Pennsylvania’s boilo

Boy howdy! The Dictionary of American Regional English has done it again — issued its quarterly online update, this one dated Winter 2017. It includes boy howdy as well as bowery, a place where you go for a bowery dance. And you can look it all up for free.

If you’re in the South, the central states, or the Southwest, chances are you’ve heard boy howdy. DARE has examples going back as far as a century ago, with the comment “The exclaim use seems to have arisen, or at least become popularized, among soldiers during WWI.” As evidence, the dictionary quotes a 1918 issue of Iowa’s Muscatine Journal: “The size of the Journal staff, so far as young men of military age are concerned, is shrinking alarmingly, but, boy howdy, look how the army’s growing.”

DARE finds bowery dances in the north-central states. They are dances held in a bowery, a name originally used in the north and north midlands, nowadays especially heard in the Rocky Mountains. The extensive quotations from published sources showing the use of bowery include a 1976 quotation from the Salt Lake Tribune, in Utah, a dispatch from Granite Park: “It took the early birds to get the choice reservations Friday for boweries and buildings operated by the Salt Lake County Recreation Department.”


And what’s a bowery dance? DARE quotes a description from the dictionary’s home state of Wisconsin, dated 1951: “Young people of neighborhood lay a board floor out under the trees, erect a roof frame over it and roof it with boughs, and give free dances with beer; collection paid for fiddler and beer, and what was left over paid the cleaner-uppers.”

Then there’s the boar’s nest, what we nowadays would call a man-cave: “Living quarters inhabited by men only, or a solitary man, generally under disorderly or uncivilized conditions,” as DARE puts it. It was heard especially in the West.

Boilo, on the other hand, is a term from eastern Pennsylvania for — well, here’s a 2016 citation caught on the internet: “a popular homemade Yuletide beverage. Ingredients include orange and lemon juice, honey, cloves, caraway seeds, and large amounts of whiskey. Served hot in shot glasses. Many families have their own particular recipes. … “

In Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, booya is stewed meat with vegetables, or “an occasion at which this is served.”

Some New Englanders used to braid a mixture when cooking, what would nowadays be called stirring.


I could go on and on, but this is enough to give a taste of Editor George Goebel’s new and revised entries, some 16 of each. They are supported by rich evidence, often a dozen citations from earliest known to the present. Among other things, there are plants (branch lettuce) and fish (eight kinds of bream) and a meal called bread and with it.

It all goes to show that print publication of the big six-volume dictionary didn’t stop old regionalisms from being discovered and new ones from being created. Tour these pages and see for yourself.