Examples of background clues from vocabulary and/or usage?
June 19, 2013 5:44 AM   Subscribe

When someone says head or latrine for bathroom its likely that they were in the military or around the military. A less common example,when someone says "avoid the near occasion" about something its likely that they are from a Roman Catholic background, I'd even say its use indicates a likelihood that they are or were a priest, seminarian, religious, in a kind of serious catholic family or school etc. Reckon is a common word and its being used once doesn't mean anything but when its use is pretty frequent it might be indicative of someone's having lived in the south east United States. When people say pop instead of soda or coke they likely are from somewhere roughly between Chicago and Denver, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Things like this interest me and I'm sure I know only a infinitesimal fraction of a percent of them. Do you have any like observations to share?

Pointing me towards web sites, threads, databases, or journals that cover this sort of thing would be way cool.

I'm also interested in people's observations. Words or word constructs that cause recognition that someone is from your home region or elsewhere, that they are in your professional field, academic discipline, etc. Any phrases that are especially used in particular regions, occupations, social segments, sub-cultures, etc.


None of these things are going to be a hundred percent accurate, they just indicate a likelihood. An example of an expression that is less than 50% indicative is "X is the gold standard of. . . " People with a medical background say this much more often than other people. Many medical people don't say it much and some non-medical people do say it but its use does indicate a likelihood.

I can picture someone not liking this topic because it might seem like it is about creating a sloppy taxonomy that's about prejudice. To me its a bit about playing amateur sociologist/anthropologist and a little bit about trying on occasion to make a Sherlock Holmes prognostication about where people have been or what their occupation is. Mostly its one more dimension in listening to people that can keep things interesting, especially places like on a bus,waiting in a lobby, or the like. My favorite cab driver friend keeps his night interesting by trying to guess all his fares occupations before he has to drop them off.Its a passtime, one I'm sure i could be better at.
posted by logonym to Society & Culture (92 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, for the regionalisms, there's this, for starters.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 5:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


FWIW, "head" is used by recreational boaters as well as the military, and "pop" extends at least as far east as Cleveland.
posted by jon1270 at 5:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


But....isn't this just a list of technical jargon and regionalisms, mapped to their appropriate professions/locations?
posted by wenestvedt at 5:51 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The word looking for is shibboleth. Here is a list of them.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:54 AM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


The Rochester, NY area is full of shibboleths.
posted by tommasz at 5:59 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"But....isn't this just a list of technical jargon and regionalisms, mapped to their appropriate professions/locations?"

Its a request for data sources or personal experience about word usage that can be good indicators about people's background. "avoid the near occasion" and "x is the gold standard of. . . " are not likely to be in a glossary of Catholicism or in a medical dictionary.

A list, yes almost any sequential presentation of items or data can be a called a list.
posted by logonym at 6:01 AM on June 19, 2013


I believe the reckon of the South comes from Scots English. I also believe "ken" used as a synonym for knowledge or learning is similarly Scottish.

Also, if you look at the linked regional dialect maps, you'll see that the various regionalisms aren't contiguous. Different ones have different incidences.

One that I've noticed that doesn't seem to appear in any of the US lists is the pluralization of grocery store names. It popped into my mind when I heard Liberace refer to the "Safeways" grocery store. He was from Milwaukee, and I hear it in Chicago a lot.
posted by gjc at 6:11 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


This article may interest.

http://robertspage.com/dialects.html
posted by BenPens at 6:12 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anyone who writes/says "burying the lede" or "he/she buried the lede," or who ends a piece of written text with -30-, was at one time likely in journalism.
posted by jbickers at 6:13 AM on June 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


FWIW, "head" is used by recreational boaters as well as the military, and "pop" extends at least as far east as Cleveland.

Pop goes 114 miles further east to Pittsburgh, where if you say you'd like a Cherry Soda, they ask you what kind of ice cream you'd like in it. Although there is the Cleaveland influence in that the cherry soda is likely to be Cherokee Red.

There is a distinct accent in Pittsburgh, and a lexicon of regionalisms. I can usually spot another Yinzer from thirty paces. There's a website for this called Pittsburghese.

