Welsh rarebit

I (an American) have always pronounced “rarebit” like the two words “rare” (with both R’s sounded) and “bit”. But it just occurred to me that in non-rhotic dialects in the UK, the second R might not be pronounced, so it would sound just like “rabbit”. Is this true? Do most UK speakers pronounce “rarebit” the same as “rabbit”?

One often sees the name of the dish written as “rabbit”. In fact, checking Google, the “rabbit” spelling gets about seven times as many hits as the “rarebit” spelling.

The English (and Welsh) tend to say Rarebit (first syllable as in “air” with no rhotic r). First time I ever heard of it was when a teacher told us “people say ‘Welsh rabbit’ but it should actually be ‘Welsh rarebit’, if you’re being correct about it.” Oh. What?

It was rabbit though, most likely. Rarebit doesn’t really mean anything! It was probably a joke at the expensive of the Welsh: can’t even afford rabbit - which is wild and therefore free - so substitute cheese on toast. Ha ha ha, country bumpkin, etc.

Apparently the spelling “rarebit” is a corruption whose origin story remains mysterious. (I read up on this the one time I tried making the dish;* can’t remember ever hearing it pronounced, so I don’t have a good answer to the OP’s question.) Per Yorkshire Pudding’s post: it may have been a way of elevating a dish whose name was rooted in an anti-Welsh joke?


*It was tasty, but not quite worth the trouble/mess/expense, IMHO.

Personally, I pronounce it “Cheese on toast”.

Just get it from the frozen section and microwave it in its bag. :wink:

Stouffer’s used to make an excellent frozen Welsh rarebit. I’ve never tasted an “authentic” one, but this Americanized one was great–a little more flavorful than a straight cheese sauce, sort of tangy. The key was to microwave it a little longer than directed by the instructions, so the cheese was extra toasty along the edges of the little plastic tray. Then assemble the following ingredients… very brown toast (or English muffin), crispy bacon, big slice of tomato, and rarebit poured over all: bliss.

I can’t find it in the store anymore. And I’ve never seen another brand.

Yet another example of a product I like that is no longer available…

It’s easy as hell to make the real thing…just melt some good cheddar in ale over an extremely low heat, and stir in mustard, Worcestershire, and cayenne. Pour over thick toast and eat with a knife and fork.

It was originally “rabbit” to mock the lousy hunting prowess of the Welsh, who would have to settle for toasted cheese. “Rarebit” may have been popularized by Windsor McCay’s Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend, a c. 1905 comic strip about the hideous nightmares that came on after a late snack of melted cheese.

You can achieve the same nocturnal terror in modern times by reheating a slice of pizza before bedtime.

Does anyone else remember Gomer Pyle, the Welsh rarebit fiend?

Gluttony gluttony gluttony.

My mother is English and said rarebit. With the R.

The dish is “Welsh Rabbit.” It’s an ethnic joke: the Welsh were so poor (or were banned from using it due to the laws against poaching) they couldn’t get actual rabbit, so made do with cheese instead.

Eventually someone missed the entire point of the name. “There’s no rabbit in it! It’s inaccurate!” So they decided that it made more sense to use the made up word “rarebit” because they didn’t have the imagination to come up with anything better. It’s what you’d expect from someone who couldn’t see the obvious joke of calling something “rabbit” that wasn’t.

Here’s the comparison. “Welsh rabbit” is clearly the original term.

Don’t tease. Show.

Welsh Rarebit/rabbit was supposed to give the person eating it bad dreams. Cartoonist Winsor McCay, over a hundred years ago, had a comic strip called “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend”. You could think of it as the adult nightmare flipside to his Sunday strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. Just as at the then of every Little Nemo strip, the dreamer wakes up and discovers his nightmare (to his or her relief) isn’t real.


One such strip became an animated cartoon (McCay was also a pioneering anmimator, creator of Gertie the Dinosaur) entitled “The Giant Pet”, about an adopted wandering thing that eats so much that it becomes a monster, crashing through the city destroying buildings. It’s attacked by biplanes (13 years before King Kong) and eventually explodes, taking the city with it. It’s the first film I know of that features the Giant Creature Attacking the City (although not quite the first appearance of the meme.)

A bit like scotch woodcock. Though in that case, nobody ever seems to have taken misplaced umbrage over its lack of cock.

Wonder what that might have been changed to if they had…

Or, as Ambrose Bierce put it;

From what I’ve heard, it’s not so much that people didn’t get the joke so they changed it to rarebit, it was that they did and so did the Welsh.

Americans might not realise how much tension there actually was between the Welsh and English at times- it wasn’t good natured ribbing.

The two countries have had a long history of war, annexation, resentment and rebellion. In the late 1800s, early 1900s, there was an English attempt to effectively wipe out the Welsh language and culture; kids had compulsory education entirely in English, even if they didn’t understand it, and they were punished for speaking Welsh in school, even between classes. Wales was treated as just part of England, there wasn’t legally a separate Welsh identity like there was for the Scottish, or there is now. Wales didn’t get a capital city until 1955. There was also widespread poverty, especially in rural areas of the country, where sheep farming and mining were the major occupations. Many rural Welsh thoroughly resented being bossed around by what they saw as another country they’d -frequently- never even visited.

People have heard of the IRA -Northern Irish separatists- but during the '60s there were Welsh paramilitary groups trying to get Welsh independence as well, though they never really got going to the same extent. Things started calming down a bit after a few concessions were made, but even in the '80s, it was not a rare thing for the locals to torch English people’s holiday homes (while empty, commonly bought in scenic areas, they were left empty most of the year, pushing up house prices, pricing out the poorer locals).

My own family tried to move to rural Wales during the early '90s to start a business, and were basically chased out (including burning down our caravan) entirely, according to the very nice (Welsh but not local) planning officer, because we were English, and the locals didn’t want the English moving in.

It never quite got to widespread violence, but ‘maybe we shouldn’t intentionally try and antagonise the Welsh’ wasn’t just indicative of a lack of humour.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Welsh was used disparagingly in other phrases too:

Welsh cricket = louse (1590s)
Welsh comb = thumb and four fingers (1796)

Welsh rabbit is from 1725, and rarebit dates from 60 years later.

I believe this dish is closely related to French Rarebit.


Personally I prefer hamburger.

How long before Welsh poster shows up?


How do you distinguish it from plain cheese on toast?

It seems that if you ordered “cheese on toast” in an ordinary pub they probably wouldn’t bring you Welsh rarebit, which is a much more complicated dish. It would be like ordering ham and eggs and expecting a ham omelet.