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  • 02/23/17--18:19: Bowery Dance With Boilo?
  • 892379

    Pennsylvania’s boilo

    Boy howdy! The Dictionary of American Regional English has done it again — issued its quarterly online update, this one dated Winter 2017. It includes boy howdy as well as bowery, a place where you go for a bowery dance. And you can look it all up for free.

    If you’re in the South, the central states, or the Southwest, chances are you’ve heard boy howdy. DARE has examples going back as far as a century ago, with the comment “The exclaim use seems to have arisen, or at least b...

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  • 03/14/17--18:54: ‘Done and Done’
  • 250px-Maria_Edgeworth_by_John_Downman_1807

    Maria Edgeworth

    I texted my wife the other day asking whether she had walked the dog. She answered, “Done and done.” I was like, “Wait — what and what??”

    The truth is, the expression, indicating a task accomplished, did have a bit of a familiar ring to it. Going to Google News, I find these examples just in the last 10 days:

    • “I also believe it’s a particularly good match for the free-weekend treatment. You get in, you hopefully have a good time, and you get out. Done and done.” –Destructoid, on...

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    76019either or neitherSay what you will about it, either deserves a second look. Or a second hearing. And neither too, for that matter.

    In a usage book like Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage, you’ll see that in its written form, either presents usage experts with conundrums, having to do with meaning and verb agreement. Even to summarize those discussions would occupy more space than this entire column, so forget about that. What I’m interested in is a simpler yet more mysterious matter: how you s...

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    DARE9780674425071-lgThe eighth in what we hope will be an unending series of online updates for the Dictionary of American Regional English is now available, free, to all who wonder what else there is to say about the varieties of American English vocabulary already caught in the six massive print volumes of the dictionary.

    This eighth update shows there is always plenty to be added, and always will be, as long as we continue speaking (or writing) American English in an endless variety of ways.

    But first, some good...

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    What happens when you take 50 people who make or study dictionaries and land them on a remote Caribbean island?

    The Dictionary Society of North America provided an answer to that question last week, when it held its three-day biennial meeting not within the United States or Canada, as it had all 20 times before, but in the Caribbean, on the island of Barbados.

    And that made a difference. The distance from North America discouraged some North Americans from making the trip. On the other hand, th...

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  • 06/29/17--18:15: Good on All of Us
  • lrs4z

    Often I pay attention to a shift in language only when I find it coming from my own mouth. That was the case the other day, when my husband and I were hiking in the Berkshire hills. He caught his toe in a tree root and started pitching down the hill, but managed to veer right and swing around a slender birch until he steadied himself. “That was clumsy of me,” he said.

    “But you managed to right yourself like a ballet dancer,” I said. “Good—”

    Right then I felt the new set of words, ready to come ...

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    Dare Image by Ellen

    Chronicle illustration by Ellen Winkler


    If you read my posts, you may be familiar by now with the grand six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, completed in print in 2013, but continuing to live beyond that date in quarterly updates on the internet.

    Now DARE  has come to life in another way. It’s not just in writing that the dictionary tells us about the different ways we talk in this vast country. DARE  is speaking up!

    Now we can hear the recorded voices of some 1,800 people in 1,...

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    DARE’s map represents population density when the words were collected, instead of land area.

    Without an accident (as they used to say in the South), it’s time again to harvest a quarterly crop of regional words for the online Dictionary of American Regional English. As usual, the new update is available free on DARE’s website, though a subscription fee is required to get the whole six-volume 60,000-word dictionary online.

    The dictionary was compiled in 1965-70 by researchers from the University...

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    Frederic Cassidy (right), first editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English, with students who helped compile it by recording Americans in the field. (Photo courtesy of U. of Wisconsin-Madison Archives, 1965)

    During half a century of painstaking research that gradually brought the Dictionary of American Regional English into being, its staff, friends, and benefactors have found many occasions to celebrate its progress, volume by volume starting in 1985 and ending just a few years ago w...

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  • 10/01/17--15:23: On the Ropes at Radio London
  • St. Mary-le-Bow Church, London

    The phone rings during breakfast, and it’s the BBC. They want me on Radio London’s Breakfast Show, hosted by Vanessa Feltz, for a few minutes just after 9 a.m. According to two trashy tabloids (The Sun and the Daily Mail, September 29) BBC TV viewers are complaining about the speech of an announcer, Russell Evans. And it turns out interesting: Feltz is a feisty one, spoiling for a fight.

    Russell Evans speaks the ordinary vernacular of the London area rather than th...