Not to be confused with the very similar Bawlamarese, from our friends from the state of Maryland.

It may blow your mind, but even in the South the regionalisms vary from county to county. Folks in Atlanta don't speak the same way folks in Columbus, GA or Columbia, SC speak. The accents are completely distinct as well.

You can make a lifetime study of this. But before you do, can you grab me a can of pop from the kitchen?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:13 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


'Head' is the term on any boat - it needn't be military.
'Reckon' is such a common Australianism that I know Australians who simply assume it's just Aussie slang (generally when an Australian reckons something, it means it's their unconsidered opinion - rather than the dictionary definition of it being an estimation of something).
posted by pompomtom at 6:15 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


(further thought: I reckon Kiwis use 'reckon' as much as Aussies)
posted by pompomtom at 6:18 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't know if this really counts anymore since the term has come into more common usage, but it used to be that if someone said something like "Let's talk about this offline", meaning "Let's talk about this privately/after this meeting", it was a pretty good indicator of a very tech-savvy person.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:23 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just came back to say that the dialect with which I am most familiar (and which my mother beat out of me with a wooden spoon) is pretty Appalachain in origin. My mother in law in rural, eastern, Kentucky has a lot of the same pronounciations and dialectical tics as folks in Pittsburgh and Baltimore and West Virginia.

She says Pop, adds an 'S' to the name of a store (I went to K-Marts today.) Pretty much sounds like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton (it's all the same area.) Her father was a coal miner.

It's funny because our backgrounds are so different, but I think because we share some of the regionalisms we get along famously and I feel very comfortable with her.

Husbunny is a very educated and eriudite person, but when he gets back home he turns in to Cletus and has to be reminded to brush his tooth.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:25 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I got a big kick out of this:

http://www.neatorama.com/2013/06/07/Dialect-Maps-of-the-United-States/
posted by PJMoore at 6:26 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In NJ we go "down the shore", not to the beach.
posted by mermayd at 6:39 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A Cincinnatian can be spotted when, instead of saying "What?" or "Excuse me?" they say, "Please?"

(This comes from the German "Bitte?" Cinci was settled by predominantly German and Irish immigrants -- there's a neighborhood downtown called Over the Rhine.)
posted by coppermoss at 6:40 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the midst of the viral Amy's Baking Company dust up, Samy said, referring to his lack of a criminal record in the U.S., "I'm clean." Only a gangster would put it this way.
posted by markcmyers at 6:44 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


One that I've noticed that doesn't seem to appear in any of the US lists is the pluralization of grocery store names. It popped into my mind when I heard Liberace refer to the "Safeways" grocery store. He was from Milwaukee, and I hear it in Chicago a lot.

This is something I don't associate with Chicago at all. It may just be that my family doesn't do it, but I'd look at someone like they had two heads if they said 'Jewel's', never mind something like 'Treasure Island's' . (Dominick's is, well, called Dominick's.) There's a bus driver in Minneapolis who says 'Aldi's' for 'Aldi' and I'd always assumed it was because she was subconsciously turning it into a name, rather than a plural, but I don't know if it's a thing here beyond the one bus driver.

'Duck, duck, grey duck' for 'duck, duck, goose' is a giveaway for having grown up in (parts of?) Minnesota.

Minnesota also has 'parking ramp' for what I would call a 'parking garage', but I don't know how far outside Minnesota that goes. (I'm not sure if one below ground is still a 'ramp' or if it turns into a 'garage'.) I associate 'parking structure' with California, but I would in no way be surprised if it were not limited to California (I heard someone from Michigan say 'parking structure' kind of recently).

When I was in college, 'hella' marked you as being from Northern California, even though people from the rest of California used it at least occasionally.

My dad and brother both say 'expressway', which I think would mark you as from Chicago, but I did learn on AskMe that New York City distinguishes 'expressways' and 'parkways' when both would be expressways in my mind. (For whatever reason, I usually say 'highway' or 'interstate' and not 'expressway'.)
posted by hoyland at 6:45 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you hear someone say:
"make groceries" instead of "go grocery shopping",
"make the block" instead of "go around the block", or
"he makes 20 this year" instead of "he turns 20 years old this year"
then you can comfortably assume the speaker is from or has spent a decent bit of time in New Orleans.
posted by komara at 6:48 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


An Australian who calls H "haitch" probably went to a Catholic school.
posted by flabdablet at 6:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I was in college, 'hella' marked you as being from Northern California, even though people from the rest of California used it at least occasionally.

