and scolded "It's pronounced "scon"! So it seems that some people have strong feelings about this issue!

  3. My family's always said "scon" but I've very occasionally found myself rhyming it with cone when talking to people I'm not related to by blood. Maybe because it seems more likely to be understood? I'm amused by Julia's Second Cup encounter.

    My dad was born near Manchester (his English dad met his Albertan mum in Canada during the war and brought her back home, temporarily as it turns out) and my mum's mum's parents were both born in Scotland, so we had the "scon" pronunciation reinforced on both sides. Sadly I can't remember eating any scones when I lived in England for a year in my late 20s so don't know what I would have said there.

  4. I've always pronounced it "scon," but I grew up in the UK, where I never once heard the word pronounced any other way. But since moving here I learned to pronounce it "scone" when ordering one in a coffee shop after repeatedly encountering completely blank faces on asking for a "scon." When I'm baking them at home, though, they are "scons."

  5. I'd never heard the "cone" pronunciation in Vancouver until about ten years ago, and I've noticed that the only people who say it that way are under 30. It started in Starbuck's, as far as I can tell.

  6. My mother born and raised in Southern Ireland (Dublin) always insisted that scones were pronounced "cone" in Ireland and "con" was the British pronunciation. We lived in northern Britain (Yorkshire) for some years so I assume this is where she heard the "con" pronunciation. In Vancouver where I grew up, I always heard people use the "con" version and "cone" didn't seem to be used or recognized.

  7. Found a different source for Australian slang for head. Scone doesn't seem right. This source suggests the root is actually "sconce" which relates to a light or lantern. http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-sco3.htm. In other words, the lights are out for the aforesaid Australian...

    1. Actually that article doesn't mention any connection with the Australian usage of "scone" to mean head. There is a big gap in time between the last use of "sconce" to mean head and the first Australian use of "scone" to mean head, so I am trusting the Australian National Dictionary on this one. It is analogous to "use your loaf" where another breadstuff is used to evoke the head.


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.