DARE in the Air

A half century of field work and lexicography came to completion earlier this year with publication of the last volume of that massive work, the Dictionary of American Regional English. It encompasses six volumes of a thousand pages each, some 50,000 entries of American regional words, numerous maps and countless cross references, along with a final volume including an index by region and the complete list of responses to a nationwide survey of regional vocabulary.

Move over, Oxford English Dictionary! You may have half a million words, but they don’t include the likes of

—trollock (trash) from eastern Maine;

—transparent pudding (made with eggs, butter, and sugar) from Kentucky;

—trumpery room (storage room) from Virginia and vicinity.

DARE is awesome to behold, and heavy to hold, weighing more than 30 pounds and occupying 14 inches of foot-high shelf space. But now, as if by magic, like the OED it has vanished into thin air, or more properly the cloud. This monument of 20th-century lexicography has been transformed into a 21st-century online reference, as light and as handy as your nearest laptop or iPad.

See for yourself: DARE.

There you’ll find, first of all, the unique DARE map of the United States, recognizable but distorted to have one place for each of the thousand dots representing communities surveyed between 1965 and 1970 for their distinctive regional vocabulary. Click on any state and you’ll find a list of the regions it belongs to and the regions within it. And what’s more, a complete list of the entries in that region.

Take “Desert Southwest,” for example. We learn that it includes New Mexico and Arizona and a bit of southeast California. We learn that the dictionary has 19 entries for that region, most of them names of plants, but including also “antelope jackrabbit,” “Mormon tea,” and “mutual,” whatever those might be.

And that’s as far as the free information goes. To see the definitions, you need to have the six volumes on hand, or pay for an online subscription.

It’s a little expensive. For an individual, it’s $150 a year.

That’s a lot, but it’s only about half of the $295 the Oxford English Dictionary charges individuals for an annual subscription. And you can also ask your favorite library to sign up for a 30-day free trial of DARE before paying the institutional rate of $1,200 a year.

If you happen to have access to the paper volumes of DARE, and are frugal and enjoy weightlifting, you might think you’d do just as well to stay grounded and ignore the cloud. But you’d be wrong. There are things you can find instantly with the digital DARE that are impossible with the print version. So much to tell, in fact, that there isn’t room for it in today’s post. I’ll give some examples next week.

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