- Along those same lines, calling it "Cali" instantly indicates that you are not from California.
- "Hecka" means you are from Idaho/Utah or went to BYU.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:49 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If someone uses the word 'wicked' for emphasis (It was raining wicked hard last night) I assume they are from New England.
posted by fancyoats at 6:53 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Might could be" as a phrase is fairly indicative of someone having spent time in the South.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:55 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are lots of phrases that would indicate someone fluent in Internet/meme culture - doing "all the things," "cool story bro," "ain't nobody got time for that," "I ain't even mad," "your argument is invalid," etc...

Also, of course, lots of references will suggest someone TV viewing habits - jokes from Arrested Development, How I Met Your Mother, Game of Thrones, etc.

Also I'm from Cali and I call it Cali. But maybe I'm doing it hella ironically and I can't even tell anymore.
posted by Ms. Toad at 6:55 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


A dead give away of a native German speaking English is the confusion of Loan and Borrow. They will say "Can you borrow me some money". Also they ( and most Europeans) do not "take a test", they "make a test".
posted by Gungho at 7:00 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Catholic phraseology that is likely to get my attention in casual conversation with strangers:

- the use of certain words like 'liturgy' (not exclusively Catholic, but is most likely to be used by Catholics and Orthodox), 'venial' or, depending on the context, 'scandal'.
- things lifted from the Mass, such as 'most grevious'
- other phrases similar to 'avoid the near occasion', such as the catechetical responses on the Corporal/Spiritual Works of Mercy (clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc). Again, context is important, but in particular combinations they are almost directly lifted from the catechism.

Spanish is full of local colloquialisms. I've mentioned it here before, but if I hear someone drop the word carajo into a conversation, while used in Spain, in this part of the world it's a dead giveaway for a Caribbean backgound (Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, etc).

Describing something far away as 'clear out in ____' or 'clear out past _____' indicates roots in Iowa and Minnesota to me.
posted by jquinby at 7:07 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


New York City distinguishes 'expressways' and 'parkways' when both would be expressways in my mind.

Huh? NYC doesn't have "expressways." We have highways and parkways.

Also - and I don't know if this is fading nowadays or not, for obvious reasons - New Yorkers traditionally stand "on line," not "in line."
posted by scratch at 7:11 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"pop" extends at least as far east as Cleveland.

The "pop/soda" division line is in my house in Rochester, NY.
posted by Lucinda at 7:13 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems like you're asking about two different things.

The first, like saying "head" for toilet, is more of a cultural shibboleth. People who've shared this particular cultural experience tend to use a particular kind of vocabulary. (For example it's definitely true that my brother has added new terms and expressions since joining the Marines.)

The second, like saying "pop" vs. soda or coke, is a regional dialect thing.

An example of the difference:

I recently moved from the east coast to southern California, and I grew up in the south. I've started to add the word "the" in front of highway numbers, like you do here, but it's unlikely that I would stop saying "y'all" or pronouncing pin and pen identically, both of which are southernisms. In fact I still can't decide where I stand on the freeway/highway divide. I might pick up some of the lingo of a new place to make myself better understood, but I'm not going to change my whole way of speaking.
posted by Sara C. at 7:18 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


And, yes, if you're just looking for regionalisms and/or cultural shibboleths regardless of origin, almost anything related to the freeway driving experience works for Southern California. An interstate is a freeway. You say "the 10" instead of "10" or "I-10". Driving from Hollywood into the San Fernando Valley is "going over the hill". I'm sure there are others.
posted by Sara C. at 7:21 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Casual use of the word 'clears' to mean a clear liquid diet is a sure sign that you are talking to a nurse.
Slightly more technical: 'NPO' is used by medical people pretty casually also.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:32 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not just "burying the lede" that's an indicator of journalism experience. The spelling of "lede" is an even bigger clue.
posted by emelenjr at 7:39 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Pop" runs all the way north into Canada. I grew up around the Great Lakes -- note that there was a specialized chain store called The Pop Shoppe -- but have heard it thus from sea to shining sea.

