March 18, 2009

Word of the Day: ไอติม /ay'tim/

Word of the Day for Wednesday, March 18, 2009:

ไอติม /ay 'tim/ n. ice cream

How about a little slang today. This Thai word is a corruption of "ice cream", of course. It's very common in colloquial speech. There's even an ice cream shop chain called บ้านไอติม /'bâan ay'tim/ ("ice cream house").

For the more proper word, there are actually two competing Thai spellings of "ice cream": ไอศครีม and ไอศกรีม. As a result, there are two competing pronunciations: [ไอสะคฺรีม] [aysa'khri:m] and [ไอสะกฺรีม] [aysa'kri:m]. It's only the difference in aspiration, but I've heard Thais argue about which is right before, so they're aware of the schism. (The official position of the Royal Institute is to use ก, which is phonetically correct, since English /k/ loses aspiration after /s/, as in "sky" or "school".)

Nerdy technical aside: I'm a little fuzzy on the exact phonological process that took us from /skr/ to /t/. My best guess would be that /s/ influences /k/ → /t/, a change in place of articulation but not manner. The /r/ is already dropped from the cluster in natural speech. Then the vowel /i:/ is shortened and the unstressed syllable /sa/ is also elided. Voila. [aysakri:m] → [aysaki:m] → [aysatim] → [aytim]. There is some evidence on the interwebs for the intermediate form ไอศติม [ไอสะติม], so I think my theory is probable.

Now I feel like getting a cone...


  1. A Thai friend (in her 40s) told me that ไอติม technically refers to frozen fruit concoctions, and ไอศครีม properly refers to what we in the West consider "ice cream" (i.e. dairy-based)...?

  2. The Royal Institute article I linked above says basically the same thing, but I don't think there's a "technical" difference of any kind:

    ภาษาปากหรือภาษาพูดมักจะเรียกว่า ไอติม และบางครั้ง ไอติม จะหมายถึงไอศกรีมชนิดที่ไม่ใส่ครีมหรือนมด้วย เช่น ไอติมแท่ง. ไอติมหลอด.

    In colloquial speech ice cream is called 'i-tim', which sometimes refers to non-dairy "ice cream", such as ไอติมแท่ง (picture) or ไอติมหลอด (picture).

    So, yeah, some people make this distinction. Non-dairy ไอติม doesn't necessarily involve fruit -- often just frozen sugar water. But in my experience, people are just as likely to call regular dairy ice cream ไอติม, too.

    However, it's probably true that such non-dairy ไอติม cannot properly be called ไอศกรีม.