Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Ice Water, Ice Cream, but No Ice Tea!

Ever wonder why we say "ice" water and "ice" cream but "iced" tea? And should there be a "d" in "didn't use(d) to"? Merrill Perlman, who writes the "Language Corner" column for Columbia Journalism Review, explains when the "d " is necessary.

The Northeast experienced a bit of a resurgent summer recently, so cool refreshments have been called for. You have your choice: "ice" water, "ice" cream, or "iced" tea.

Even though you'll see "ice tea" occasionally, it's not correct. So why the special treatment for tea, but not for water or cream? Actually, it's the other way around.

The adjectival form of "ice" is "iced," meaning that the condition of the substance has been altered by cold. And until the late nineteenth century, both the water and cream forms were not only "iced," but hyphenated as well. They lost their hyphens early in the 20th century, and the "d's" soon followed. Curiously, Webster's New World College Dictionary still lists "ice cream" as an Americanism, though not "ice water." (Neither "ice tea" nor "iced tea" appear.)

The "d" often gets dropped from other phrases, as well, especially when they're followed by a word that begins with "d," "t" or similar sound. Paper coated with wax, for example. is in the middle of its transition; many brands are labeled "wax paper," while others are "waxed paper." The Associated Press Stylebook is still in adjectival mode, preferring "waxed paper."

Then there's "use(d)." Depending on how it's used, there's either a correct way or not much consensus.

"She use to go there" should be she "used to go there." "Use" used to be a common verb meaning "to be in the habit of," but now is used almost exclusive in the past tense, meaning "formerly."

It's a bit different, though, when you add a "did" or "didn't" to that usage, and there's a fight over that. Grammatically, since you already have a past tense with "did" or "didn't," you might want the present tense of "use," as you would with "I did like him," not "I did liked him." But in Garner's Modern American Usage, Bryan A. Garner says "it shouldn't be written didn't use to," grammar be damned. He says we pronounce it as "didn't used to," with the "s" sounding almost like a "z," not like a "sss." He says "didn't used to " is about four times as common as "didn't use to" in modern print sources.

But Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says "the form considered correct following did, at least in American usage, is use to. And unlike Garner, those editors say "Our evidence shows that most writers do remember to drop the d of used following did.

What's a writer to do? Garner offers a solution: Instead of saying "didn't use(d) to, say "never used to," avoiding the issue entirely and pleasing grammarians to boot.

He was of no use, though, in helping find a solution to "he did use(d) to." So just drop the "did" and make it "he used to," and everyone will be happy.

(About that "resurgent summer": depending on where you live, it may not be "Indian summer," even if that politically incorrect term can be used. An "Indian summer" is a period of uncharacteristically warm days that occur in the fall after a killing frost. If you haven't had a killing frost, you can't have an Indian summer, meteorologically speaking.)


Rate this article:

Click here to read more articles from Word Count.

Merrill Perlman is adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and president of Merrill Perlman Consulting, offering consulting and freelance editing services and training in journalism, grammar and usage. Among her clients are The New York Times, ProPublica and the Poynter Institute. She writes the "Language Corner" column and blog for Columbia Journalism Review. Merrill retired in June 2008 after 25 years at The New York Times, most recently as director of copy desks with responsibility for managing 150 copy editors. Click here to read more articles by Merrill Perlman.

Join the conversation

Comments from our users:

Thursday October 13th 2011, 9:40 AM
Comment by: Deejay T. (VernonHills, IL)
I like the article.
Thursday October 13th 2011, 3:13 PM
Comment by: Kristine F.Top 10 Commenter
Interesting article - thank you!

Another evolving word seems to be "old fashioned"; it has acquired an occasional hyphen, and I wonder if the next step will be writing it as one word: "oldfashioned." At this moment, spell check is not pleased with the one-word version. It accepts the way I just spelled spell check; let's see how it feels about spell-check and spellcheck ... hmmm, it's OK with both of those. I'll try capitalizing each of those spellings: Spell check ... Spell-check ... Spellcheck ... spell Check ... spell-Check ... spellCheck ... this is getting ridiculous ... SpElLcHeCk ... still no objections! This is like trying to get a response by tickling someone who isn't ticklish. And yet it gives oldfashioned the dreaded red dotted underline! What if we drop the "ed": old fashion? Or old-fashion, or oldfashion? Only oldfashion gets the "NO!" reaction; apparently the others are fine. I give up.

The Happy Quibbler
Wednesday February 1st 2012, 12:27 AM
Comment by: apoorva Y.
I agree with Merriam Webster's Dictionary that dropping 'd' with did or didn't is much better as it is gramatically correct..so it should be did use to.
Tuesday February 14th 2012, 1:15 PM
Comment by: Brittney Callens
I agree to what you are saying.

Do you have a comment?

Share it with the Visual Thesaurus community.

Your comments:

Sign in to post a comment!

We're sorry, you must be a subscriber to comment.

Click here to subscribe today.

Already a subscriber? Click here to login.