The dictionary compiles words, phrases, pronunciations and unique grammar and syntax for specific parts of the United States. For example, DARE says that peanut heaven — as in “no one wants to hear from peanut heaven” — refers to “the upper balcony of a theater.”
“If you’re headed to a carry-in, don’t forget to bring dope for the dessert.”
That’s apparently how we talk in Ohio, where, if kids have “energy to burn,” we can push them out to play “go-sheep-go.”
Those are all regional terms, familiar to residents of the Buckeye State. A “carry-in” is a potluck meal, and “dope” is a dessert topping for pudding or ice cream. Go-sheep-go is an outdoor game that youngsters play after dark.
All are defined in the Dictionary of American Regional English, or DARE. It’s taken almost 50 years of people studying such words and phrases at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but the fifth volume of the dictionary has been published by Harvard University Press.
The dictionary compiles words, phrases, pronunciations and unique grammar and syntax for specific parts of the United States.
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
“We think of American English as being pretty homogeneous, but with our spoken language, there are still thousands of differences,” explains Joan Houston Hall, the dictionary’s editor. “It’s those kinds of differences we’re trying to record with DARE.”
Those who live in the region encompassing Ohio no doubt are oblivious to those differences. We talk about a friend or relative having “a bun in the oven” and are confident everyone understands that we’re not talking about dinner bread. She’s pregnant, plain and simple.
But those looking at our language from the outside likely question the meaning of some of our words. When I first came to Ohio 40 years ago from where I grew up in western New York, I noticed some differences in speech, and I still can detect the kind of regional language that DARE defines.
For example, DARE says that peanut heaven — as in “no one wants to hear from peanut heaven” — refers to “the upper balcony of a theater.” When I was a child, we just called it the “peanut gallery.” I know this because my father and mother used the term to shut me and my siblings up quite frequently.
The dictionary also defines “king’s ex” as a “time out” — the term “used to demand a pause, exemption or truce during a fight or a game.” We just said that we needed “a breather.” Nobody could get tagged or otherwise defeated during “a breather.”
Compilation of the Dictionary of American Regional English began when researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted interviews in 1,000 communities between 1965 and 1970, collecting more than 2.3 million responses. It took about four decades to sort through all those colloquialisms. When researchers did, they captured in DARE “the diversity and richness of the American language, from Adam’s housecat (an expression, ‘he wouldn’t know me from Adam’s housecat’) to zydeco (a kind of dance music associated with Louisiana Creole culture).”
Hall said, “The dictionary may eventually do follow-up research in the communities that were part of the original survey.”
We might be saying different things than we did in 1965, I suppose. Still writers, librarians, teachers and linguists can use the dictionary as a resource, finding such colorful language as “snollygoster,” which is “a shameless, unscrupulous person, especially a politician,” and “willywags,” which is “a remotely, sparsely inhabited area.”
I have no idea if we say either of those words in Ohio. I’m just taking advantage of the rare opportunity we get to write them.