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beigel or bagel?

April 28, 2013

Those shiny Jewish bread rolls with a hole in the middle – what do you call them? When I was young, the word was beigel (rhymes with idle, more or less). All of the Jews I knew – and growing up in East London in the 60s and 70s, I knew many – pronounced it this way. I don’t suppose I even heard the alternative form bagel until I was grown up, and when I did first hear it I thought it was just wrong. I think I’m correct in saying that beigel is/was the form most used by European Jews, or British ones at any rate, while bagel is the American form. (Of course both forms must have had the same European origin, but for whatever reason a divergence occurred.) As so often happens, the American form has superseded the British form, and nearly everybody says bagel now. If I say beigel, people don’t understand me; on more than one occasion, they’ve thought I said bible. On the other hand, if I say bagel, then my wife, who’s  (London) Jewish, corrects me. So I have adopted the strategy of saying bagel when I am out and about, and beigel at home (our children use this strategy too). But I quite often get mixed up. It’s annoying, really. I’d rather stick to the word I know. But I suppose you have to update your speech to keep pace with changing fashions,  just as you have to update your clothes. 

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  1. My mum always calls them beigels, and until I read this I’d never heard of anyone else who said it that way. I thought it was just a funny quirk of hers!

  2. Hi Brandon, In the 1960s I was working in the clothing trade in London (UK) and heard beigels referred to every day. Now in supermarkets and cafes in London it’s “Bagel”. I suppose it is an Amercanism, but how or why I don’t know. I do agree with you that sometimes you have to say things the wrong way to be understood. Cheers, Jim

  3. Rosie Victory permalink

    Realise this post is a few years ago but just been having this discussion with a friend and had to comment. They are and always will be Beigels. I’m a Londoner and Jewish; Beigels are what we and all Jews of European descent call them. Bagel is an Americisation (is that spelt right lol?). Anyway, keep calling them Beigels, do what’s right and don’t become a sheep. Beigels rule…. especially when smeared with cream cheese 😊😊

  4. Timothy Keates permalink

    The problem arose from Americans’ inability to pronounce foreign words. Seeing ‘beige’, they assumed the ‘ei’ must be pronounced like the name of the letter ‘A’. Keep on saying the word correctly. Let beigles be beigels.

  5. Pete Jones permalink

    Thank you, when I rode over to the bakery in Vallance road on a Saturday evening back in the Fifties, I would buy beigels straight from the oven NOT bagels

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