17 Scrumptious Ice Cream Idioms from All Over the U.S.
By Angela Tung
Remember when there were only 31 flavors? Now ice cream varieties are innumerable, and include the regional, the strange, and the just plain ick. The ways of describing ice cream all over the U.S. are many and varied. We’ve teamed up with the editors of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) to bring you the scoop on ice cream lingo across the country.
If you say-so, Louisiana. This term for an ice cream cone began as a brand name. Around the early 1900s, a company in Toledo, Ohio sold equipment with which enterprising types could make Sayso ice cream cones to sell. According to DARE, the brand name was first used in a generic sense in Louisiana English, then the local vernacular, perhaps because, to Louisiana French speakers, it wasn’t obvious that Sayso was a brand name and didn’t just refer to ice cream cones in general. In a quote in DARE, a Texas resident near the Louisiana border says they “have always suspected [say-so] was of Cajun origin.”
Another way to refer to an ice cream cone is toot. Chiefly used in Pennsylvania German areas, toot (which rhymes with “foot” and not “boot”) also refers to a paper cone used as a container. The word toot comes from the German Tüte, meaning “bag.”
3. ESKIMO ICE CREAM
Eskimo ice cream
isn’t ice cream at all. The term refers to a dish in Alaska, says DARE, prepared with animal fat, berries, and snow, and whipped to a consistency similar to that of ice cream. The Alaskan Yupik word for the concoction is aqutaq or akutaq, which translates as “something mixed.”
If you hear someone say, “That’s dope!” in Ohio, they could be referring to something excellent, or they could mean an ice cream topping. This ice cream sense of dope might come from the word’s sense of a thick liquid used as food, and comes from the Dutch doop, meaning dipping or sauce.
5. BOSTON COOLER
is probably more likely to be heard in Cleveland, Michigan, and Upstate New York than in Boston. It refers to vanilla ice cream in root beer, although some claim that a proper Boston cooler contains ginger ale instead of root beer.
Speaking of floats, a floater is, you guessed it, an ice cream float. According to a 1920 quote in DARE from a resident of the Pacific Northwest, it’s specifically a “glass of malted-milk with a spoonful of ice cream in it.”
Ask for a Sunday milkshake in South Carolina, and you might get a different kind of refreshment. Sunday milkshake is a euphemism for beer or possibly any liquor sold on a Sunday, a once-forbidden practice according to South Carolina’s blue laws.
What’s a blue law? They originated in colonial New England, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and are “motivated by religious belief,” particularly around the idea of preventing leisurely (read: fun) activities on a Sunday.
8., 9., 10., 11. VELVET, CABINET, FRAPPE, MILK SHAKE
You’re familiar with the thick and creamy beverage made of milk, ice cream, and flavoring, but what do you call it? If you’re outside New England, you probably call it a milk shake, one word or two. However, if you’re in New England, you might call it any number of names.
Velvet is one, perhaps named for the beverage’s texture. Another is cabinet, especially in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. According to a 1968 quote in DARE, the term is said to have originated in a drugstore where the pharmacist kept the ice cream in a cabinet. Other parts of New England, especially eastern Massachusetts, are frappe country. The word comes from the French frappé, meaning “stirred.”
So what will a milk shake get you in New England? Milk with flavoring, especially in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine.
Now how about those colorful bits of candy showered on top of ice cream? To someone from New Jersey who has lived most of her adult life in New York, they are of course sprinkles. Sprinkles began as a trademarked name. From a 1921 quote in DARE: “A new product is being put on the market by the Stollwerck Chocolate Company in the form of ‘Chocolate Sprinkles.’” The usage of the term is scattered (or perhaps sprinkled?) throughout the U.S. but used frequently in New York City and northern New Jersey.
To others in the Northeast, such candy toppings are jimmies. One Massachusetts resident asserts that jimmies are chocolate while sprinkles are multicolored. Jimmies is a trademarked name from the Just Born candy company and supposedly named for the man who ran the machine who made them, Jimmy Bartholomew, according to linguist Barry Popik.
14., 15., 16., 17. SPRILLS, SHOTS, ANTS, LOGS
Another name for sprinkles and jimmies is sprills, a Northeast term and possible variant of “sprinkles.” Residents of Connecticut and the West—or “outsidas,” as one Rhode Islander refers to them—might call them shots. Other names include ants in Rhode Island and California, and logs in Vermont.
All images courtesy of iStock.