Iced tea or ice tea?

Jan 9, 2012 by

Recently, when looking at the menu of a local Bay Area eatery that markets itself as “the Farm of the Future”, a forward-looking, innovative place for Silicon Valley geeks, I noticed an item in their beverage list: “Iced Tea”. Not “Ice Tea”. And the reason that this is worth noting is that iced tea is the older, more conservative form, whereas ice tea is the newer (if still rarer) form. So shouldn’t the people running “the Farm of the Future” use ice tea, I thought?

But let’s back up for a minute. As it turns out, ice(d) tea is not the only expression that started its life in a fuller form ending in -ed. Skim milk is milk that has been skimmed, wax paper is paper that has been waxed, and roast beef is beef that has been roasted. Even popcorn is just corn that has been popped. But today, these products are typically referred to by the newer, reduced form that has lost its participial -ed. To confirm that the newer form has won over in these expressions, I went online and did some googling (that’s a new word too!). On December 15, 2011, a search for skim milk came up with 5,830,000 hits, compared to 2,260,000 hits for skimmed milk. Similarly, wax paper came up with 3,150,000 hits, compared to 1,770,000 hits for waxed paper. The corresponding figures for roast beef and roasted beef are 12,000,000 and 1,240,000 hits. And popcorn was nearly 260 times more common that popped corn. But the one item where the newer, reduced form has clearly won over the older, fuller form is… ice cream! My Google search came up with 309,000,000 hits for the reduced form, whereas the search for the corresponding older/fuller form iced cream came up with zero hits! Whoever screams for “iced cream” anymore?! Except perhaps Montgomery Burns, a character from the animated television series The Simpsons, who is given to expressing dated humor, making references to pre-1950 popular culture, and aspiring to apply obsolete technology to everyday life.

This time, Montgomery Burns really used an obsolete expression, as even the menu for Mrs. Cleveland’s Wedding Lunch on June 4th, 1886, recorded in the White House Cookbook, lists “Fancy Ice-cream”.

While skim milk, wax paper, roast beef and popcorn all managed to lose their participial -ed (to some extent), other expressions are still more commonly used with the older/fuller form. For example, whipped cream is still more common that whip cream: Google search brought up 17,800,000 and 4,020,000 hits, respectively. Similarly, creamed corn is still more common that cream corn: the Google search figures are 2,280,000 and 1,260,000 hits, respectively. Curiously, a Google Image search for labels for Creamed Corn brought up scores of images, whereas Cream Corn appeared only on one label, and even that was from a Spanish-language brand.

Which brings me back to iced tea vs. ice tea. The older form with the -ed is still slightly more common that the newer, reduced form: the corresponding Google search figures are 16,000,000 and 11,200,000 hits, respectively. But a Google Image search for labels revealed many labels featuring both expressions. Curiously, Lipton brand has both Iced Tea and Ice Tea (see images below).


In fact, what we have here is not just variability of usage, but an ongoing change, as I’ve implied throughout this post. To show this, I have been tracking the use of boxed set vs. box set by using Google searches from time to time. Note that the total number of hits for both forms has increased 165-fold in the last decade due to the growth of online commerce: most hits have to do with buying box(ed) sets of CDs or DVDs. Therefore, it is more useful to look at the proportion of, say, box set in the total number of hits at any given time. In January 2001, box set was found in 59% of hits; a year later in 66%. In January 2004 it is up to 68% and by April 2010 the newer form is found in 82% of hits. My most recent figure for June 2011 is 93%. As you can see, the newer form has gradually but unstoppably grown in popularity, all but pushing the older form out of existence. It remains to be seen if boxed set will fall by the wayside the same way that iced cream did.


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