A dead give away of a native German speaking English is the confusion of Loan and Borrow. They will say "Can you borrow me some money". Also they ( and most Europeans) do not "take a test", they "make a test".

Second language give-aways is a massive topic, and well beyond what the OP is asking, I think. That being said, I was reading a slightly stilted and difficult-to-follow e-mail from an unknown overseas customer once who remarked in passing, "I became your previous message." I was briefly puzzled, but then high-school German reminded me that bekommen is the German for to receive, so I guessed he might be a German speaker who had mistaken become and bekommen for cognates. Viewed through that lens, others of his word choices became clearer.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:46 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


If Shakespeare had written Hamlet in Pittsburgh English, the soliloquy would have simply begun "Or not".

Also, popvssoda.com for much more detailed information on that debate.

(for the record - if it comes out of a bottle, it's Pop. If it comes out of a can, or a fountain, it's Soda. Get me a can of soda. Get me a bottle of pop. This foundational truth is not up for debate.*)


* Though I am willing to at least entertain the argument for "Soda Pop".
posted by namewithoutwords at 7:53 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Might could be" as a phrase is fairly indicative of someone having spent time in the South.

But not as far South as Florida, I guess? I've never said that, nor ever even heard someone else say that here!

I second "pop" as an Ohio/Pennsylvania regionalism as well.

In the states, we go to "the university" or "a hospital". In Europe, one goes "to university" or "to hospital" (sans article).
posted by misha at 7:57 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the UK's "brilliant!" Is roughly akin to our "awesome!"
posted by misha at 8:01 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In general, I don't think many "southern" regionalisms are generalizable to the whole south. Southern dialect is more granular than that. For example I grew up outside New Orleans and never said "reckon" or "might could be" in my life.
posted by Sara C. at 8:03 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


That borrow/loan thing that gungho mentioned is (or at least was) fairly common in Minnesota as well. I've never particularly associated it with native German speakers.

Calling a drinking fountain a bubbler is a pretty good indicator that the person is from Wisconsin.

I haven't quite figured out what the region is for "I am done the work" (meaning "I have finished the work" or "I am done with the work"), but I think there was an AskMe about that a while ago. I associate it with vaguely Northeast US and neighboring parts of Canada.
posted by freezer cake at 8:13 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


One I've heard but not seen documented is a central/western Pennsylvania construction that shortens gerunds thusly:

"The horses need fed."
"That shoe needs fixed."

Sorry, not a resource, just an anecdote.
posted by acm at 8:17 AM on June 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Very generally, the American students I've talked to go to college, while the European ones go to university or even uni.

Also if you hear someone say, instead of thank you, "Appreciate ya!" or even more tellingly, " 'Preciate ya!" they are from the South, and likely from the mid-Appalachians (Tennessee, North Carolina.)
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:17 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Calling a drinking fountain a bubbler is a pretty good indicator that the person is from Wisconsin.

Not necessarily. “Bubbler” is all over southeastern New England as well (see dialect survey map). I grew up in southeastern Massachusetts and everybody said “bubbler” instead of the silly, cumbersome “water fountain” or “drinking fountain”.
posted by letourneau at 8:33 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also note the iconic Benson Bubblers of Portland, Oregon.
posted by Rash at 8:37 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


An Australian who calls H "haitch" probably went to a Catholic school.
posted by flabdablet at 6:49 AM on June 19 [1 favorite +] [!]


Huh? Nah, I have to disagree with this. I went to Australian Catholic schools my entire life, and would have been slapped round the head with a Bible for saying 'haitch'.

Any Australian who says 'haitch' instead of 'aitch' is probably just uneducated in general.
posted by Salamander at 8:44 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


These are very helpful. Thanks everybody and please keep them coming. As to if I'm looking for regionalisms or cultural shibboleths, its both. They are both subsets of hearing someone's vocabulary or usage and it leads to a really good guess about their background.

