A tadpole is called a “pinkwink” on Cape Cod and a lottery ticket is a “pickle” in Nebraska. And a “fence-lifter”? That’s what a heavy rain is called in the Ozarks. But in the Gulf States, a heavy-duty downpour is known as a “toad-strangler.” Welcome to the wonderful world of regional English, American-style!
Local linguistic twists add flavor and snap to everyday life: they celebrate our endless creativity and flair for description. That’s why language lovers are excited about the debut of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), a five-volume cornucopia of colorful phrases. But this treasure trove is more than just 60,000
quirky entries. It’s also a living, breathing expression of who we are and how we think about our world and capture it in words.
DARE is a gift to America and adventurous writers everywhere from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which launched and completed what one newspaper editor has called “a work of heroic proportions.” Starting in 1962, the university sent out a small army of some 80 researchers to gather juicy local wordbits from more than 1,000 communities around the country.
While slang comes and goes, regionalisms tend to endure because they are part of the fabric of the communities where they spring from. Tom Wolfe consulted DARE while writing his book, I am Charlotte Simmons, doctors have used it to diagnose illnesses, and detectives in a child abduction case used it to decode a ransom note.
DARE may be making its debut, but the party is far from over: An online version is in the works and as the project’s chief editor Joan Houston Hall notes, You’re never done. Language changes all the time.” Amen to that! Write on.