Q&A: Suped-up or souped-up?

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Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we're having alphabet soup…

Q: Hi AWC, can we talk about cars this week?

A: Sure. Start your engines.

Q: Ha, cute. Okay, well I was watching all the Fast and Furious movies this week and I had a question.

A: Is it why Vin Diesel is such a family man?

Q: No, it’s not that.

A: Is it about the laws of physics and moving vehicles?

Q: Again no, but those questions do come up a lot.

A: Is it about which parts of Paul Walker were digital and which were real?

Q: Ooooh too soon…

A: Sorry. Okay, we’re tired of guessing. 

Q: It’s about the term “suped-up” – as in “a suped-up 1970 Dodge Charger R/T”. Where did it come from?

A: Well, fasten your seatbelt, because this fact might give you whiplash.

Q: What fact?

A: The actual term is “souped-up”, not “suped-up”…

Q: Wait, what?

A: Soup.

Q: As in chicken soup?

A: Or pumpkin. The flavour’s not important.

Q: Okay, let’s pump the brakes here. I always thought it related to supercharging your vehicle. But now you’re serving me a hot bowl of SOUP?

A: Yep. But you ARE half right, in that supercharging may have had an influence on the term in general, even if the spelling went a different way. You know, like how Dom and Brian went different ways at the end of the seventh movie…

Q: Still too soon…

A: Sorry. Anyway, the word “soup” has been around since the 1600s as the tasty hot broth we all know and love. However according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, dodgy horse owners started using the word “soup” as slang for narcotics around 1911 – injected into the horse to make it run faster in a race. 

Q: Dodgy indeed.

A: By the early 1920s, “to soup” also meant making a car run faster – with the engine being “souped up” – no narcotics necessary. However, the adoption of the term was likely also influenced by the similar sounding verb “supercharge”.

Q: How odd that it came from horses.

A: Not really. After all, how do we measure the power of a car’s engine, even today?

Q: Um, in horsepower… oh WOW, that DOES makes sense!

A: Horses have gifted English with many phrases.

Q: Straight from the gift horse’s mouth.

A: Indeed.

Q: So is “suped-up” definitely wrong then?

A: From a purist point of view, it’s wrong. Be aware, however, that because in this case “souped-up” actually seems like the absurd one, many people still use “suped”. In fact, many dictionaries have thrown in the towel and listed it as an alternative spelling. Not Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary though – who only list “souped-up”.

Q: Now I really want to see a Fast and Furious film where they inject soup instead of nitrous oxide to make their cars go faster.

A: As long as it’s all about family.

Q: So in summary, the correct term is “souped-up”?

A: Correct.

Q: Okay, it’s been a long day. 

A: Yep. We’ve come a long way from where we began. So did you like the films?

Q: Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again…

If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, email it to us today!

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