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Monday, October 26, 2015

A Sandwich By Any Other Name

 I recently moved back to New England from Virginia and realized that I have forgotten how to speak the language.

When I was ordering lunch the other day, I asked the server for a tuna “sub.” She looked at me blankly. “You mean a grinder?”

Yes! A grinder! How could I forget? Just when I think I’m settling in, some little detail like that pops up to remind me that I am not in Virginia any more.

I started thinking about these differences in regional dialect and discovered a great resource for writers who want to make sure their characters are talking like natives.

The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has been in the works since 1962. It was the brainchild of the American Dialect Society and the English Department at the University of Washington-Madison. Staff at the university has toiled for fifty years to compile a dictionary of all the regionalisms that make people from different states incomprehensible to each other.

DARE’s website is fun to play with, and is a valuable resource for writers. There are dropdown menus that make it easy for you to choose your state and explore some of the lingo that your potential characters may speak.

So if your hero is hungry, he can order a hero in New York City, or a po’boy in New Orleans, or a hoagie in Pennsylvania. Who knew that in southeastern New York, such a sandwich is called a “wedge?” When he is done eating a peach, depending on where he is from, he will toss away the seed, pit, stone, or kernel.

The dictionary is fun to browse. Most of us know that soda and pop mean the same thing, but who knew that a dust bunny is called a “dust dolly” in New Jersey?

Are there any regionalisms that only folks in your neck of the woods use?


Kait said...

Fascinating! Regional dialogue is always difficult. As a writer, it's doubly difficult since you want your characters to sound authentic, but you don't want to be in the position of having to explain what you mean, so how you couch the term can be a challenge.

In south Florida the swale alongside the road is what is called a verge in other places. Maine has a number. Wicked is probably the best known (and may be generic to most of northern New England. It seems to turn up in MA as well). In far northern Maine a partridge is a ruffed grouse and the French heritage shows in many phrases that are near translations from French structure. A lot of linguistic history in regionalisms. What a fun topic to study.

Jim Jackson said...

That soda or pop is also referred to in various localities as a soda pop, a tonic, a coke: as in what kinda coke you want? I’ll have a diet Pepsi, thank you.

In my northern home (U.P. of Michigan) the locals also use partridge for grouse (we have mostly ruffed grouse, but also a few spruce grouse.) Aspen trees are called popple. And if you use the "correct" terms you are called the most derogatory of terms behind your back, "a tourist."

~ Jim

Grace Topping said...

Communication can get really complicated when you marry someone from a different region. My mother was from Georgia, my father was an Italian-American from Pennsylvania, I married an Englishman, and we live in Virginia. Talk about a jumble of terminology. My children knew that when my husband told them to put on a jumper, they were to reach for a pullover sweater. When he told them we were having pudding, he meant any dessert, not a creamy pudding like the butterscotch that I grew up with. When I said we were having spaghetti for dinner, it meant the long strands, not different shaped macroni, which the rest of the world lumps into the word pasta. Thank you for the link to the dictionary. I think I'm going to need it.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Cincinnati has a German heritage. When someone doesn't hear or understand something I've said, the response is "please?", which would be "bitte" in German.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Kait,
I'm with you, I find this stuff fascinating. I guess we're word nerds :)

Shari Randall said...

So true, Jim. "Tourist" - worst thing ever! I'm afraid that's just how I sound right now to all these Connecticut ears. I had even gotten used to calling all bubbly drinks "coke." Hope I can shift gears.

Shari Randall said...

Grace, it sounds like you may have covered all the linguistic bases. My daughter is studying in England this year and when we were talking on the phone she asked me to send her a favorite "jumper" - took me awhile to realize that she had shifted linguistic gears.

Shari Randall said...

Margaret, I like that! I say "sorry" but like the idea of saying "please" better.

Gloria Alden said...

Shari, one of my courses in college, years ago, had a whole session on regional dialects. Here in N.E. Ohio we call those sandwiches subs and the fizzy drinks pop. Because my books take place in the same area I grew up in, I don't have to worry about a different dialect. Of course, when I travel I've heard all the different words for things, but I adjust easily.

Warren Bull said...

I have lived in the midwest, California and North Carolina. Each one had its own local idioms. North Carolina was my favorite.

Shari Randall said...

Hi Gloria and Warren,
don't all those regional differences make things interesting? I love it when I stumble upon a different way of saying things.

Kara Cerise said...

Regional differences can be fun and a little confusing. When I moved to the Boston area I learned that hospital gowns were called Johnnies, sprinkles on top of ice cream were Jimmies, and hamburgers were abbreviated Hamburg. Also, what I called a milkshake (with ice cream) was known as a frappe.

carla said...

Funny how cultural differences play out in SCRABBLE. I tried to play "sercy" or "sircee", which round here means a small, no-reason gift. My fellow players (YANKEES) looked at me like I had grown a second head. Wasn't in the Scrabble dictionary either! And it's a GREAT word!

Shari Randall said...

Kara, Boston got me, too! And then it is funny how those different terms stick when you move on. I still call sprinkles "jimmies"

Shari Randall said...

Hi Carla,
I think we need SCRABBLE dictionaries keyed to different areas. Then you could play sercy and I could play frappe. BTW, the cover of your book looks awesome! Big congratulations!

E. B. Davis said...

What cover of Carla's book? I saw it is supposed to be released in February, but there is no cover on Amazon--okay Carla, are you holding out on us? I want to see the cover, please!

To me, Shari, the difference between hoagies (I'm from rural PA with parents from Philly, who educated me) and all the others was in the roll. A hoagie has better, chewy, crusty Italian rolls. All the others could have "Sunbeam" bread. What a come down!

Maya Corrigan said...

I'm off topic here, Shari, but your first sentence startled me. You moved back to New England? How did I not know that? I saw your lobster shack photos on FB, but I thought you were visiting Maine.