Read 100 Entries From America’s Most Unique Dictionary, Now Available Online For The First Time

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.

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Comments (3)
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  • Ron Haber says:

    “…Americau2019s Most Unique Dic­tio­nary…”? Any dic­tio­nary will give ‘one of a kind’ as the def­i­n­i­tion of the word unique. Using an adjec­tive such as ‘most’, espe­cial­ly when refer­ring to a dic­tio­nary is inap­pro­pri­ate.

    • Margaret Nahmias says:

      But it is the only dic­tonary that I know of that defines region­alisms. So it is unique as in one of a kind.

      • Ron Haber says:

        I did not write that this dic­tio­nary is not unique. I agree that it is unique. I sim­ply indi­cat­ed that it is redun­dant to add a mod­i­fi­er to the word ‘unique’. Mak­ing this gram­mat­i­cal error in a head­line regard­ing a dic­tio­nary is espe­cial­ly egre­gious. I would not have both­ered putting in my two cents if the arti­cle was about earth­worms.

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