Among the most divisive regional differences in the United States are dialect and vocabulary, revealing the outsider at the drop of a syllable. When addressing an individual (a “you”) in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvanians say “yins,” but in Georgia “y’all” is the common pronoun. If yins say “y’all” in Pennsylvania, the locals will note a couple of things: you’re not from the Keystone State, and you’re from the South.
Not all language is so revealing, however. Some regional words are understood on a more national level and their origins aren’t obvious, like “futz” (to mess around) or “bear’s claw” (the pastry). Obscure words like “izzard” (Virginian for “the epitome of something”) will raise questions and eyebrows. “That frowy schnibble made me feest” may in fact make people think the speaker is from another country – or planet.
This is where the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) comes in handy. DARE can alleviate any fears that one’s conversational partner is using fighting words, having a stroke, or speaking in tongues. Instead, the person you’re talking with might simply be expressing that she or he ate a bad piece of meat. DARE, a detailed account of U.S. colloquialisms, is a result of fieldwork and research nearly 50 years in the making. You won’t be able to carry it in your pocket, though – it consists of five large volumes, the last of which was published this year.
In overseeing the creation of DARE, University of Madison-Wisconsin English professor Frank Cassidy took on an initiative that was long overdue. The American Dialect Society (ADS) had been haphazardly compiling lists of American sayings for years, but world conflicts and politics had prevented the ADS from going forward with publication of the material. In 1962, Cassidy began designing a 1,600-question evaluation to be given to individuals with curious speech from North to South, East to West. More.