Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 4 (Fall 1974)
Cassidy, Frederic G.
Stalking American regionalisms, pp. 6-8
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
Copyright 1974 by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.| For information on re-use, see http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/Copyright