Monday, March 23, 2009

I am a geek, but I want this

I love language and flirted with the idea of becoming a linguist, but then I'd probably be making even less money than I am with my journalism degree. Anywho...the multi-volume Dictionary of American Regional English sounds awesome.

If you don't know a stone toter from Adam's off ox, or aren't sure what a grinder shop sells, the Dictionary of American Regional English is for you. The collection of regional words and phrases is beloved by linguists and authors and used as a reference in professions as diverse as acting and police work. And now, after five decades of wide-ranging research that sometimes got word-gatherers run out of suspicious small towns, the job is almost finished.

The dictionary team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is nearing completion of the final volume, covering "S" to "Z." A new federal grant will help the volume get published next year, joining the first four volumes already in print.

"It will be a huge milestone," said editor Joan Houston Hall.

The dictionary chronicles words and phrases used in distinct regions. Maps show where a subway sandwich might be called a hero or grinder, or where a potluck—as in a potluck dinner or supper—might be called a pitch-in (Indiana) or a scramble (northern Illinois). It's how Americans do talk, not how they should talk.

"It's one of the great American scholarly activities and people will be reading it for a century learning about the roots of the American language," said William Safire, who frequently cites the dictionary in his "On Language" column in The New York Times Magazine. "It shows the richness and diversity of our language."

Doctors have used it to communicate with patients and investigators have referred to it in efforts to identify criminals, including the Unabomber. Dialect coaches in Hollywood and on Broadway have used the dictionary's audio recordings of regional speakers to train actors. Author Tom Wolfe has called the dictionary "my favorite reading." Read more...
Another book I geek out with is "Do You Speak American?" by Robert MacNeil and William Cran. A companion to a PBS documentary, the book celebrates the diversity of American language and accents. Think you can tell where a person is from just by hearing them speak? Visit the Web site for "Do You Speak American?" and test yourself.


Anonymous said...


You are my very favorite geek in all the world!


kat said...

I've been lurking for a long time, and have to crawl out to say that your brand of geek is the coolest thing ever on earth, Tami!

I've really been digging what you have to say,



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