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Is it simply Spain is using Patatas and the rest of the world is using Papas? What is the distinction?

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When the Spaniards arrived to present-day Haiti, in 1526, found the natives called the sweet potato,"batata". Thus when they reached the Inca empire, and heard the natives called papa (Quechua) to potato, then it turned into patata. – user77086 May 23 '14 at 23:54
Both words means exactly the same thing, though papas is more used in latam, you could say patata and people would understand you. – El_Mochiq May 25 '14 at 13:27
Papas is also used on the Canary Islands (Spain) – hisuin May 26 '14 at 15:58
Related with comment by user77086, bear in mind that in some places (Argentina) where we say papa (and understand patata), we also have batata to mean "sweet potato" - quite a different thing. – leonbloy Nov 14 '14 at 17:08

Besides the right answer from user77086, the present day usage is that "papa" and "patata" are synonyms. 

"Papa" is the standard word in most of Latin America, Canary Islands and parts from Andalusia. In the rest of Spain the standard word is "patata" . In some parts of Spain "papa" is used only for chips ("papas fritas") while they use "patata" for the potato as it is.

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According to RAE both words are valid, just "patatas" is the mainly word used in Spain (except in Canary islands and parts of Andalucia) while many other countries use "papas" (second aception)

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@Flimzy Added info to the answer – Bardo Nov 14 '14 at 12:37
Thanks for the update! – Flimzy Nov 14 '14 at 12:43

Papas is also used in Andalucía, southern Spain, but seems to be more colloquial meaning exactly the same as patatas. "Papas asadas" is like baked potatos.

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Well, in Spain they say "patatas" and where I come from (Mexico) we say "papas"

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There's no distinction, but in Colombia, is more often use the word papas instead patatas for reference potatoes "in any variations":

There's a few examples:

  • Un paquete de papas.
  • Un bulto de papas.
  • Papas a la francesa.
  • Papa criolla / Papa boyacense.
  • Papa chorreada.
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Just that. Patata is the word of Spain and papa the word of América, Canarias and Andalucía. We all understand both words because TV shows, dubbings and recipes books, mix thosw words but they often use patata.

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