My grandad created the '99' cone in Portobello

IT is the classic treat of British seaside holidays and the favourite of generations of children.

But the origin of the name of the "99" ice cream cone has long remained a mystery.

Now an ice cream maker from Edinburgh is to challenge the Oxford English Dictionary's origin, claiming the popular treat was invented in Portobello by her grandfather.

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BBC 2 programme Balderdash and Piffle researched the word used to describe the cone, vanilla ice cream and Cadbury's Flake combination in a show broadcast on Monday night.

The programme's makers, alongside actress Daniela Nardini, concluded the earliest record of the ice cream was in a Cadbury's price list in 1935, and that 99 may have been dreamt up by the company as a marketing slogan.

This beat the Oxford English Dictionary's first recorded usage of the phrase in 1977 and the dictionary editors agreed to change the entry.

The OED contains the possible origin of the phrase as coming from using "99" to describe something as first-class, in allusion to an elite guard of 99 soldiers in the service of an Italian king.

Word-hunters for the BBC 2 programme found this definition to be nonsense, but could not come up with a different origin of the word.

But now the Arcari family say they sold 99s more than ten years before the first recorded Cadbury's usage - and that the ice-cream was named after the address of the family's shop at number 99 Portobello High Street.

And Rudi Arcari, whose father, Stephen, set up the business in 1922, claims a Cadbury's rep could have "borrowed" the idea when he visited the shop to sell Flakes.

His daughter, Tanya Arcari, 38, took over the business when her father retired. The shop on Portobello High Street closed last year after more than 80 years in business, but Ms Arcari, of Joppa, still runs an ice cream factory at The Wisp.

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She plans to write a letter to the Oxford English Dictionary to put it right.

She said: "It has been a family legend for as long as I can remember that my grandad invented the 99, but the problem is, we have no proof.

"My dad always said that my grandad broke a Flake in half - that was before the short, 99 Flakes were manufactured - and stuck it in an ice cream.

"People liked it, so he kept selling it. He called it a 99 because his shop was at 99 Portobello High Street.

"We're not sure of the exact date he did that, but it was not long after he opened the shop in 1922, so is definitely long before the dates the dictionary gives as the first printed quote mentioning it."

Stephen Arcari, originally from Italy, came to Britain after the First World War and moved to Portobello to set up his shop soon after he was released.

"He died when he was quite young - in his 50s - so my dad took over the business himself then," added Ms Arcari.

"He remembers that my grandad had invented the 99, but the problem is, nobody wrote it down or put anything in a log book.

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"It was just accepted in our family that it had originated here. My uncle and auntie used to tell me the story when I was little.

"I want people to know the truth, but I'll have to see whether the dictionary can be changed."

A spokeswoman for the Oxford English Dictionary said: "We would be delighted to hear their story on the origin of the 99 ice cream and would like them to write in and tell us more about it."

The facts

The dictionary's explanation of the 99's origins:

Ninety-nine Brit. (also 99), an ice-cream cone made with soft ice cream with a stick of flaky chocolate inserted into it (as '99' a proprietary name in the United Kingdom); (formerly) an ice-cream wafer sandwich containing a similar stick of chocolate; a wafer cone or chocolate stick for an ice cream (disused).

[Apparently an arbitrary marketing name. The original ice cream contained Cadbury's '99' Flake (produced specially for the ice-cream trade) but the application to the chocolate may not precede its application to the ice cream. The suggestion that something really special or first class was known as '99' in allusion to an elite guard of ninety-nine soldiers in the service of the King of Italy appears to be without foundation.]

The first printed reference to the 99 is in 1935: Price List Cadbury Bros. Ltd. Aug., '99' C.D.M. Flake (For Ice Cream Trade)..1 gro[ss] One price only. 1936 in Advertising Album (Cadbury Arch. No. 003580), Try a '99' ice cream with Cadbury's Dairy Milk Flake chocolate.

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