March 10, 2009
Well, who can blame you, with all the thousands of regional expressions floating around out there?
I grew up in Rhode Island, where we drank water out of bubblers (water fountains) and devoured cabinets (milkshakes) as special treats. I thought everyone did the same, until I met my husband (a Midwesterner) and learned that every corner of the nation has its own quirky lexicon.
Now, thanks to the good folks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, many of this country’s regional phrases are all together in one place: The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).
This collection of books documents the varieties of English found in each tiny pocket of the United States. In fact, DARE is based on interviews conducted in all 50 states and on a comprehensive collection of written materials from the colonial period to the present.
The first book, Volume I (letters A-C), was published 25 years ago. Subsequent volumes (up to the letters Sk) have come out since, and Volume V, containing the remainder of the alphabet, is scheduled for publication this year.
I can’t wait to get my hands on the whole collection. Because not only is DARE a great way to pass down old sayings that might otherwise die off, it’s a colorful testament to the rich culture and diversity of this country.
Here’s a sampling of entries:
railroad daisy (n) also railroad flower. North Dakota, Eastern Montana, Louisiana, Kentucky:
Black-eyed Susan. So named because the flower can grow in sunny, gravelly areas like those alongside railroad tracks.
Adam’s housecat (n) chiefly S. Atlantic and Gulf States:
An idiom, as in “I don’t know him from Adam’s housecat.”
garden house (n) chiefly Mid Atlantic:
An outhouse. So named because they were typically built in a garden of a country house.
scramble (n) also scramble dinner. Northern Illinois:
A potluck dinner.
discomgollifusticated (adj) also discumgalligumfricated. New England:
Discombobulated. “The jet lag and lack of sleep made him irritable and discomgollifusticated.”
larruping (adj) Texas, Oklahoma:
Delicious, excellent (esp. of food). “Now that’s one larrupin’ good pie.”
nebby (adj) also nebby-nosed. chiefly Pennsylvania:
Snoopy, inquisitive. “I heard the gossip from her nebby neighbor.”
mubble-squibble (n) North Carolina:
A noogie; the act of rubbing one’s knuckles on a person’s head so as to produce a mildly painful sensation.
Have any of your own regional expressions to share? We’d love to hear them!