Regionalism is a linguistic term for a word, expression, or pronunciation favored by speakers in a particular geographic area.
"Many regionalisms in the U.S. are relics," notes R.W. Burchfield: "words brought over from Europe, chiefly the British Isles, and preserved in one area or another either because of the continuance of older ways of life in these localities, or because a particular type of English was early established and has not been fully overlaid or undermined" (Studies in Lexicography, 1987).
In practice, dialect expressions and regionalisms often overlap, but the terms are not identical. Dialects tend to be associated with groups of people while regionalisms are associated with geography. Numerous regionalisms can be found within a particular dialect.
The largest and most authoritative collection of regionalisms in American English is the six-volume Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), published between 1985 and 2013. The digital edition of DARE was launched in 2013.
From the Latin, "to rule"
Examples and Observations
- The following definitions were adapted from the Dictionary of American Regional English.flannel cake (n) A pancake. (Usage: Appalachians)
flea in one's ear (n) A hint, warning, disquieting disclosure; a rebuke. (Usage: chiefly the Northeast)
mulligrubs (n) A condition of despondency or ill temper; a vague or imaginary unwellness. (Usage: scattered, but especially the South)
nebby (adj) Snoopy, inquisitive. (Usage: chiefly Pennsylvania)
pungle (v) To shell out; to plunk down (money); to pay up. (Usage: chiefly West)
say-so (n) An ice-cream cone. (Usage: scattered)
(Celeste Headlee, "Regional Dictionary Tracks The Funny Things We Say." Weekend Edition on National Public Radio, June 14, 2009)
Pop vs. Soda
- "In the American South it's called Coke, even when it's Pepsi. Many in Boston say tonic. A precious few even order a fizzy drink. But the debate between those soft drink synonyms is a linguistic undercard in the nation's carbonated war of words. The real battle: pop vs. soda." (J. Straziuso, "Pop vs. Soda Debate." Associated Press, September 12, 2001)
- "In Delaware, a turnpike refers to any highway, but in Florida, a turnpike is a toll road." (T. Boyle, The Gremlins of Grammar. McGraw-Hill, 2007)
Sack and Poke
- "Sack and poke were both originally regional terms for bag. Sack has since become a Standard term like bag, but poke remains regional, mainly in South Midland Regional dialect." (Kenneth Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, 1993)
Regionalism in England
- "What some call a roll, others call a bun, or a cob, or a bap, or a bannock, while in other areas of England more than one of these words is used with different meanings for each."
(Peter Trudgill, The Dialects of England. Wiley, 1999)
- "How do you make your tea? If you come from Yorkshire you probably 'mash' it, but people in Cornwall are more likely to 'steep' it or 'soak' it and southerners often 'wet' their tea."
(Leeds Reporter, March 1998)
Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE)
- "As chief editor of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), a massive effort to collect and record local differences in American English, I spend my days researching the countless examples of regional words and phrases and trying to track their origins. Launched in 1965 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the project is based on thousands of interviews, newspapers, government records, novels, letters, and diaries…
"Even as we near the finish line, I encounter a common misperception: people seem to think that American English has become homogenized, making the dictionary a catalog of differences long since flattened out by media, business, and population shifts. There's a grain of truth to that. Certain regional terms have been weakened by commercial influences, like Subway's sub sandwich, which seems to be nibbling away at hero, hoagie, and grinder. It's also true that strangers tend to talk to each other in a somewhat homogeneous vocabulary, and that more Americans are moving away from their linguistic homes as they relocate for school, work, or love.
"But DARE's research shows that American English is as varied as ever. The language is diversified by immigration, of course, but also people's creative license and the resilient nature of local dialects. We have dozens of ways to refer to a remote place, for instance, including the boonies, the sticks, the tules, the puckerbrush, and the willywags. The proverbial village idiot, in such a place, might still be described as unfit to carry guts to a bear or pour piss out of a boot. If his condition is temporary, a Southerner might call him swimmy-headed, meaning dizzy. And if his home is dirty, a Northeasterner might call it skeevy, an adaptation of schifare, the Italian verb 'to disgust.'
"As these examples suggest, the regionalisms that persist are often not those we learn from books or teachers or newspapers; they are the words we use with friends and family, the phrases we've known forever and never questioned until someone 'from away' remarked on them." (Joan Houston Hall, "How to Speak American." Newsweek, August 9, 2010)
Regionalisms in the American South
- "Vocabulary is… strikingly different in various parts of the South. Nowhere but in the Deep South is the Indian-derived bobbasheely, which William Faulkner employed in The Reivers, used for 'a very close friend,' and only in Northern Maryland does manniporchia (from the Latin mania a potu, 'craziness from drink') mean the D.T.s (delirium tremens). Small tomatoes would be called tommytoes in the mountains (tommy-toes in East Texas, salad tomatoes in the plains area, and cherry tomatoes along the coast). Depending on where you are in the South, a large porch can be a veranda, piazza, or gallery; a burlap bag can be a tow sack, crocus sack, or grass sack; pancakes can be flittercakes, fritters, corncakes, or battercakes; a harmonica can be a mouth organ or french harp; a closet can be a closet or a locker; and a wishbone can be a wishbone or pulley bone. There are hundreds of synonyms for a cling peach (green peach, pickle peach, etc.), kindling wood (lightning wood, lighted knots) and a rural resident (snuff chewer, kicker, yahoo)." (Robert Hendrickson, The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms. Facts on File, 2000)