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    Columbus monument in Barcelona, with helicopter bearing symbol of Catalonia (Photo by Carles Ribas, El País)

    The violence surrounding the Catalan independence referendum on October 1 has put Spanish democracy under a microscope. Some scholars believe Monday’s holiday, which the United States calls Columbus Day and some localities celebrate as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead, has an implicit link to the Catalan independence struggle, one that casts some doubt on the national origins of Chris...

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  • 10/16/17--18:13: Appalachian English
  • banner_3
    If you might could be wondering a little about the kind of English spoken in the Appalachians — the kind that includes double modals like “might could” and asks, “Was you wantin’ to go to town?” Well, there’s a new website, written by the leading experts on that very topic, that tells the truth, the whole truth, about it. It’s free, available to everyone, and it’s right here.

    Instead of waiting here for my further explanation, you can go right now to the website and enjoy its many features, inc...

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    Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee


    One day not long ago this emerged from the famously short fingers of the 45th president:

    Screen Shot 2017-10-18 at 10.27.43 AM
    Let’s do a close reading, shall we, starting with a fact-check. Is The New York Times failing (or Failing, as Trump designates it with his eccentric capitalization rules)? No. In its most recent quarterly report, the paper recorded an addition of 93,000 digital subscriptions, for a total of 2.3 million. Over all, operating profit for the quarter was $28 million, ...

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    It is a truism universally acknowledged (by Britons) that Americanisms are taking over British English. This supposed subjugation, which has been lamented for a couple of centuries, is the subject of a new book by Matthew Engel, That’s the Way It Crumbles: The American Conquest of English. In it he argues that so many Americanisms have taken hold in Britain — including “cookie” instead of the traditional “biscuit” — that within a century, quite possibly, American English will “absorb the Britis...

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    “Imagine if I hadn’t of been there!” said someone in an email to my brother, Richard. He regarded the sentence coldly, as if it were a slimy creature emerging from under a rock. What’s that of ? A misspelled extra have ? Why? Doesn’t had suffice? He turned to the grammarian in the family, and asked me what had gone wrong.

    It’s an interesting puzzle that teaches us something about drawing the subtle distinction between intralinguistic slips and interlinguistic variation.

    Let’s start by setting a...

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  • 12/17/17--09:20: What Is This ‘Even’?
  • even
    When I last addressed the word even, in 2013, it had already migrated from its accustomed function as an adverb in such sentences as “I can’t even move this suitcase, much less pick it up” or “Even vegetarians sometimes have a hankering for bacon.” The Oxford English Dictionary elegantly gives this traditional meaning as:

    Intimating that the sentence expresses an extreme case of a more general proposition implied (=French même). Prefixed … to the particular word, phrase, or clause, on which ...

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  • 12/18/17--14:36: Utah: Talk Like a Native
  • Utah
    Two weeks from now, hundreds of linguists will convene in Salt Lake City for the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America and affiliated groups like the American Dialect Society, the American Name Society, and others. It’s the big meeting of the year for experts in the study of language, including the next generation of would-be experts, who are now graduate students imbibing (or challenging) the wisdom of their elders.

    If you’re a linguist, you don’t want to miss this opportunity to...

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  • 01/07/18--14:48: Word(s) of the Year 2017
  • Screen Shot 2018-01-07 at 11.13.21 AM

    A nominee for most creative word of 2017 was “milkshake duck”: a subject beloved — often on social media — and then exposed for unsavory behavior.

    Some of you on the East Coast may already be ready to declare bomb cyclone the word of the year for 2018, but first we must take stock of the words of 2017. This year’s meeting of the American Dialect Society took place in Salt Lake City. The bomb cyclone kept a good number of our East Coast colleagues at  home, but we persevered, with Grant Barrett ...

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    A friend of mine sent me a question from his nephew’s ninth-grade final English exam at Haishan High School in Banqiao, New Taipei City:examquestions

    Which is the correct completion: (a) or (b)?
    Lydia knows few things,
    (a) and so does Peter.
    (b) and neither does Peter.

    Stare at that for a few moments and decide what your answer would be.

    Here’s the puzzle: My friend discovered, by consulting various English speakers, that Americans all choose (a) as correct, while British and Australian speakers choose (b). ...

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    Sign outside a South Philadelphia restaurant

    Sign outside a South Philadelphia restaurant.

    The night before my (adoptive) hometown Philadelphia Eagles took on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII (which I keep reading as the Trumpian insult “Lil’”), Saturday Night Live aired a brilliant skit imagining Colonials from each region trash-talking each other at the Continental Congress. Local girl Tina Fey led the Fluffyans (the way we say the city’s name) and nailed the weird local vowels, like pronouncing the team as “Iggles,” the place ...

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