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Lexicon of regionalisms to live on after final printing
Posted 2/27/2012 6:48 PM ET
If you've never put your lips to a bubbler, you're probably not from Wisconsin. Ask for a pickle in Nebraska and you might get a lottery ticket. And what you call a carbonated soft drink, whether soda, pop or coke, provides a clue about where you grew up.

Language lovers are celebrating the nation's diverse and colorful lexicon with the soon-to-be-published final volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English, also known by its acronym, DARE.

Thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where a drinking fountain is called a bubbler, we now know that a dry-land fish to Kentuckians and Tennesseans is an edible mushroom. A tadpole is a pinkwink on Cape Cod. And a toad-strangler in the Gulf States is a turd-floater in Texas and Oklahoma and a fence-lifter in the Ozarks; all three describe a heavy rain.

The five-volume dictionary, published by Harvard University Press, is more than a collection of 60,000 quirky terms. "It is a repository of who we have been as a people, and who we are," says Baltimore Sun night editor John McIntyre, who also blogs about language.

He calls it "a work of heroic proportions." First dreamed up in 1962, the project sent more than 80 researchers to collect data from 1,002 communities. The first volume was published in 1985.

Unlike slang, regionalisms have staying power. And their origins can be traced to a particular geographic area. Author Tom Wolfe consulted DARE when writing about the Blue Ridge Mountains in I am Charlotte Simmons. Doctors have used it to diagnose illnesses. Detectives in a child abduction case narrowed their suspect list based on a ransom note demanding money be dropped on a devil strip. That's how folks from northeast Ohio describe that strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street.

Zydeco, a kind of dance party associated with Louisiana's Creole culture, closes the fifth volume. But the project is far from over. Now in progress is an online version to be launched in 2013. Volume VI will feature maps showing how synonyms are distributed across the country.

"You're never done," says chief editor Joan Houston Hall. "Language changes all the time."

Posted 2/27/2012 6:48 PM ET
Pop, coke or soda? What you call a carbonated soft drink can provide clues to where you grew up.
By Matt Rourke, AP
Pop, coke or soda? What you call a carbonated soft drink can provide clues to where you grew up.