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‘Crawdaddy,’ ‘Boomba,’ and a ‘Bounce-Around’: an Online Update of Regional Words

DARE9780674425071-lgThe eighth in what we hope will be an unending series of online updates for the Dictionary of American Regional English is now available, free, to all who wonder what else there is to say about the varieties of American English vocabulary already caught in the six massive print volumes of the dictionary.

This eighth update shows there is always plenty to be added, and always will be, as long as we continue speaking (or writing) American English in an endless variety of ways.

But first, some good news about the online version of the dictionary, published by Harvard University Press. First, it has recently been updated to include the first six updates, as well as other corrections and changes; second, the subscription price has been cut in half, to $49.You can visit the Harvard University Press website to subscribe.

Editor George Goebel has been concentrating on his ABCs, because the first volume, covering those letters, was published back in 1985 and hence is most in need of updating. But he’s not limited to the start of the alphabet.

So this time, Goebel says his favorite new quotation is in the revised entry for simples, meaning “foolishness or silliness regarded facetiously as a disease,” along with “bore for the simples,” “to subject to an imaginary surgical operation supposed to cure folly.”

Goebel quotes from a 2005 issue of the Missouri Conservationist: “I remember helping an old man skin a beaver, back when limited beaver trapping was first allowed. ‘A man who would do this for a livin’, he said wryly, ‘had ort to be bored for the simples. I purely hate it.’”

But back to the ABCs. There’s kind of party once known in Missouri (and elsewhere) as a bounce-around, where young people bounce around playing games, singing, dancing, even kissing — also known in the Midlands and Texas as a “play party.” Where dancing was frowned on, they played games instead that were suspiciously like dancing, what DARE calls “quasi-dancing.”

The updated dictionary now has 10 separate entries for varieties of crayfish — or rather, separate entries for 10 different names for the creature known as crayfish: craw, crawcrab, crawdab, crawdad, crawjinny, crawldad, crawlfish, crawpappy, crowdad.

A welcome sign of spring is bear’s lettuce, a kind of lettuce saxifrage supposedly enjoyed by bears coming out of hibernation. It’s also known (in southwestern Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Virginia) as groundhog salad and in southwestern Pennsylvania, deer tongue.

If you’re thirsty in Georgia or Florida, you can try cane skimmings, a home brew made from sugar cane; in Detroit, a boomba of beer. If you’re hungry in places like Wyoming or Missouri, you might care for a bite of brick mush. But you’d really have to be hungry for that. Bon appetit!

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