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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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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Something Something Soup Something
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      This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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      Something Something Soup Something

      Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

      That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

      Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

      The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

      You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

      [h/t Waypoint]

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