What re-ignited my interest in this was seeing that in the British accounts of the recent story about human menopause purportedly caused by men preferring younger mates it was "onset of the menopause". In all the US usage I've ever heard menopause doesn't get an article.

Another Commonwealth/US thing is "The Montreal Expos were a baseball team" vs "The Montreal Expos was a baseball team". The singular or plural verb for collective nouns. Supposedly this difference comes from the civil war. 'The United States is' vs 'The United States are' being of conceptual importance about if the US was a singular entity or a collective, I don't know about that theory.

At one time I believed that "make an end run around' was mostly lawyer/legalese but found out its a sports metaphor, and big with business school and corporate hierarchy. Its mostly everywhere. So I guess one of the things I need to avoid when engaging in this hobby of mine is to watch out for usages that are common to many fields or places.
posted by logonym at 8:45 AM on June 19, 2013



I believe the reckon of the South comes from Scots English. I also believe "ken" used as a synonym for knowledge or learning is similarly Scottish.


I grew up in Lancashire and 'reckon' was very common there too. Absolutely nobody I knew had been to the Southern US, and given that one of my parents' friends never went further than Halifax, it wasn't a Scots thing either.
posted by mippy at 8:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh- in the NW UK, a common nickname for Stephen is 'Ste'. I've never heard that used outside of the area.
posted by mippy at 8:48 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another: Americans refer to people being 'in my wedding', but that is not used in the UK for the bridal party. 'At my wedding'/'I was the best man at Fred's wedding' is the way it's phrased here. It really confused me the first few times I saw it.
posted by mippy at 8:51 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I had a meeting-Sherlock-Holmes moment when someone I was interviewing for a job guessed that I had studied philosophy at one point because I used the intransitive form of "obtain" -- as in "I'm not sure if it obtains that x," as a way of saying something is the case. (Wiktionary cites a good example from Snow Crash: "But the hostage situation no longer obtains, and so Uncle Enzo feels it important to stop Rife now ...") After that encounter, I realized that I unconsciously use that form a lot, as does almost everyone I know who has some background in analytic/logic-oriented philosophy.
posted by the brave tetra-pak at 8:56 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


What re-ignited my interest in this was seeing that in the British accounts of the recent story about human menopause purportedly caused by men preferring younger mates it was "onset of the menopause". In all the US usage I've ever heard menopause doesn't get an article.

I'm in danger of hogging the thread now, but it's pretty common, especially in Scotland, to add a 'the' to some things: watching the football, starting the menopause etc. I don't know what the basis for the article being added is, but it amused me in a Kid Canaveral song which had the lyrics 'She likes the McFly, while you like Erase Errata.'

On a similar medical tip, people of my mother's background and generation (grew up post-war and working-class in Liverpool) refer to depressive conditions as someone 'being bad with their nerves'. ({This confused our Asian GP - and there's another one, 'Asian' in the UK refers to people from the sub-continent and not the Far East) who had never come across 'their nerves' used in this way and thought she was referring trouble with the nervous system.) If I hear someone using this phrase I get an instant picture of their background.
posted by mippy at 8:56 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Would "math/maths" and "going to the hospital/going to hospital" fall under this category?
posted by Lucinda at 9:06 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


scratch: " Huh? NYC doesn't have "expressways." We have highways and parkways."

This was the AskMe in question. It may well be that no one says 'expressway' even if roads are officially designated as such (which presumably is related to another whole class of answers to this question--shibboleths related to official names of things).
posted by hoyland at 9:18 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Growing up I was not allowed to use the term "pop" for a carbonated beverage. My Mother stressed that it was country to say "pop". We used "Coke" for for general use for carbonated beverages. Then if offered a selection from a machine or cooler you would ask for the type: grape, orange, Mt. Dew, etc. When I went to college I picked up the use of "soda" from my roommate who was from the DC area.
The other term that I used that my college roommate called me on was the phrase: Come to The House, as opposed to Come to My House.
posted by PJMoore at 9:25 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


PJMoore, are you from Texas? Wheres abouts do folks say 'Come to the House'
posted by logonym at 9:36 AM on June 19, 2013


Huh? NYC doesn't have "expressways." We have highways and parkways.

