a cup of sugar

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mia0815

Senior Member
Taiwanese
You're always welcome to pop round to mine for a cup of sugar or a chat.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

What does a cup of sugar refer to?

Please help. Thank you.


Note: The discussions of the quantities involved has been split off. See: cooking measurements: American & British
Cagey, moderator
 
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  • e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    My reply was only a guess since in my experience a cup of sugar is the kind of annoying phrase using in recipes (because it makes more sense in grams).
    I would expect some sugar if you ask a neighbour for some (but see below).

    Here is an article about borrowing sugar: The History of Asking Your Neighbors for a Cup of Sugar

    It includes "knocking on a door and asking for that extra cup of sugar or dolling out surplus tomatoes from an abundant yard garden were part of the rhythms of life."

    The conclusion is that people don't borrow food as much as they used to.
     
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    Angela Thomas

    Senior Member
    English -- USA
    Here's some Googled info:
    The phrase is based on people borrowing sugar when they had run out from their neighbors - some people still do.
    It then changed into a euphemism (for being nosey). For instance if your neighbor heard raised voices and they thought you were fighting with your partners - they might pretend they needed sugar in order to come to your house - to poke their noses into your private affairs.
    It was not uncommon to borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbor.
    Some neighbors pretended to needed a cup of sugar just to give them an excuse to go over and be nosy.
    I can imagine knocking on her door to borrow a cup of sugar and leaving three hours later, after stimulating conversation punctuated with rueful laughter.
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Disregarding the weight/volume aspect of recipes, if you want to borrow some sugar, you'll need a container. You can't borrow 200 grams of sugar without a cup/bowl/glass/dish to carry it in.
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    < Response to deleted posts removed. Cagey, moderator >

    But "borrowing a cup of sugar" is a common practice in the UK, usually meaning "calling round for a chat".
     
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    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    To that point, you'd have to be doing some pretty serious baking to need a full cup of sugar.
    :confused: A cup of sugar is only about 250g. Add 250g of butter, 500g of flour, 125ml of milk, and 3-4 eggs, and some other stuff. That's enough for one marble cake.
    OK, maybe a very large one, or two more modest-sized ones. Hardly "serious".
    You can't borrow 200 grams of sugar without a cup/bowl/glass/dish to carry it in.
    There's an easy solution to that problem: You borrow the container from the neighbour too. It gives you an excuse to visit again to return it.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    This has nothing to do with weights or measures. A cup was used to transport the sugar that was borrowed.
    You're always welcome to pop round to mine for a cup of sugar or a chat. What does a cup of sugar refer to?
    It's an idiom. It's often just used as an excuse to drop by a neighbor's house for a chat or a snoop.
    This is true in BE also. Phaedra Patrick appears to be a BE speaker.

    Years back, sugar was often seen as essential but not always available, and people would run out of sugar. When this happened they would 'pop' (make a quick informal visit) to the neighbour to borrow some sugar.

    As Angela Thomas says, this then became a well-known practice, and was used to describe a fake reason for going to someone's house.

    In the example, the person speaking is encouraging the other person to visit them at any time.
     

    Sparky Malarky

    Moderator
    English - US
    Don't forget though that practices such as borrowing a cup of sugar date from when recipes were less standardized. In fact, many of the measurements we still use (in the US) such as teaspoon, tablespoon, and cup are specific standard measurements now, were originally just a small spoon, a big spoon, and a teacup.

    Someone coming to borrow "a cup" of sugar, might be arriving at the door with an actual teacup, just hoping for a little sugar to fill the sugar bowl.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    In 1956 when my parents moved from the Bronx to Long Island, there were no Tupperware and there were no zip lock bags.

    It was deemed too risky to carry the sugar from our apartment to the new house. The risk of a broken bottle and the mess that the sugar would make were not worth the value of the sugar.

    But having arrived at our new house and wanting a cup of coffee, my parents found that they needed some sugar. We went ringing our new neighbor's bells until someone was home and would "lend" us a cup of sugar.

    I think this "cup of sugar" has nothing at all to do with weights and measures and has everything to do with neighborliness.

    Of course, if we fast forward from 1956 to 2017, I've been living in my house for 20 years and I only know by name the people in the houses immediately around my home. The rest of the block of homes have people that have never requested a cup of sugar (though I have plenty to lend). We can blame Tupperware and zip-lock bags for this loss of community.

    Zip lock bags and generic "tupperware":

     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I don't know how this thread became about weights and measures. The original post used the word "cup", but not at all about a unit of measurement.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Original question: What does a cup of sugar refer to?

    My answer (in an American context): An amount of sugar equal to the volume in one standard measuring cup. Beyond that, it's figurative and open to interpretation.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Original question: What does a cup of sugar refer to?

    My answer (in an American context): An amount of sugar equal to the volume in one standard measuring cup. Beyond that, it's figurative and open to interpretation.
    Within the context of that sentence it means being neighborly--offering conversation or the "loan" of things of minor value. It has only a peripheral meaning of a cup of sugar which was only being offered up as an example.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Within the context of that sentence it means being neighborly--offering conversation or the "loan" of things of minor value. It has only a peripheral meaning of a cup of sugar which was only being offered up as an example.
    And there's the interpretation. :)
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    And there's the interpretation. :)
    He could easily have said "for conversation or to borrow a hammer", in which case we would certainly be discussing if the hammer was a 12 ounce or 16 ounce hammer.

    The point of the conversation was neighborliness, and not weights and measures.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Eyeball it. You know what a large carrot is. You know what a small carrot is. A medium carrot is in between.
    Ah but: One man's gherkin is another man's vegetable marrow, or vice versa, erm. —Confucius [attr.]

    If I wanted to borrow some sugar off my neighbour, I'd go round to borrow some sugar.
    If I wanted to hear the latest gossip, I'd go round for a cup of sugar.
     
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