victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 13 20:08:00 UTC 2011

Curious about something here. OED entry for adj. sweet:

3. d. Of milk: Fresh, not sour: see sweet milk n. at Compounds 1a.
> 1812    J. Sinclair Acct. Syst. Husb. Scotl. i. 105   The milk can be sold
> sweet, as taken from the cow.

What I am curious about is why this is different from 3.b. in the sense for

3. b. spec. Of water: Fresh, not salt. Also of butter: Fresh, not salted.
> (Cf. Germansüsswasser, French eau douce, etc.) See also sweet water n.

OK, so this one is about salt (in or out). Fine. But what about "sweet
cream"? This is perfectly contemporary meaning.  From Wiki:

Cream skimmed from milk may be called "sweet cream" to distinguish it from
> whey cream skimmed from whey, a by-product ofcheese-making. Whey cream has a
> lower fat content and tastes more salty, tangy and "cheesy".

I've always thought that "sweet" was in distinction from "sour", which might
encompass such things as whey cream, crème fraîche or crema, and, of course,
sour cream. Whatever the case, this particular use of "sweet" is missing.


> sweet not sour cream your grandmother was probably referring to her days
> and recipes when they separated milk, too much cream became sour cream and
> they had recipes to use this. Light or heavy cream should work as not always
> did the cow produce the same amount of cream per pail, hope this helps post
> the recipe please.


> Oh yeah, sweet cream is fresh cream, as opposed to sour cream. The recipe
> lets you use either sour cream or heavy cream (or whipping cream).

Here's why there is a problem with simply assuming that butter without salt
is "sweet butter", as opposed to the standard commercial term "unsalted
butter" (I am not trying to explain that one!). Again, from Wiki:

Butter made from pasteurized fresh cream is called sweet cream butter.
> Production of sweet cream butter first became common in the 19th century,
> with the development ofrefrigeration and the mechanical cream
> separator.[10] Butter made from fresh or cultured unpasteurized cream is
> called raw cream butter.

It's not a giant step from "sweet cream butter" to "sweet butter". And I'm
quite certain that some people use "sweet butter" in this sense, as opposed
to the "unsalted butter" sense. But the important issue is the cream. I'm
less worried about butter.

The pairing "sweet cream" occurs 12 times in OED quotations, including once
under cream. The rest of the locations are mixed, including at least one
completely spurious and one for "sweet cream sherry". At least three times
it occurs as an ingredient in cocktails (yes, OED is your bartending guide

This distinction goes back some time--it's not something that has just come
up. The earliest of the quotations is under jog v. and is from 1664. Not
exactly a novelty.

My other question on "sweet" is the modern use that's unrelated to smell,
taste, etc. There are many other lemmas, but a "sweet car" is a different
thing from "a guinea pig is such a sweet thing", etc. I am not sure how this
one meshes with the rest. I'll leave it to real lexicographers to figure it

Here's the quote that got me started on this today:


> This is one sweet beer, in both senses of the word. Apples and cherries,
> oddly enough, are suggested in the taste, along with orange, ginger, and a
> variety of spices that likely result from the potpourri that Ommegang has
> thrown into the mix. The warming alcohol arrives at the end, and it sticks
> around for a while.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list