A message to the fine folks at Google: You don’t have to greenlight every idea for a doodle that comes along. Birthdays of famous figures from history we can get behind — we’ve been known to dabble in that a bit ourselves — but celebrating the invention of the term “ice cream sundae?” What?
I could kind of understand if they were celebrating the anniversary of the invention of the sundae itself, but they’re not, because nobody knows when that was. There’s some dispute over when and where the term was invented (though there is general agreement that at first it was “sunday” instead), but Ithaca, New York, has the only claim with any sort of documented evidence, in the form of the first known printed mention of the term, in an 1892 newspaper ad.
Even though all that proves is that the term was invented at some point not too long before the ad was printed, Google has chosen to respect local lore that holds that the term was invented April 3, 1892, by Chester Platt and John Scott at a pharmacy/soda fountain owned by Platt, in Ithaca.
So, OK, that might be of some interest to linguistic historians, or to the folks in Ithaca and the other places that lay claim to inventing the term “ice cream sundae,” but does anyone else really care? I’m much more interested in actual ice cream sundaes than the term — as Shakespeare might have written if he’d ever had one: That which we call an ice cream sundae by any other name would taste as sweet. And despite what some people might have you believe, the dish was not invented in Ithaca, or anywhere else, in 1892.
How do I know? Well, there is plenty of evidence that Thomas Jefferson enjoyed ice cream, both at home in Monticello and in the White House. And there is evidence (though less available online than I’d expected) that he enjoyed it with maple syrup on top, meaning that the sundae as a dish was invented long before 1892.
Some people seem to think Google’s primary motivation in running Sunday’s sundae doodle is that the upcoming update to the Android OS is nicknamed “ice cream.” Even if so, they’re really reaching for this one.