DARE to Be Finished—Maybe Next Year
The Dictionary of American Regional English gets ready to close the book on its already 45-year-old project
It’s axiomatic that even on the East Coast long sandwiches go by a host of names: hero (especially New York City), grinder (chiefly in New England), hoagie (mainly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey) and submarine (everywhere). Only if you’re an aficionado of the Dictionary of American Regional English are you likely to know that when kids still play hopscotch, they may call it “potsy” in Manhattan—but it’s “sky blue” in Chicago.
And it’s surprising how many different names Americans have for that strip of ground between the sidewalk and the street: “boulevard,” “grass plot,” “parkway” and “tree bank” are among them. So after a child abductor in the ’90s left a note demanding that ransom be deposited in a trash can “on the devil strip” at an intersection, a forensic linguist used this dictionary to help solve the crime—because the term was common only in a small part of Ohio.
For 45 years, DARE has been documenting America’s geographically variant vocabularies. Despite the conforming effects of air travel, television and the Internet, neither mobility nor media seem to be able to erase regional patois.