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May 18th, 2005

In regards to / ice tea

by Barbara Wallraff

Bethanie Mansfield McClow, of White Lake, Mich., writes: “The phrase ‘in regards to’ has long been one of my pet peeves. Whenever my boss dictates this phrase, I change it to ‘with regard to’ or ‘regarding.’ Am I correct in thinking that ‘in regards to’ is poor grammar?”

Dear Bethanie: Yes. Your boss is wrong, and you are right -- at least about whether the noun “regard” in that phrase ought to be singular or plural. And your expressions “with regard to” and “regarding” are perfectly good English. However, so is “in regard to.” A usage note in the American Heritage Dictionary makes the point clearly: “‘Regard’ is traditionally used in the singular in the phrase ‘in regard (not “in regards”) to.’” Other dictionaries and usage manuals agree.

While collecting evidence about this, I was shocked to discover how common “in regards to” has become. According to the Google News database on the Internet, in the month before I wrote this, American newspapers published “in regards to” 1,430 times, and “in regard to” 1,620 times.

As I understand the way dictionary makers do their work nowadays, because “in regards to” is almost as common in newspapers as “in regard to,” it’s only a matter of time before dictionaries start reporting that the two forms are pretty much interchangeable. Does this strike anyone as different from what you wish dictionaries reported? Would you rather they told you what’s traditionally correct -- what form more educated speakers use? Or are you glad that pretty nearly anything anyone writes is grist for their mill? Either way -- quick, write me a letter or send me a comment on my Web site, www.wordcourt.com. I will be speaking at the Dictionary Society of North America’s national convention next month, and I’d love to be able to tell the eminent lexicographers what you think.

Rachelle Amos, of Ravena, N.Y., writes: “I constantly see sentences where the ‘ed’ is left off. Example: The restaurant serves ‘ice tea.’ Isn’t it ‘iced tea’? What are we doing -- saving ink?”

Dear Rachelle: You’re right that it should be “iced tea” -- but how do you feel about “ice water”? “Ice water” is standard too. Why the difference? No source I know of answers this question definitively, so let me tell you two theories. According to one of them, when you make “iced tea,” you add ice to a different liquid: tea. To make “ice water,” you add frozen water to liquid water, or you let your frozen water melt. So it makes sense that we refer to the two beverages differently.

But how does that apply to “ice cream”? Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The avant-garde folks who ate the stuff before the mid-18th century called it “iced cream.” But the name “ice cream” has been in use since 1744, and “iced cream” didn’t give it competition for long.

Second theory: Try saying “iced tea,” “iced water” and “iced cream” out loud. “Iced tea” is easy, no? It’s no more trouble to pronounce than “ice tea.” Since the idea of “iced tea” makes more sense (as we discussed above), let’s stick with the term. “Iced water” and “iced cream” are nearly tongue-twisters, though. “Ice water” and “ice cream” are so much easier to say that maybe the written words have taken their cue from the spoken ones.

© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.

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