Sell Like Hotcakes

by Joanne Mason on May 10, 2013

After all these years, I still remember this McDonald’s breakfast jingle by heart:

I was 10 when this commercial was popular and what struck me then was the word hotcakes.  We called them pancakes where I lived.

But whatever they were called, I remember McDonald’s hotcakes being a huge favorite and I wouldn’t doubt that they…well…sold like hotcakes.

When a product sells like hotcakes, it sells quickly because it is in high demand.

Example 1

Milk, flashlights, and batteries sell like hotcakes when there’s a big snowstorm in the forecast.

Example 2

Since the band is playing here for only one night, I’m sure the tickets will sell like hotcakes.

Sell like hotcakes is thought to be an American phrase from the 1800s, hearkening back to church and county fairs, where hotcakes were sold to lots of hungry customers.  The OED‘s first reference is from 1839.

But Mental Floss poses another possibility.  In certain cultures, such as Britain, Australia, and Canada, pancakes are typically eaten on Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday).  Doing so gives families the chance to finish off the milk, butter, and eggs that are often given up for Lent.  And even if the hotcakes are not being sold, they probably go quickly!

Which explanation makes the most sense to you?   Do you know of any similar phrases from other languages or cultures?  Please feel free to share them in the comments!

(By the way, it may not be Shrove Tuesday, but if you’re in Springfield, Massachusetts tomorrow morning, check out the World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, an annual tradition in that city.)

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