According to an NPR piece that came across my news feed, there’s a fascinating dictionary of American Regional English that has been published in sections over the past 50 years. The final volume, S-Z, will be available next year.
The story begins with an anecdote about Bill Clinton:
In 1993, President Clinton was giving a news conference when someone mentioned that a certain Air Force official had criticized him. “How could he say that about me?” Clinton responded. “He doesn’t know me from Adam’s off ox.”
The piece goes on to wonder if regional phrases are dying off as we become more twitter-ized and therefore more uniform in our online, web-based writing patterns. This seemed to be borne out in the story:
But when this reporter tested out some words from the DARE at a Starbucks in suburban Detroit, none of the patrons seemed familiar with a “monkey’s wedding” (a chaotic, messy situation in Maine); “cockroach killers” (pointy shoes in New Jersey) or “mumble squibbles” (noogies, North Carolina-style).
(Her first mistake, it seems to me, was going to a suburban Detroit Starbucks to see if people were aware of regional phrases.)
One of the benefits of my job is that I get to meet teachers from all over the country. So I’ve definitely heard my share of regional expressions, which I love. “Rode hard and put up wet” is probably my favorite, said by Amy from Louisville one night describing the way Britney Spears looked as her image flashed across a tv screen. Apparently, it’s a horse-riding expression, so it makes sense that it comes from the land of the Kentucky Derby. And I’m sure you can guess that it ain’t complimentary.
Championing regional sayings is the equivalent to me of buying local to prevent the overrunning of our communities by look-alike chain stores and restaurants.
In fact, more than archiving these expressions in dictionaries, we should be figuring out ways they can be used in everyday speech. A facebook app, perhaps, that flashes and beeps you when your status updates are too regionally bland.
Not for nothin, I think that’s a good idea.