Laurie Barber | Short soup? It's a long story

TRUE BLUE: Believe it or not the origins of the names short soup and long soup aren't Chinese at all - they're Australian.
TRUE BLUE: Believe it or not the origins of the names short soup and long soup aren't Chinese at all - they're Australian.

I don’t mind eating out occasionally. My wife and I have eaten out at just about every restaurant in our home town.

My only complaint is that they occasionally, no, make that often, use words that are obviously from another country, just to confuse us.

I often have to ask my wife “what does this mean?” and she gives me a kick under the table.

We went to a Chinese recently and they had short soup and long soup on the menu. Now I ask you – short soup and long soup. What are you to make of that?

Soon after, by coincidence, I read an article by Julia Robinson, researcher at the Australian National Dictionary Centre. She has an impressive reputation, so I will take her word as gospel. I don’t mind admitting that I am a terrible cook.

I learnt that short soup and long soup are not words that come from China at all. They are Australian.

Short soup sometimes gets the name Chinese wanton soup and long soup sometimes has the name Chinese noodle soup.

Short soup contains wantons, which Julia describes in Oz Words as “a type of small dumpling by wrapping mall, flattened pieces of noodle dough around a savoury filling”.

Julia says the first evidence for both terms occurred in the 1880s. But I was interested in her comment that both terms are Australian.

The Sydney Morning Herald explained the difference between the two soups on January 25, 2007, apparently in case you wanted to order some on Australia Day. Apparently, short soup refers to the short wanton and long soup refers to the long noodles. 

My big dictionary takes up 14 pages to cover short. It had everything else in small type, from short sauce to shortcoming and a few rude words that you don’t want to know about. I’m not saying short soup wasn’t there; just that I got sick of looking through the pages of small type.

Incidentally, while I’m covering short, did you know that short can also mean “cut off”? How about “to grow short”. That’s what the dictionary said.

I found, in another book, a reference to “short and curleys” - an entirely innocent origin - but you don’t want to know about that either. But I couldn’t find short soup. Maybe it was under “long”.

The Collins dictionary says “someone who is short is not tall”. That’s a big help.

During my research I discovered that in 1909 two “revenue officers” called to a Chinese restaurant in Hobart and asked for short soup. They were supplied with several bottles of ale. Short soup was apparently a code for sly grog, or the Chinese proprietor hadn’t learnt English.

The proprietor was charged with running a sly grog operation.