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Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)

Cassidy, Frederic G.
Stalking American regionalisms,   pp. 6-8


Page 7


in southeastern Kentucky knows
what black-lung is, yet we have
found no record of it in current
dictionaries. And before you dig
a well, it's a good idea to call in
the man who walks about your
land with a forked stick between
his forefingers until it suddenly
turns over at the right spot. But
whom do you send for-the water-
witch man, the dowser, water-
finder, or diviner? It all depends
on where you are.
  Better than books and newspa-
pers are the many word lists pub-
lished beginning in 1890 by mem-
bers of the Dialect Society, in
Dialect Notes and other journals
-their contributions to the hoped-
for dictionary. More than 40,000
words and expressions collected
by them have gone into the DARE
files. Several scholars interested in
the study of American language
have donated their private collec-
tions, and hundreds of members
of the public from every state have
sent in one or more items-some-
times things we had found nowhere
else, but which certainly belong in
the Dictionary.
   In Maryland, for example, the
old Latin medical term mania a
potu, m e an in g unconsciousness
brought on by excessive drinking,
is still found in the form mania-
porchia. (In most places, people
would talk about being "out cold,"
but that is slang, not a region-
alism, and does not, like mania-
porchia, qualify for inclusion in
DARE.) When students informed
me that New Yorkers do not stand
in line to buy tickets, but on line,
I checked on it-and it's true!
  But these bits of data "from all
over" could not by themselves
have formed an adequate basis for
the dictionary as we envision it.
They are too random and too
miscellaneous. We knew it would
be essential to c o v e r the entire
country in proportion to the popu-
lation, and to check on the usages
of many different kinds of people.
To do this we prepared a ques-
tionnaire covering the everyday
activities and happenings that
most people encounter, and for
which we knew from former studies
there were different words in differ-
ent areas. The Word Geography
of the Atlantic States has shown
that if you want fish bait in Rhode
Island, you ask for eas-worms, in
Connecticut for angle dogs, in
New England generally, for angle-
worms. Move down to Georgia
and South Carolina and the com-
mon word is earthworms. From
other sources we have picked up
redworms, rainworms (common
in the German settlement area of
Wisconsin), dew worms (south of
Lake Erie) and a number more.
  About this and other items
which had already proved to have
regional or local variants we put
questions-some 1,850 of them-
into the DARE questionnaire. Then
between 1965 and 1970 we sent
"fieldworkers," mostly graduate
students but also some well trained
undergraduates and a few faculty
members, to all fifty states where
they asked the same questions,
carefully phrased and not to be
altered, in 1,002 chosen communi-
ties which, together, form a repre-
sentative cross section of the long-
settled and stable part of the
nation. Regional language is by
nature traditional; therefore we
avoided communities which had
undergone rapid or massive recent
changes of population.
  The number of variant answers
to our questions gathered in this
way is astonishing-many run into
the hundreds. To give only one
example, our question C33 asks,
"What joking names do you have
around here for an out of the way
place, or a small unimportant
place?" We got three hundred dif-
ferent responses, some of the most
interesting being: the sticks, no
man's land, a wide spot in the
road, a bad place in the road,
dogtown, the backwoods, down the
pike, the back side of nowhere,
gooseville, hickuille, in the
brambles, a jerkwater place, four
corners, plumb out of town,
podunk, podock, squeedunk, the
tules, that neck of the woods, and
so on. The current favorite is the
boondocks, which was brought
back from the Pacific by our
armed forces during World War
II and has since swept the country.
It is no longer a regionalism-if
it ever was-but a word used in
every state.
   These lists of variant terms will
be of great value to the DARE


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