meanings and origin of ‘flavour of the month/of the week’

The phrase flavour of the month denotes a person or thing that enjoys a short period of great popularity—cf. also the toast of the town and the best thing since sliced bread.

The literal meaning of flavour of the month is the particular ice-cream flavour that a company promotes during a month; the earliest occurrence that I have found is from this advertisement, published in the Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio) of Thursday 11th June 1936:

'flavor of the month' - Mansfield News-Journal (Mansfield, Ohio) - 11 June 1936

The Ice-Cream-of-the-Month
you can taste Springtime in
SEALTEST FRESH STRAWBERRY

Sweet meaty strawberries . . . smooth rich cream . . . mixed and frozen. If you haven’t tried Sealtest Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream, made by Telling’s, you’re missing a real treat. It’s the flavor-of-the-month for June, selected by the Sealtest Jury. And your family will agree it’s worth a few pennies more—serve it for dessert tonight.

TELLING’S
Copyright 1936 by Sealtest System Laboratories, Inc.

The earliest figurative use of flavour of the month that I have found is from The Birmingham Post (Birmingham, Warwickshire) of Thursday 13th April 1967, in which a woman told how she encountered—and solved—problems when she became stepmother to a then 12-year-old girl, Susan:

It’s difficult to say when the turning point came, but suddenly I’d get a phone call from Susan asking me to go and choose a new pair of shoes with her. Or take her to the pictures. Or go to her school speech day with her father.
Suddenly it seemed I was in. Was I only the flavour of the month though? That remained to be seen.

The variant flavour of the week alludes to the particular ice-cream flavour that a commercial business promotes during a week, as mentioned for example by Richard K. Shull in KOAT Brings You Crime Of The Week, published in The Indianapolis News (Indianapolis, Indiana) of Thursday 21st July 1977:

The Albuquerque “Crimestop” is a regular feature on the Monday night news show and salutes the crime of the week much like ice cream parlors have a flavor of the week.

The earliest figurative use of flavour of the week that I have found is from a letter by the British playwright Caryl Churchill (born 1938), published in The Guardian (London and Manchester) of Thursday 26th July 1979; Caryl Churchill was reacting to an article about women’s theatre published in that newspaper:

I must defend the Monstrous Regiment1 against the defamatory implications slung at “most of these groups” of lack of drama training, turning up late for rehearsal, looning around on stage. Their professional qualifications are impressive, if “professional” is flavour of the week, and when I have written for them I have found them hardworking, self-critical, and impressive, both as actors and musicians.

1 The Monstrous Regiment is a British feminist theatre company.

 

IN THE USA: REFERENCES TO BASKIN-ROBBINS

 

Baskin-Robbins is an American chain of ice cream specialty shops; it was founded in 1945 by Burt Baskin and Irv Robbins in Glendale, California.

In a column published in the Waukesha Freeman (Waukesha, Wisconsin) of Monday 22nd March 1976, the American journalist and author Ron Powers (born 1941) satirised the manner in which Baskin-Robbins named its flavours of the month:

