Unless you have several hundred dollars to spare, and a foot of shelf space for five 8¾-by-11¼-inch volumes of a close to a thousand pages each, you aren’t likely to own a copy of the Dictionary of American Regional English. But you might find it worth your while to visit your local public or university library to take a look at the 60,000 rare and unusual words inside.
DARE reached a milestone this spring: publication of Volume V, completing the alphabet A through Z of words used differently in different parts of the country.
Last week, in celebration of that milestone—nearly 50 years after work on the dictionary began, more than 25 years after publication of the first volume—the dictionary staff at the University of Wisconsin staged a “symposium” (learned academic gabfest) and a “shindy”: a party or gathering, especially a noisy one with dancing. You will grasp the idea of DARE if you understand that it contains “shindy” but not “symposium.”
I had the good fortune to attend that symposium, and to hear three excellent speakers expound on DARE. One was Simon Winchester, author of books on the Oxford English Dictionary and Krakatoa, a man so gifted with words that I’m sure he could make a best seller out of the list of ingredients on a cereal box.
Another was Michael Adams, author of books on Klingon and other languages, who pointed out the stories embedded in the definitions of DARE. And the third was Erin McKean, founder of Wordnik, “a new way to discover meaning” (look it up), who had something relevant to say about stamp collecting, believe it or not.
But there isn’t room in this post to do justice to any of the speakers, so instead I’ll just open the volumes of the dictionary and show you some samples of regional and local words overlooked by other dictionaries:
“back”: to endorse a document. (Chiefly South and South Midland)
“brank”: to turn sour. (Kentucky)
“colcha”: a bedspread. (New Mexico)
“coulee”: a stream bed. (Louisiana)
“drag driver”: a cowhand who rides at the rear of a herd. (West)
“dry gulch”: to ambush and kill someone; to attack and beat or harm someone. (Chiefly West)
“kram”: to rummage around. (Especially Wisconsin)
“meeching”: skulking, cringing; self-deprecating, obsequious; contemptible. (Chiefly New England)
“moving day”: a day on which leases typically expire, causing many people to change residences at the same time. (Especially New York, Pennsylvania)
“slab”: a road paved with concrete. (Especially Illinois, Missouri, Indiana)
“slip”: a landslide. (Especially Kentucky, Ohio)
“thank-you-ma’am”: a dip or bump in the road. (Especially Northeast) Also known in various places as belly-tickler, cahot, dipsy doodle, duck-and-dip, excuse-me-ma’am, how-do-you-do, johnny-come-lately, kiss-me-quick, tickle bump, whoop-de-do, Yankee bump, yes-ma’am.
“tree lawn”: grassy strip between sidewalk and street. (Especially Ohio) Also known in various places as curb, devil’s strip, parking, parkway, street lawn, swale, terrace, tree bank, and more.
“upscuddle”: a noisy quarrel; a disturbance, tumult. (Chiefly southern Appalachians)
“you-uns”: more than one of you. (especially western Pennsylvania)
It’s not always easy to find a copy of DARE in your neighborhood. Fortunately, next year you’ll be able to access it online. Meanwhile, if you had to miss the shindy, you can go to the current DARE Web site and see why they’re celebrating.
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