Tell that to the LIE.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:47 AM on June 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


"cised" (meaning "excited about") - only hear this in the DC metro area
posted by citron at 9:50 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someone who says '73' is probably a ham radio operator.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 9:51 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It may well be that no one says 'expressway' even if roads are officially designated as such

Born and raised, deep roots, LI and NYC. Everyone I know says either "LIE" or "the expressway" for the 495. People from out of the area call it "the 495."
posted by thinkpiece at 9:58 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are a few vocabulary words that I associate with people who've spent lots of time with academic computer scientists - using "trivial" and "nontrivial" to mean roughly "easy" and "maybe possible" is probably the most obvious one.
posted by town of cats at 10:04 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


only hear this in the DC metro area

This DC native's never heard this -- suspect it's some very specific demographic's slang.
posted by Rash at 10:05 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was an article in the New Yorker circa last fall about the field of people who use these kinds of clues to solve crimes (I want to say...linguistic criminology? but that's not quite right). The example that I remember is that a kidnapper had used the term "devil's strip" in a ransom note to refer to the area between the street and the sidewalk and that told them that he was from a specific town in Ohio and of a certain age. Sorry I'm too lazy to find that article but it was very interesting!
posted by silvergoat at 10:11 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


In America, people who say "school" may mean their college/university, whereas in the U.K. your school is strictly secondary school.

In Minnesota "going to the lake" means that someone is heading to their cabin -- which probably enjoys lake frontage -- but could be any of the state's 10,000+ bodies of water.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:20 AM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Philly-specific: jawn


This word can be used in the place of all nouns and pronouns.
posted by coppermoss at 10:52 AM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"What's your 20?" = "Where are you?" or "What is your location?"

Truckers and police officers (and anyone who uses a two-way radio for communication?) both say "10-20" to refer to location. I've have heard people of both professions use the term outside of their work.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:33 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]




Along those same lines, calling it "Cali" instantly indicates that you are not from California.

I grew up in California and would never call it "Cali", but I have since learned that there are a bunch of Los Angeles people who use that horrible abbreviation non-ironically. Seems to come from rap music, or be associated with it somehow. Perhaps it's yet another north-south cultural divide in the state which should be two states.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:36 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


As well as Frisco for San Francisco. I've only heard people from out of the area call it that and every time I have to struggle to remember they aren't referring to a city in Texas.
posted by jamaro at 1:18 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The phrase "Have a blessed day" seems to have origins in southern Christian culture, though its usage may be spreading. "Bless your heart" as a polite way to respond to stupidity is a mostly southern phrase as well.
posted by theory at 1:24 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You may enjoy this website:

This page happens to be about what you call the shoes that I call 'daps' (but I'm in the UK)
posted by kadia_a at 1:24 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you hear someone say: "make groceries" instead of "go grocery shopping" [...]
then you can comfortably assume the speaker is from or has spent a decent bit of time in New Orleans.


To squelch any possible doubt on this one I'd like to link to today's tweet from my local grocery store.
posted by komara at 2:41 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You might enjoy the podcast "A way with words", as this is a frequent topic. Also, the Dictionary of American Regional English is something to poke around in, maybe at your library...the price isn't cheap.
posted by k8oglyph at 3:07 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The weird thing is that I grew up in and around New Orleans and never heard anyone say "make groceries" unironically. My family and everyone else I knew called it "going to the store".

In fact it only recently dawned on me that people in other places might not get that when I say "going to the store" I mean "buy groceries at the supermarket". I'm not sure if "going to the store" is regional or shibboleth-y at all. It's just such a functional phrase, something I've never much thought about.

All of the above said, I grew up in a middle class family that didn't have deep roots in New Orleans proper. My roots are Cajun and sort of pan-Southern. So maybe my working class peers whose families have been in the 9th Ward for generations have always really and truly said "make groceries" and I'm just not a True Scotsman where this particular bit of slang is concerned.