Bicentennial Pitch Spurs Killer Instinct

By Ron Powers
CDN News Service
Incoming:
(From Betsy Berkhemer & Co., Public Relations, Beverly Hills, Calif.)
“Dear Ron:
“We hope you might peruse the enclosed “The Ice Cream World of Baskin-Robbins,” our unique ice cream history and recipe book all rolled into one. You’ll also find a series of press stories and pictures about these past 31 years and how we plan to celebrate our 31st Birthday all through the year.
“In honor of our country’s Bicentennial celebration Baskin-Robbins has introduced a number of Bicentennial flavors, such as Valley Forge Fudge, Concord Grape, Minuteman Mint and Yankee Doodle Strudel.
“We would like to interest you in an interview with Mr. Irv Robbins discussing Baskin-Robbins’ new book and especially their ice cream specialties for the Bicentennial. Mr. Robbins is a delightful conversationalist, full of ice cream anecdotes and expertise. We would also be able to arrange for an ice cream “tasting” of the Bicentennial flavors (Baskin-Robbins’ list now exceeds 450!).
“Look forward to bearing [sic] your thoughts. Thnak [sic] you for your consideration.
“Best wishes,
“Jeanne Datz-Park, account executive”
Outgoing:
“Dear Ms. Datz-Park:
“You can’t know this, of course, but in writing me a letter about Bicentennial ice cream you have triggered the forces of a powerful evil. Through a chain of processes that has so far baffled medical science, I have lately been unable to read or hear the word “Bicentennial” (especially when it is applied to the pitching of a commercial product) without turning into a werewolf.
“I am afraid, therefore, that I must turn down your request to interview Mr. Robbins. If he so much as utters the word ‘Bicentennial,’ as I am sure he will, I would undoubtedly bite him. And Baskin-Robbins’ list of Bicentennial flavors would then exceed 451.
“Let me take this opportunity, however, to congratulate the Baskin-Robbins people on their sensitive and reverent choice of flavors to commemorate the B–the, uh, event in our national history which we all so obviously respect and revere.
“I think that Valley Forge Fudge is a particularly apt flavor, in a uniquely American macabre sort of way.
“After all, the reason we remember Valley Forge2 has to do with freezing human beings, in that case, and not ice cream, heh-heh and I am certain that the 3,000 soldiers of the Continental Army who were permanently refrigerated there in the winter of 1777 would be greatly honored to know that their sacrifice has been commemorated as a flavor of the month.
“Excuse me, I have to sign off now. I feel like baying at the Bicentennial moon.
“Yours in Yankee Doodle Strudel,
“Ron Powers”

2 Valley Forge, in Pennsylvania, was the site of the 1777-78 winter encampment of the Continental Army under General George Washington.

In Voting in the vestibule, published in The Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts) of Tuesday 25th May 1976, Martin F. Nolan, chief of The Globe Washington bureau, analysing the result of the primary election in County Montgomery, Maryland, used flavour of the month—also with reference to Baskin-Robbins—to describe “the ultimate novelty”:

Edmund G. Brown, the latest entry into Democratic Presidential politics, made a stunning debut in these sophisticated precincts with an absolute majority, 51 percent of the vote. How to explain Brown’s appeal to the bureaucrats and their neighbors, especially since he has terrorized Sacramento (which houses far fewer lobbyists and lawyers than Montgomery County)?
One answer could be the similar rootlessness of the California electorate and this county’s. Natives are hard to find, and the entire ambience is suburban sprawl. Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda can match LaCienega Boulevard in Los Angeles inch for tacky inch, McDonald’s for McDonald’s, franchised fried chicken for franchised fried chicken.
In a highly educated, wealthy jurisdiction, Brown franchised his low-key diffidence as the ultimate novelty, the 31st most bizarre flavor of the month from Baskin-Robbins.3

3 Baskin-Robbins’s website explains that it “is the only ice cream chain in the world that has the unique “31 flavor” concept. It represents a different flavor for each day of the month.

In The Cavities Are in Our Hearts, Not Our Teeth, published in the Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) of Thursday 9th December 1976, the Canadian-born American comedian Morton Lyon Sahl (born 1927), writing about Los Angeles, used flavour of the month—again with reference to Baskin-Robbins—to describe what “heroism” had become:

What’s infected us is the narcissism of defeat. Its most visible sign is the arrival of a magazine called New West. In the Old West of this city John Ford was God and John Wayne was his prophet. In the New, improved West, Chief Davis4 is the devil and heroism is a flavor of the month at Baskin Robbins, Revolution is a failed boutique on Melrose, and the name of the game is unisex—that gray zone where the sexes collide more often then [sic] they meet.

4 Edward Michael Davis (1916-2006) was the chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1969 to 1978.

 

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