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Hanging with My Bobbasheelies: A Few Minutes with the Dictionary of American Regional English

By Jennifer Nemec


Tags: words, dictionary,

A photo of Jenn NemecThe editors of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) are nearing the end of their long road. According to the publisher (Harvard UP), this soon-to-be five volume work (the fifth volume, "S to Z" is due out next year) "captures the language spoken on America's main streets and country roads, words and phrases passed along within homes and communities, from east to west, north to south, childhood to old age." The dictionary has been in progress since 1965, and it is built on interviews recorded in 1,000 cities across the United States.

It's no secret that language fascinates me. My first article to appear in GRIT, "The Soft Drink Debate," explored just some of the regional differences that this dictionary is out to capture. 

Dictionary pageOne of the things that struck me as I read the AP story on this "Quirky Regional Dictionary" was how many of the regional words cited were rural in nature. Joan Houston Hall, who took over as editor for the dictionary when its originator Frederic Cassidy passed away, spoke of a quotation from president and Arkansan Bill Clinton that someone didn't know him "from Adam's off ox." Also mentioned were a "stone toter" (a kind of fish), and several versions of that great rural tradition a "potluck" (called a "pitch-in" in Indiana and a "scramble dinner" in northern Illinois).

Hall says that bobbasheely – a Gulf Coast word meaning "a good friend" or "to hang around with a friend" is her favorite word in the dictionary.

On the DARE website you can find a few more entries from the dictionary. Many, many children's games made that grouping. I was also excited to see some of my own dialectal/ethnic phrases – kolaches, kitty-corner, schnickelfritz – and a phrase from Caleb's most recent blog that was new to me "noodling" (catching fish with your bare hands).

You should definitely check it out. Meanwhile, I'll be over here hanging with my bobbasheelies on the punee looking for a schnibble and trying not to get honeyfuggled.

Photo by adotjdotsmith, licensed under Creative Commons.

jennifer nemec
4/2/2009 2:46:54 PM

Hi Cindy -- Thanks for the coment. I see you are a fellow logophiliac (word lover). I say "soda," but I remember the day I decided to (I was on a trip with the mock trial team in Washington D.C.). Susan! So glad to see you here! I can't decide what we call that here. The curb? DARE's site is filled with all kinds of fun stuff! Best! Jenn


susan_1
4/2/2009 12:40:33 AM

Appears that DARE is asking for commenters to tell it what they call that strip of grass and sometimes trees that exists between the sidewalk and the street. The names folks have told them: "boulevard, curb line, grass plot, parking (strip), parkway, terrace, or tree lawn." Well, here in Colorado, we call it the "hell strip"! Seriously -- because all that pavement around it makes it bake and because it's seldom wide enough to contain trees that would shade it. High Country Gardens, a nursery in Santa Fe N.M., calls it the more genteel "Inferno Strip" and sells pre-planned gardens of xeric plants just for those hot, dry conditions.


cindy murphy
4/1/2009 9:44:13 AM

Oooo, I'll definitely have to add this one to my collection of word origin reference books when it's released. I just received a new group in the mail yesterday: "Why Do We Say It? The Stories behind The Words, Expressions and Cliches We Use", "Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds: Ingenious Tales of Words and Their Origins", and "Bring Home The Bacon & Cutting The Mustard: The Origins and Meanings of the Food We Speak"...a book I can really sink my teeth into. And oh, I say "pop"; my southern-born husband calls it "Coke" no matter the flavor....just in case the Soft Drink Debate is still in progress.