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Sherbert vs. sherbet

Sherbet is the standard spelling of the frozen dessert made primarily of fruit juice, water, and sugar. The misspelled sherbert, which results from a common mispronunciation (sher-bert instead of sher-bit), appears often enough to have earned a spot in some dictionaries as a secondary spelling, but it is still not as widely accepted as sherbet, which more closely resembles the Turkish and Persian words from which the English term is derived.

The word has been spelled many ways over the centuries. Zerbet, cerbet, shurbet, sherpet, sherbette, and sarbet, among others, are all found in the Oxford English Dictionary’s historical examples. Sherbert is also listed, and many instances of that spelling are also found in historical Google Books searches covering the 18th and 19th centuries. Sherbet became the unquestionably standard spelling by the middle 19th century, however, and since then only sherbert has given it any competition.


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Sherbert appears only a fraction of the time in edited writing, as shown in this ngram graphing the use of sherbet and sherbert in English-language texts published from 1800 to 2000:

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Comments

  1. I thought ‘sorbet’ was another spelling (from the French). Indeed it picks up in popularity from 1980 and by far exceed sherbert (but no sherbet). Thanks for the Ngram charting tip.

    • sorbet is different than sherbet in that it contains no dairy. Sherbet is essentially half ice cream base, and half fruit juice mix, while sorbet is entirely the juice mix. Hope that helps (my father has owned his own ice cream manufacturing company for 35 years, so that is my credentials for this)

  2. It seems it could be the case where the more common American usage is “sherbert” and has been for a number of years, but professional editing has surpressed that and led to the above Ngram.

  3. I’ve always pronounced it Sherbert. So much that I used to think Sherbet was something completely different.

  4. Rare English Rose says:

    Sherbet is not a frozen dessert in the UK. Sherbet, here, is a fizzy, sugary powder used to make sweets. My personal favourite, the sherbet fountain, as mentioned above, is a stick of liquorice that one dips into the sugary powder – delicious.

  5. “Historical google books” pff lol

    • I agree that’s poorly chosen phrasing but that’s not what was being said. To paraphrase:

      Many instances of that spelling are also found in Google Books searches covering historical writings from the 18th and 19th centuries.

      • Cory Day Wichman says:

        I don’t particularly like that either.. how about..

        Google searches also show that spelling was frequently used in historical books written in the 18th and 19th centuries.

  6. David Bowden says:

    In the UK, it’s another story. After doing some research, it appears that sorbet, as mentioned in another comment, is a dessert made from sweetened water. Sherbet is a dessert of a different kind in the US, but non-existent in the UK. Sherbert, in the UK, refers to a sweet, fizzy powder used in confectionery. So they are not mispronunciations of each other, simply different things in different countries that just happen to be spelled and pronounced very similarly.

  7. I am the terror that flaps in says:

    People get really offended when u correct them on this particular word.ive gotten into a few heated discussions about the pronunciation of this.sherBET.BET BET BET.you dont go to vegas and BERT your money on red.lol.

  8. I’m 33 and I’ve only heard “sherbet” just now. I’ve lived in California, Florida and Georgia and have always heard it called sherbert. It’s news to me, but really not that important. I will continue to call it sherbert.

    • Cory Day Wichman says:

      Well, now you know the correct pronunciation and you’re still choosing to pronounce it wrong, which is why this argument even exists… stubborn people who won’t admit they have been doing it wrong, even when confronted with proof of it…

      • It’s a discussion on 2 ways that the word is generally pronounced, not 1 right way and 1 wrong way, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Lol!

      • Martha Ward says:

        Stubborn people who won’t admit blah blah blah = popular adoption of what was in the past considered wrong but becomes standard usage by acclamation. Language is not static. As much as I hate to admit it. For me it will always be sherbet!

  9. dorseybelle says:

    My mom used to make that punch that in the ’70’s was the go-to for baby and wedding showers and garden clubs; the ring of sherbet floating in a punch bowl of ginger ale. I would kill for a bowl of this (maybe not as big) to help me over the flu.

  10. I’ve lived in Alabama the entire 17 years of my life and I’ve only ever heard it pronounced “Sherbert,” then a couple months ago I got some sherbet ice cream and it hit me that there’s no r in the word. I have no idea how I didn’t notice before.

  11. You idiots! Originally it was sherbert! Then misspelled from New Englanders dropping the R. After all, refrigeration was invented in Boston.

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