The Northeast has been experiencing a bit of a resurgent summer*, 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.
*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.Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl. Tags: grammar, iced cream, Indian summer, language, Language Corner, usage