Soda or Pop; Hoagie or Po’ Boy; Dictionary Does American Dialect

I’m pretty sure by now everybody is up to speed on the ongoing controversy between what it is the dark, fizzy, sweet liquid should be called that comes out of the red, white and blue cans. Naturally, whether it’s pop, coke, soda or something completely different, you’re correct. It’s all just a part of the local dialect.

But that’s not all there is to a local dialect. One word does not a community make. Nor does a simple nasal tone or a slight drawl. The United States is a vast country and thought the language is English across it, certain terms crop up in different regions that would bewilder others.

Luckily, there was University of Wisconsin professor Frederic G. Cassidy who created DARE. No, I’m not talking about the annoying program us 80s and 90s babies were forced to endure throughout middle and high school. I’m talking about a regional dialect dictionary that was started in 1962 called the Dictionary of American Regional English.

Between 1965 and 1970, troves of graduate students were sent to the furthest corners of our country with one simple task – talk to the locals. Learn their lingo. Have them answer a simple 1,600 questionnaire on their local terms for everyday objects.

After five years and 1,000 communities, the legwork was completed. But if my math is correct, that would result in 1.6 million answers to catalogue in order to create a full dictionary. This is why though Cassidy originally intended to have the dictionary completed by 1976 in time for the country’s bicentennial birthday, the first volume did not come out until 1985.

And that wasn’t even the whole thing. In fact, just now the fifth volume has been completed, finishing up the entire alphabet.

But they’re not done.

Joan Houston Hall – who took over the project after Cassidy’s death in 2000 – is busy working on supplemental material such as maps showing how synonyms are distributed across different areas of the country, just like the regional pop vs. soda vs. coke image above. What’s more, you’ll be able to check it all out yourself next year when the digital edition is released.

Even though it’s not yet online, the dictionary has been helping doctors, lawyers, police and scientists figure out just what the hell it is that those backwards folks from that other part of the country are talking about.

For me, I’m looking forward to seeing the regional differences between a sub, hoagie, dagwood, grinder and po’ boy – and how they all seem to be used in Columbus, Ohio.

If you’re interested in some cool materials right now, you can check out the DARE website: http://dare.news.wisc.edu/

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About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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