Earlier this year, we wrote about the regional differences in how Americans refer to soft drinks. An exploration of the various geographical names for a carbonated beverage is all well and good, but it’s important to remember that America’s lexical variations are significantly more colorful than “soda,” (East and West coasts), “coke,” (South), and “pop” (Midwest and Northwest).
For those interested in experiencing the full range of verbal Americana, the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has finally become available online after 47 years of work. Unlike any other dictionary, DARE attempts to document the regional aspects of American English, and systematize the wide array of geographically unique terms and expressions. As John McWhorter notes in The New Republic, this labor of linguistic love contains some 60,000 entries from 1,002 communities, collected between 1965 and 1970. Of course, as McWhorter points out, some of the terms indexed in DARE are dated, having succumbed to mass-media’s democratizing effects on language over the course of DARE's lengthy preparation. Still, with entries like “rich relatives” (dust bunnies) and “Canadian perjunkety” (pimples), the dictionary provides a fascinating glimpse of the verbal curios, both old and new, that have sprung up around the country.
Although DARE is a subscription-based service, its website provides visitors with a list of 100 free and browsable terms. We’ve included a selection below:
- "To acknowledge the corn – to admit to being drunk; by extension, to admit to any mistake, fault, or impropriety (formerly widespread, now chiefly Midland)."
- "Flannel cake – pancake (chiefly Appalachian)"
- "Flea in one’s ear – A hint, warning, disquieting disclosure; a rebuke (chiefly Northeast)"
- "Lucy Bowles – loose bowels, diarrhea (scattered, but esp. Pennsylvania, New Jersey, southeastern New York)"
- "Slick and a promise – A hasty or superficial performance of a task (chiefly New Jersey)"
Additionally, a sample of audio recordings demonstrating the breadth of accents and vocabularies in various generations, cities, and classes during the ‘60s may be found on the University of Wisconsin-Madison DARE website.
For the full 100-word list, head over to DARE.
Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.