All posts by Allan Metcalf


Appalachian English

If you might could be wondering a little about the kind of English spoken in the Appalachians — the kind that includes double modals like “might could” and asks, “Was you wantin’ to go to town?” Well, there’s a new website, written by the leading experts on that very topic, that tells the truth, the whole truth, about it. It’s free, available to everyone, and it’s right here.

Instead of waiting here for my further explanation, you can go right now to the website and enjoy its many features, inc…


Our American Poets


In the spring of 1963 I lived for a semester with a handful of fellow students in a pleasant wood-frame house in Berkeley, Calif. The house was perhaps 50 years old and in good condition, but it was to be demolished that May to make room for an apartment building.

In a hallway that I walked through several times a day hung a wood-framed glass-fronted collection of photographs of six distinguished-looking people. And though they were mainly looking at each other — three on the left looking to…


How Maria Got Her Name (That’s ‘Ma-RYE-a’)


George Rippey Stewart

Hurricane Maria made its unforgettable impression on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last month. But where did it get its name? And who first thought of giving names to tropical storms, anyhow?

Was it the National Hurricane Center, which has been naming storms in the Atlantic since 1953? No, earlier than that.

Or did the idea come from Lerner and Loewe, who back in 1951 composed “They Call the Wind Maria” for the musical Paint Your Wagon?

How about American military mete…


Farewell, ‘Dictionary of American Regional English’ — but Keep in Touch


Frederic Cassidy (right), first editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, with students who helped compile it by recording Americans in the field. (Photo courtesy of U. of Wisconsin-Madison Archives, 1965)

During half a century of painstaking research that gradually brought the Dictionary of American Regional English into being, its staff, friends, and benefactors have found many occasions to celebrate its progress, volume by volume starting in 1985 and ending just a few years ago w…


Our Alt-Universe


A year ago, on the day after April Fools’ Day, the Associated Press announced that soon internet would no longer begin with a capital letter. No fooling.

This was the announcement:

“We will lowercase internet effective June 1, when the 2016 Stylebook launches.”

And they explained:

“. . . the lowercase spelling is in line with the public utility aspect of the net, just as radio and television are spelled down as generic terms in mass communications.”

When the AP changed its internet style, other…


A Name for It

9-11 memorial

National September 11 Memorial, by PWP Landscape Architecture

About 13,000 young people who were born on September 11, 2001, are turning 16 on Monday. That makes most of them now eligible to get their drivers’ licenses. And also to admonish the rest of us: “It’s 9/11 day. Remember to do one good deed.”

Like the rest of us, the new generation of young people keeps the designation 9/11 for the day that the United States suffered its greatest terrorist attack. And the memory of that day may be help…


Sweet Freak


Politics seems to dominate American discourse in 2017, making it likely that in January 2018, when members and friends of the American Dialect Society choose the Word of the Year 2017, their vote will go to a political word or phrase. One week sheetcake has everyone’s attention for its new political meaning; the next week it’s Dreamers, and so on.

But despite the preoccupation with politics, it’s still possible that WOTY 2017 could be something quite different, and a lot sweeter: the freakshake


Finaciously, More Regional Words for ‘DARE’


DARE’s map represents population density when the words were collected, instead of land area.

Without an accident (as they used to say in the South), it’s time again to harvest a quarterly crop of regional words for the online Dictionary of American Regional English. As usual, the new update is available free on DARE’s website, though a subscription fee is required to get the whole six-volume 60,000-word dictionary online.

The dictionary was compiled in 1965-70 by researchers from the University…


Sheetcaking: Seriously?


Tina Fey [Image via YouTube]


This past Sunday afternoon, my wife took time to follow the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for “The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.” The result was indeed the best chocolate sheetcake I’ve ever had.

But it wasn’t just a culinary event. It also fed our vocabulary — yet another political word for this turbulent year.

What does cake have to do with politics? The instigator, Tina Fey, explained it on the evening of Thursday, August 17, on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update.


Take a Gander

Traverse CityEvery summer my wife and I head north from Illinois to the “big lake” — Lake Michigan, of course — at Pentwater and the tourist attractions of Traverse City, Mich., where her daughter lives. Along the way, we meet lots of Michiganders.

A resident of Ohio is an Ohioan. Of Wisconsin, a Wisconsinite. Of Iowa, an Iowan. Someone who lives in Michigan, however, is best known not as a Michiganian, but as a Michigander.

Is that a joke? Or a proud designation? Despite the association with geese, it seems…