We scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream words! Every July 19 honors our favorite frozen dessert, and in celebration we’re sinking our semantic spoons into the luscious language of this tasty treat.
Ice cream makes a kingly debut
Like fireworks, ice cream made its debut in China long before it appeared in the West. In the 7th century, King Tang of the Shang dynasty “had 94 ice men who helped to make a dish of buffalo milk, flour and camphor.”
It wasn’t until 1671 or 1672 that it was first served in England, namely at a Feast of St. George banquet thrown by Charles II. The term first appeared in print around that time, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), in a book called The Institution, Laws and Ceremonies of the Most Noble Order of the Garter as part of the menu at the “The Sovereign’s Table,” which also included “Two Plates of Duke Cherries,” “One Plate of Red strawberries,” and “One Plate of White strawberries.”
Gelato, mi amor
Gelato, in case you didn’t know, is Italian for “ice cream.” However, its consistency is denser since it has “a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (or no eggs at all),” according to The Kitchn. The word first appeared in English almost 200 years after ice cream — around 1868, says the OED, in a Baedeker about northern Italy: “Ices (gelato) of every possible variety are supplied at the cafes.”
Adding some fruit to the mix
The fancy-sounding plombière is ice cream made with frozen fruit. First appearing in English in 1818, according to the OED, the term might be named for Plombières-les-Bains, a village in the Vosges department in France.
Tutti-frutti, Italian for “all fruit,” can refer to a concoction of ice cream and pieces of candied fruit (the Neapolitan-flavored version is called cassata). According to the OED, the term first appeared in English in a September 1834 issue of The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine: “Tutti Frutti, (all fruits) is the cognomen of an Italian ice, composed of, or rather flavored with, various fruits.”
Coupe, a mixture of ice cream and fruit, might be named for the stemmed glass container it was often served in. French for “goblet,” the term referring to the container first appeared in English in 1895, says the OED, while the dessert sense might have first appeared in English in Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth: “What sweet shall we have today, dear—Coupe Jacques or Pêches à la Melba?”
Speaking of peach Melba, this dish of peaches, vanilla ice cream, and raspberry sauce was named for famed Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, and created by French chef, Auguste Escoffier, at the Savoy Hotel in London during her stay there in 1893. However, the term didn’t appear in print until 1905, says the OED.
Calling all coneheads
While it’s not exactly clear who invented the ice cream cone, it’s evident, at least according to the OED, that the earliest mention of the word cone related to ice cream is in 1920: “Ray licked the ice cream from out his dripping cone.” Cornet, which the OED describes as “a conical wafer, esp. one filled with ice-cream,” is from shortly afterward, in 1926: “In England an ice-cream cone is called a cornet.”
Slurp it up
The term milk shake first appeared in print in 1886, says the OED, but back then it referred to a “variety of concoctions” with the modern version — a thick beverage of milk, ice cream, and flavoring — is only from the 1930s. In parts of New England, you might hear a milk shake referred to as a frappe, which comes from the French frappé, “made cold by application of ice.”
A float meaning a scoop of ice cream floating in a soft drink is from 1915, says the OED, while the Australian equivalent, spider, is from about 1941, and might be named for the spider-like appearance of the ice cream as it melts.
The affogato could be considered a grown-up float. The delectable dessert usually consists of vanilla ice cream “drowned,” as the Italian translation of the name says, in espresso and sometimes a shot of liqueur. The word first appeared in English in 1988, says the OED.
Sundae, chocolatey sundae
Why have just ice cream when you can have it with the works? While it’s been long disputed who invented the sundae, the OED can attest it first appeared in print in 1892: “Cherry Sunday. A new 10 cent ice cream specialty, served only at Platt & Colt’s famous day and night soda fountain.”
As for why the word is now commonly spelled with an “e,” the Online Etymology Dictionary says it might have been “re-spelled in deference to religious feelings,” although “the reason for the name is uncertain,” and perhaps comes from the idea of “ice cream left over from Sunday, on sale later.”
As for the banana split, it’s believed to have been invented by a soda jerk named David “Doc” Strickler in 1904 at the Tassell Pharmacy in Latrobe, PA. While the OED’s earliest citation is 1920, the Online Etymology Dictionary says the term is attested from 1905, possibly referring a Soda Fountain Magazine article about a 1905 ice cream convention in Boston, which credits the wrong person as the inventor of the banana split.
Then there’s the knickerbocker glory, a kind of elaborately layered ice cream parfait with plenty of toppings. The OED’s earliest citation is from a 1936 Graham Greene novel, A Gun for Sale: “They do a very good Maiden’s Dream. Not to speak of Alpine Glow. Or the Knickerbocker Glory.”
As for where the name comes from, that’s unclear. Atlas Obscura says one theory is that it comes from Knickerbocker meaning the descendants of the original Dutch settlers of New York, and therefore, might be an American invention although it’s largely considered a British dessert.