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17 Scrumptious Ice Cream Idioms from All Over the U.S.

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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.

1. SAY-SO

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.”

2. TOOT

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.”

4. DOPE

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

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.

6. FLOATER

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.”

7. MILKSHAKE

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.

12. SPRINKLES

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.

13. JIMMIES

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.

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Why Do Americans Call It ‘Soccer’ Instead of ‘Football’?
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While more Americans than ever are embracing soccer, they can't even get the sport's name right, according to some purists. For most of the world, including the vast majority of Europe and South America, it’s football, fútbol, or some other variation. In the United States, Canada, Japan, and a few other stragglers, it’s firmly known as soccer, much to the annoyance of those who can't understand how a sport played with feet and a ball can be called anything else. So why the conflict?

According to a paper [PDF] by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski, it all began in England in the early 1800s, when a version of the sport of football—based on a game played by “common people” in the Middle Ages—found its way into the recreational scene of some of the country’s most privileged schools. To give uniformity to the competitions between these schools and clubs, a set of standard rules was drafted by students in Cambridge in 1848. These rules would become further solidified when they were adopted by the more organized Football Association in 1863.

It wasn't long before variations of the sport began to splinter off—in 1871, the Rugby Football Union was founded, using Rugby School rules from the 1830s that allowed a player to run with the ball in their hands. This new take on the sport would be known as rugby football, or rugger, to separate itself from association football, the traditional feet-only version of the sport. From there, association football would get the nickname assoccer, leading eventually to just soccer. The addition of an "er" at the end of a word was something of a trend at the time, which is why we get the awkward transformation of association into assoccer and soccer.

The first recorded American football game was between the colleges of Rutgers and Princeton in 1869 and used unique rules derived from those in both association and rugby football. Though this new, evolving game would just be called football in the U.S., elsewhere it would become known as gridiron football or American football, much in the way Gaelic football and Australian football have their own distinctions. Eventually in England, rugby football was shortened to just rugby, while association football simply became known as football. Which meant that now there were two footballs, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, and neither side would budge. And Americans would begin referring to England's football by the previous nickname, soccer.

Despite the confusion nowadays, soccer was still a colloquial term used in England well into the 20th century—it rose in popularity following World War II before falling out of favor in the 1970s and ‘80s, according to Szymanski. In more recent years, it’s mostly been used in England in a strictly American context, like when publications and the media refer to U.S. leagues like Major League Soccer (MLS). Currently, soccer is mostly used in countries that have their own competing version of football—including the United States, Canada, and Australia.

While it boils the blood of certain traditionalists, soccer is by no means an Americanism—like the sport itself, this is purely an English export.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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YouTube, Hélio Surdos
How a Deaf-Blind Person Watches the World Cup
YouTube, Hélio Surdos
YouTube, Hélio Surdos

Brazilian Sign Language interpreter Hélio Fonseca de Araújo woke up on the day before the opening of the World Cup in 2014 thinking about how he could help his friend Carlos, who is deaf and blind, get access to all the excitement. So he hit the hardware store, rigged up a tabletop model of the field, and enlisted his friend Regiane to provide extra interpretation for all the complex information that needs to come through in a game. He recently brought the setup out again for this World Cup.

Here you can see Carlos watching the Brazil vs. Croatia match live, while Hélio provides Brazilian Sign Language interpretation (which Carlos follows by feeling it with his own hands—this is called tactile signing), and Regiane relays information about fouls, cards, times, and player jersey numbers with social-haptic communication on Carlos’s back.

This is the moment in the second half when it appeared that Brazil had scored a goal, but a foul was called. Hélio later makes sure Carlos can see how Neymar covered his face with his shirt.

And here is Coutinho’s game-turning goal for Brazil.

If you're wondering why Carlos occasionally looks at the screen, many deaf blind people have some residual sight (or hearing). Many deaf-blind people become fluent in sign language as deaf people, before they begin to lose their sight.

See the entire video at Hélio’s YouTube channel here.

A version of this story ran in 2014.

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