Utah

Two weeks from now, hundreds of linguists will convene in Salt Lake City for the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America and affiliated groups like the American Dialect Society, the American Name Society, and others. It’s the big meeting of the year for experts in the study of language, including the next generation of would-be experts, who are now graduate students imbibing (or challenging) the wisdom of their elders.

If you’re a linguist, you don’t want to miss this opportunity to exchange the latest ideas (and incidentally vote for the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year). And if you’re such an expert, you don’t want to be ignorant of the local lingo.

Fortunately, there’s a way to develop expertise in the distinctive language of Utah. It’s the recently completed six-volume 60,000-word Dictionary of American Regional English, sponsored by that American Dialect Society. And here, derived from that dictionary, is a complete set of lessons designed to transform you linguistically into a Utahn.

They won’t take long to learn, either, because there are only about a dozen words or phrases in DARE that are distinctive to Utah alone. That’s because in the United States, regional and local language boundaries, especially in the West, don’t follow state boundaries. But a few do, and here they are, courtesy of DARE.

  • Lesson 1: Slickrock. This is the name used in Utah for a rock that is slick. DARE defines it as “an expanse of naturally smoothed, polished rock.”
  • Lesson 2: Culinary water. water you can drink, as opposed to irrigation water.
  • Lesson 3, Plants. Oose: another name for the yucca. Snowdrop: plant commonly known as fritillary. Mormon tree: more commonly known as poplar. Utah bugler: carmine-colored flowers. Utah oak: gambel oak.
  • Lesson 4, Fish. Mountain herring: outside Utah, known as the whitefish.Leatherside minnow or Utah chub: elsewhere known simply as chub.
  • Lesson 5, Mormons. Saint: an old-fashioned term for a Mormon. Gentile: a non-Mormon. Cohab: “one who lives in illegal cohabitation, specifically a polygamous Mormon.” Gold-and-green ball: a dance held for young people to honor them for service to the church.
  • Lesson 6, Things to do. Slough: to play hooky, skip school. Across lots: go straight to hell.

Those are all from the print version of DARE, and all kidding aside, that’s what DARE says they mean. For those who subscribe to the online version (at $50 a year) of DARE, more Utah wonders await. In particular, there’s the Utah mile, defined as an indeterminate distance, the opposite of a straight line.

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So practice this dialogue and you’ll get the hang of it:

“Hey, Chub, got any oose juice today? Or maybe culinary water? Come and sit on this slickrock and share it. I caught a big mountain herring this morning. I’m going to the gold-and-green ball tonight with one of my cohabs. Oh, you want to slough? Well, you can just go across lots.”

Gosh, you sound just like you’re from Utah.