Hank: “Well that’s un-American. Eat your freedom fries.” —The Bridge (2013)
In A Nutshell
Anti-German sentiment was no less present in America during World War I than it was during World War II. Because many people wanted language to become less German and more American, in 1918 you would have been feeding liberty sausages to your liberty pups rather than giving your dachshund a frankfurter. Liberty sausage might not have caught on as term, but the other invented name did—the hot dog.
The Whole Bushel
In 2003, a North Carolina fast food restaurant made headlines by renaming French fries “Freedom Fries” in a patriotic response to France’s vocal opposition to the United States’ war in Iraq. According to the restaurant, they received equally vocal support for the name change from military members, civilians, and veterans alike. Eventually, the name change even reached the House of Representatives, and some cafeteria menus were even changed to the more ethnically appropriate term.
Others around the world might have had a good chuckle about it, but what got overlooked is that the restaurant was following a precedent that had been set nearly a century ago—that still determine the language we use today.
In a striking similarity to the sense of national identity that came from the war in Iraq, the United States’ involvement in World War I began a massive anti-German movement in the country. We’re all familiar with the internment camps that Japanese citizens were forced into during World War II, and a similar situation arose when President Woodrow Wilson confined around 4,000 German-Americans between 1917 and 1918, citing a suspicion of pro-German sentiment and espionage. Another 250,000 were forced to register as German immigrants and were given cards that specified their status that had to be on their person at all times.
According to Theodore Roosevelt, even the idea of using the hyphenated German-American label to refer to immigrants was also highly questionable, throwing doubt on people’s true loyalties.
That was only a bit of the anti-German campaign that swept across the country, and everyone was eager to distance themselves from German loyalties. In case you’ve ever wondered why we call one of our favorite summertime foods a hot dog, it’s because they were once called frankfurters. As that’s obviously a very German name, it was deemed unacceptable during World War I. In some places they were called “liberty sausages,” but it was another term that stuck—the hot dog.
And if you’ve ever wondered just what the difference is between Salisbury steak and meat loaf, the answer is an attitude toward Germany. The chopped meat dish is another that underwent a name change during the war.
Some of the name changes that happened during the war years didn’t catch on with the same permanency, though.
In 1918, the Federal Food Administration received a petition to rename sauerkraut to “liberty cabbage.” Dealers, farmers, and grocers pointed to the steep decline in sauerkraut consumption since the beginning of the conflict, and testified that in order to reestablish the popularity of their product, they needed to give it a name that Americans would be proud to use. The name change was going to be the only way that they were able to move their product, they said, and what would be more American than the liberty cabbage?
People also no longer wanted to be said to be suffering from German measles; instead, newspapers started reporting outbreaks of “liberty measles.” Even dachshunds weren’t safe, and during the war the little dogs became known as “liberty pups.”
Cities across the country were renaming streets to make them sound less German, and it didn’t stop at just streets. Berlin, Michigan was renamed Marne, Michigan, to honor the battle instead of the capital city of the enemy.
Show Me The Proof
Boundless: The Anti-German Crusade
BBC News: French fries off US menu
Cupboard Love 2: A Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities, by Mark Morton
Liberty and Union: A Constitutional History of the United States, by Edgar J. McManus, Tara Helfman