We’re standing in a German discount supermarket on the 31st of December. The store is full; the people have that special panicked look on their faces that you only see before a public holiday. Young men and boys are gathered under a large sign advertising fireworks and filling their bags to the brim with consumer explosives. The fireworks are selling like hotcakes (wie warme Semmel gehen). The metal bin underneath the fireworks sign is soon empty.
This idiom has its roots in American English (AE) from the second half of the 19th century, when it was more commonplace to buy bake goods from a church bake sale than today. A hotcake is an older AE term for a pancake, and who doesn’t love a good stack of pancakes, especially when they are hot? The idiom also makes it clear that the seller doesn’t have to do much of anything to get rid of the goods once they are on sale- everyone wants to buy hotcakes while they are still hot.
Also- for those of you who have only ever eaten the flat, European-style pancakes- here’s an easy recipe I like to use for fluffy, American-style „hotcakes.“ I substitute the baking powder for baking soda (Natron) in equal amounts. It would be perfect for one of those post- Christmas mornings when your whole family is at home for breakfast and very hungry. Enjoy, and happy holidays!