Also, ooooooooh, Rouse's... That brings back memories. I went to summer camp with one of The Rouses.
posted by Sara C. at 3:59 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sara C.: my perception is that the use of the verb 'make' - in all three of the examples I posted - tends to break along economic lines. I was not born and raised here but my friends and co-workers that were are more likely to use 'make' if they grew up in New Orleans East, Chalmette, Gentilly, 7th / 9th wards, et. Those that grew up in Lakeview and Metairie, not so much.

I have heard "make groceries" used both ironically and unironically is what I'm sayin'. The main point, however, is that someone from Cincinnati isn't likely to say "make groceries" in any sense - it's a New Orleans thing.
posted by komara at 4:10 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


As a corollary to "head", use of "the can" to refer to a place to shit. "Head" is for piss. Both are generally military, specifically Navy.

(I use "head" and "can" as a matter of course, although I've never been in any branch of the military. However, my grandpa was on a sub tender in WWII. He passed those usages to my dad, who apparently passed them to me. I've been asked if I was in the military more times than I can count because of my use of those words alone.)
posted by notsnot at 5:36 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


One I've heard but not seen documented is a central/western Pennsylvania construction that shortens gerunds thusly:

"The horses need fed."
"That shoe needs fixed."


I'm from Scotland but grew up in Canada. I've always used this construction and it wasn't until I was an adult that someone told me it was weird. In order to prove that it was really a thing and not just an individual/family quirk, I took a picture of a sign outside of Glasgow that read "Does your car need washed?"
posted by atropos at 5:49 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I grew up in California and would never call it "Cali", but I have since learned that there are a bunch of Los Angeles people who use that horrible abbreviation non-ironically.

I would think that would have to be people who’ve only recently moved there. For me it was like a sign that said "I’m so freakin’ excited to be out of Ohio, and I believe the hype!"
posted by bongo_x at 6:05 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm always pleased when I find a word which is different in several different countries - eg Australian "thongs" = American "flip-flops" = New Zealand "jandals". Sadly, I think in the UK and Canada they are "flip-flops". Boring.

Anyway, your question is nearly how long is a piece of string once you start adding regional variations. Some good sources for Australian dialects, UK dialects and the Dictionary of American Regional English, just as starting points. Google for things like "south african english vocabulary" or "regional vocabulary english" and you will come across many many many resources.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:45 PM on June 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


breakfast, dinner, supper = Southern US
Rack for bed = seagoing military
Hot rack = submariner (i.e, when the crew shares beds to save space)
Line instead of rope = seagoing military/boating
Wire rope for steel cable = seagoing military
Say again for please repeat yourself = military/police
Saying an address as 1-2-4 and Main instead of 124th and Main = police officer
"make amends" = 12 Step/AA history

I've either used most of these or have heard these in my workplaces. If it helps for context, I've lived in NC, NM, TX, OR, CA, GA, and OH. I'm also former military, former police dispatcher and now work in emergency medicine in an alcohol and drug facility.

(These are all just my anecdotal observations and probably should all have the squiggly equals sign for "approximately equals" but I don't know how to do that on my phone.)
posted by Beti at 8:44 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Reference to the slowest step in a given process as the "rate-limiting step" likely indicates a background in chemistry.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:53 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


We don't have trollies in New Orleans, we call them streetcars.
My grandmother would say, "Yall stay on this side of the bankit" (sidewalk) when we were kids.
"Lost bread" is the same as french toast.
Ending sentences with the word at. "I like ya purse, where did ya get that at?"
posted by JujuB at 10:58 PM on June 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Pop" is used in Canada, at least in the province of Saskatchewan. I've never heard it referred to as "soda."

In small town Saskatchewan where I grew up, it was always breakfast, dinner, and supper (lunch was occasionally used to describe the late evening meal after a dance or movie).
posted by Amy NM at 12:01 PM on June 20, 2013


"Say again" is also fairly common among the hard of hearing community. It's one of the phrases that is most likely to elicit a literal repeat of something. I've also heard it from people that use radios in their job (ambulance, fire, construction). So, I think it may be more indicative of people who encounter situations where they often need people to repeat information than straight police/military.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:05 PM on June 20, 2013


We don't have trollies in New Orleans, we call them streetcars.

