I love language. I love language differences. I particularly love regional variations in language use.
When I was growing up, I ordered a pop if I wanted a Coke or a 7-Up. I didn’t find out that this was not universal until I went to college. There I learned that some people who get what I call pop call it soda. To me, a soda was a pop with ice cream in it. I have learned since that most of the country considers this an ice cream soda. (We did have a version of this soda—the root beer float: two scoops of ice cream in a large glass, slowly pour the root beer over the ice cream, add straw, go back to horror/James Bond/Hitchcock movie.)
Speaking American, by Josh Katz, is the book I’ve wanted to read for years. Here’s the soda score:
I had been under the impression, until I read this book, that only we Minnesotans were clueless in the pop definition thing. I am happily surprised to see that Iowa, both of the Dakotas, Michigan, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, and the most sensible parts of Wisconsin all use pop. Even Washington State largely uses pop. Hmm. I think henceforth I shall eschew soda, and use pop exclusively. I love regionalism. Linguistically speaking.
Here’s a fun one. I grew up totally and completely saying car’-mel, two syllables. Everyone says it that way here. Then I get married, and my New York spouse says care’-ah-mell. What? Really? It sounded so pretentious to me. And then I find out that it’s purely a regional thing:
The yard sale takes up several pages. Or perhaps I should say garage sale; they seem equally common. But in Connecticut you have the tag sale, and in southeast Wisconsin you have a rummage sale. In Brooklyn they have stoop sales.
I learned (should I be admitting this?) that a frying pan and a skillet are the same thing (a skillet more common in the central south, a frying pan more common everywhere else). I had always thought a skillet was cast iron, and a frying pan was anything else. Oooh—maybe that’s a Minnesotan differentiation. (Doubtful.)
Who would think icing and frosting could have a regional rift? But they do: In the South, people suggest you can use the two words interchangeably. The north says no, they are not interchangeable (icing is thin, often used on cookies and for a very thin coating of a frosting—like a glaze; frosting is thick and often fluffy; icing doesn’t fluff). You see? You see how we get into our regionalisms? I think it is great fun.
I had no idea that everyone in the world didn’t call the strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk the boulevard. I grew up in my small town calling it the boulevard. I think that’s pretty much standard across Minnesota (but I should do some research before you take it as fact). Turns out that about three-quarters of the country doesn’t have a word for this strip. I find that hard to believe! Seriously? Is it possible that most of the country has no word for that strip between the sidewalk and the street, that many of us in Minnesota plant with flowers and other fun plants (I have a neighbor on the corner that has blessedly planted raspberries on their boulevard—can you imagine anything more generous?).
A lot of the food differences are fun. Here’s one:
Yep, they got it right. I grew up calling them crayfish. (I wonder how many people call them anything at all anymore. Are they still common?)
Other fun things I learned:
- Most people call athletic shoes tennis shoes (I call them tennies), but in the northeast and also southern Florida, they say sneakers.
- Some regions celebrate the night before Halloween. They call it Mischief Night (South Jersey and Philadelphia), Devil’s Night (Michigan and Pittsburgh), Goosey Night (a small bit of North Jersey), and Cabbage Night (New York and Vermont sides of Lake Champlain).
- I am in the minority when I pronounce aunt ahnt. Except for most of Minnesota and North Dakota, northern South Dakota, and the Northeast (and a standout in Virginia), everyone else says ant.
- There are also regional pronunciation differences in pajamas, often (no, I don’t pronounce the T), crayons, quarter, coupon, lawyer, grocery, route, and been.
- A groundhog and a woodchuck are the same thing. (Yes, I should have known that.)
- While most of the country has no word for when it’s raining while the sun is shining, some areas in the northeast, Florida, and Minnesota (disparate!) call it a sunshower, while the deep south calls it “the devil beating his wife.” Who knew?
This is a purely fun book, great maps, informative, interesting, and beautiful. Did I mention fun? Usually I regift my books, but I think I will do this one on a loaner basis. I want to share it with a lot of people.