Cook's Country

What Is a Milkshake? And How Is It Different from a Frappe or a Cabinet?

Milkshake, frappe, cabinet—what do these words mean in your neck of the woods?

Published Apr. 4, 2023.

Is it a shopping cart, a buggy, or a carriage? 

Have you ever heard a word or phrase you were unfamiliar with while traveling to another region of the United States and thought, “Huh? I have no idea what that is.” Sometimes you can glean the meaning through context, and other times you have to interrupt with a smile and say, “Wait, what did you call that?” 

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The pop versus soda versus coke versus tonic debate generally comes to mind first, and then, particularly in the Northeast, you’ll get wind of the divisive sub versus hoagie versus Italian sandwich versus hero versus grinder versus spuckie controversy. But the one that throws me for a loop is the difference (if there is one) between a milkshake and a frappe, depending on where you grew up (I’m from the Midwest). 

If you were to look up both definitions, you would find the description of a milkshake to be clear. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary states, “a milkshake is a drink made of milk, flavoring, and usually, ice cream, mixed or shaken until frothy.” As for frappé (pronounced fra-PAY), Webster’s refers to it as “a dessert made of partly frozen beverages, fruit juices, etc., or a drink made of some beverage poured over shaved ice.” (This is often what you will find in chain coffee shops.) Under this definition of a frappé, Webster’s also references a frappe (pronounced frap) as a milkshake in New England. You can find these quintessential desserts at many diners, ice cream shops, and old-fashioned soda shops around New England.


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New England Today’s Guide to New England Slang sheds some light on the difference between a milkshake and a frappe in the Northeast. In New England, “A milkshake is just milk blended with flavored syrup. [But] a frappe is a milkshake with ice cream. Thick, creamy, cold, and delicious, a frappe.” 

How about a “cabinet,” the Rhode Island version of a beverage blended with ice cream (sometimes coffee ice cream) so named because that’s where the blender was kept? 

Confused? Yeah, me too. But if you find yourself at an old-fashioned soda shop or diner where a milkshake and a frappe (or cabinet) are both on the menu, and you want a thick ice cream-based drink, order one of the latter two. And if you are most anywhere else outside New England, I think you’re pretty safe ordering a milkshake. 

Did You Also Know . . .

  • that in Minnesota, a casserole is called hotdish?
  • that sprinkles are also called jimmies or shots?
  • that a beef commercial is an open-faced roast beef sandwich in southwestern Minnesota to parts of South Dakota?
  • that a mudbug is another word for a crayfish (or crawfish)?
  • that green onions and scallions are the same thing?
  • that when some people say gravy, they mean red tomato sauce?

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