Tuesday, April 11, 2006

They didn't ask about tomato or potato

I love to hear the differences in the way people talk—the way they pronounce things and the words they use are fascinating. When we’re in London, I tease my friend Alex about some of the words he says (hire a car?), and he will make fun of the way I (and his wife!) say, “Could you pass the butter?” He’ll ask over breakfast, in his perfect English accent except for “butter,” for which he exaggerates our American pronunciation: budder. We saw an ad on the tube that used the expression “not a jot,” and he was surprised that I had never run across “jot” used to mean “a little bit.”

Even with friends in this country, I like to trade expressions for things. While I adopted “pop” in favor of “soda” at some point, my friend Kim in Texas calls all such drinks “coke.” Tonjia from Brooklyn eats hoagies instead of subs. When I was little, I learned that people in Wisconsin ask for PEE-kahns on their sundaes instead of pee-KAHNS.

DCist linked today to a dialect survey. I compared myself to the DC and California results. I fit in with California, for the most part, in spite of the fact that I’ve come to believe that “y’all” is a useful expression, and if there’s a chance to give a word two syllables instead of three (e.g.: caramel and mayonnaise) I tend to take it.

Just reading through the questions the survey asked was interesting. There are some things that it never occurred to me there could be another word for. I mean, what else would you call an eye booger? It’s an eye booger, for goodness sake. Others reminded me of my own mistakes. For instance, the choices on the traffic circle reminded me that at 26 it was disappointing to me to find that there were no acrobats or tigers at Piccadilly Circus (but wouldn’t that make things more exciting?).

Some of the questions confused me. On number 59 I was relieve to see my response—What the hell game is that? (or a variation of it, anyhow)—as a response. And was the suggestion that a berm be called parking a joke? (Hmmm…I would call it berm, unlike most Californians, but Microsoft's spellchecker thinks I’m making shit up. But isn’t that also what you call the water from the river that comes onto the beach by the Boardwalk? Maybe I really am making shit up.) And you can call a milkshake a cabinet? The hell?

Some other questions made me giggle. In some parts of the country, apparently, a firefly can be called peenie wallie? (Again, Microsoft thinks not.) And I love that in Minnesota they say “whipping shitties” for doing donuts. That’s awesome.

1 comment:

The Sister said...

I took that survey, it was fun. Took a long long time though.

I say yall, but only as a joke.

I pronounce sure "shoor" and I'm don't know where I got that from.

I call a knit hat a beanie, but the more I think about it I think that's a really wierd name for it.

I was in a bar in Chico waiting in line for the restroom and I was making conversation with the girl in line behind me. I asked her what she does for a living. She said she worked on a almond farm, but she said AA-mund. I was a bit innebriated, but even so I think I would have had a hard time figuring out what she was talking about. No idea where she was from.