When I moved from Manhattan to Boston, I no longer took my clothes to the dry cleaners. In Boston, they were “cleansers.” I couldn’t order a milk shake; they were “frappes,” (and way too watery). And when it came to using the word “very,” fuhgeddaboudit! Here in Boston, it’s “wicked,” as in “wicked good” or “wicked pissa.”
To people overseas, America might at times seem like one big, homogeneous country with one culture, language, and dialect (or maybe two languages, English and Spanish, or the combination, Spanglish), but that’s far from true.
People around the US all eat take-out sandwiches, but depending on where they live, they order subs, grinders, hoagies, heroes, po’ boys, bombers, Italian sandwiches, baguettes, or sarneys.
When Americans drive around traffic islands, they call them variously roundabouts, rotaries, circles, traffic circles, or traffic circuses.
And, although I knew about “package stores” where you can get cheap, untaxed booze, I’d never heard of drive-through liquor stores, called “brew thrus,” “party barns,” “bootleggers,” “beer barns,” or “beverage barns.”
There’s a really cool test constructed by the Harvard Dialect Survey, a linguistics project begun in 2002 by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder, to help “place” you within the US, based on the words you use and the way in which you pronounce them. I’ve tested it on myself, and on several friends, and it was remarkably accurate.
And, if you want to see where in the world people with your last name live, go check out this post.
This is fascinating. I tried it, not as I would speak, but as I reckoned people spoke where I lived (Mid West, Great Plains, absolutely smack bang middle of the country). The survey came up with three cities as my closest match: two in Wisconsin and Reno, Nevada. Not a bad stab!
Even a little over a year back in Britain, I found it hard to remember the detail of how people spoke where I was. I know that I would have found the survey much easier to do a couple of years ago. I was puzzling over it, rather than just knowing the answers instinctively. That made me a bit sad…