You mean trams?

Also: if an Australian puts 'but' at the end of the sentence rather than the start, it's a good bet they're from Queensland - or at least Northern NSW.
posted by pompomtom at 9:38 PM on June 20, 2013


pompomtom, I was pretty sure I'd heard native Melburnians using the terminal "but" (ahem) and the Australian word map confirms that it's more widespread than QLD/northern NSW.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:47 PM on June 20, 2013


Interesting.

I'll stand by "a good bet", but.
posted by pompomtom at 11:06 PM on June 20, 2013


Using the word bostin (as a synonym for awesome) indicates the speaker is from Birmingham, England or its environs. So, to a lesser extent, do babby (for baby) and piecey (for sandwich).

Other usages that indicate somebody here is probably a local include saying "five and twenty past" instead of "twenty five past" if the time is 3:25, mentioning that the sky has become overcast using the phrase "It's a bit black over Bill's mother's" or referring to a needlessly long or convoluted route as going "All around the Wrekin."

Theatre people will shout "Heads" instead of "Watch out" and may say "it goes up at seven" instead of "it starts at seven" when making plans to attend something.

Theatre is also one of the industries that tends to use the word Creative as a noun. The people who work on a show are divided into Company (actors), Crew (stagehands, technicians, etc) and Creatives (directors, designers, composers, choreographers, playwrights, etc). So it's completely reasonable to say "I need to arrange accommodation for a visiting creative." Whereas to people outside the theatre industry (and a handful of other industries which employ the same distinction) using Creative as a noun makes you sound like a massive wanker.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:46 AM on June 21, 2013


Thought I'd bring proof of one of my examples, since it popped up in my feed reader:

Happy Birthday to Peter “Pistol Pete” Maravich, who would have made 66 today.
posted by komara at 10:26 AM on June 22, 2013


Oh, man, make. Yeah, make is a total Cajun/south Louisiana giveaway. I don't think "make groceries" is a great example, because it's so narrowly and rarely used.

But growing up Cajun:

- you "make" each new age on your birthday.

- you "make" grades rather than get them. ("I made a C in math and my parents are going to be pissed...")

- there's also "make dodo", but IMO that's baby talk and narrowly-used on par with "make groceries". ("Dodo" means sleep, not poop. For example a preschool teacher might tell her charges to "make dodo" or "go dodo" at naptime.)

- more baby talk, I also remember "make potty" and "I have to make" instead of "I have to go".

Only the former two of those are clear shibboleths unless maybe you're in a preschool setting. In general, a lot of places where standard English uses "get" or "go", Cajun English uses "make". My understanding is that it's a carryover from French.
posted by Sara C. at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2013


Athanassiel, you can call them "slippahs" if you come to the Hawaiian isles. Other Hawaii shibboleths are based in pidgin. I have some local friends who get itchy and annoyed if newcomers like me try too hard to fit in by self-consciously adopting pidgin lingo.

This is not regionally specific, but you can tell that a place retains deep roots (Honolulu or Cleveland for example, versus San Francisco) when "where did you go to school?" is meant to elicit your high school alma mater and not your university affiliation.

Lastly, I can't resist asking if any native English speakers use the phrase "Frankly speaking".

I notice nearly all of my Korean friends use it in place of the very common Korean phrase "솔직히" but it sounds oddly formal and dusty to my Chicago/New England/San Francisco-trained ears.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:39 PM on June 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


New Orleans has the "Where did you go to (high) school" quirk too.
posted by Night_owl at 2:02 PM on June 23, 2013


you "make" each new age on your birthday.

Yeah, I mentioned that one in my first post in this thread.

you "make" grades rather than get them

I'll argue against this one being Louisianian and say instead that maybe it's just Southern, because growing up in Tennessee I made many grades but I never got a single one.
posted by komara at 9:07 PM on June 23, 2013


Just about every smallish city that doesn't tend to attract a lot of transplants has the "where'd you go to school?" thing.
posted by Sara C. at 9:14 PM on June 23, 2013


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