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Americans use words differently in different regions of the country—a “moot” or “mute” point? There’s a grammatical argument to be made here for sure, but for a simple yes or no answer check out a series of new maps released by statistician Joshua Katz.
The maps are of the continental United States (Alaska and Hawaii are not included for geographical proximity purposes) and they reveal delightfully quirky trends. Some relate to things you might think of yourself: How do you pronounce aunt? (most respondents would say “ant” while those in New England would say “ahnt.”) Other questions get at more obscure (and questionable) regional differences, like drive-through liquor stores.
When most of the people on television sound like they’re from some generic American city with no accent or idioms, it’s easy to lose track of local dialect. How would you pronounce “caramel”? Differently, according to Katz’s maps, if you’re from the Eastern Seaboard than if you’re from the West or Midwest. And “pecan” has at least four different regional pronunciations.
It turns out that many Americans would call a bug that flies around in the summer and has a rear section that lights up a “firefly.” Many would also call it a “lightning bug” and perhaps just as many would use the two words interchangeably.
I’m not sure I’d want to be in either Michigan or New Jersey on the night before Halloween.
Katz is a graduate student at North Carolina State University. He designed the maps to reflect responses to 122 questions about pronunciation and word usage based on research originally conducted by Professor Bert Vaux at Harvard University.
Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Visit to see more of her work or follow her on Twitter @mskaterix.