American Regional English Words & PhrasesTweet
Just north of the Mason-Dixon line, lightning bugs morph into fireflies.
Skillets transform into frying pans.
Seesaws become teeter-totters.
Stand at this charmed spot any night of the week and you’ll feel the tremors as American English fissures into regional variants.
What does this mean? Let’s go on a linguistic roadshow…
Regional English Variants Across America
In the US, there’s one English, but dozens of American Englishes.
Depending on where you are in the country, objects can have very different names. A water fountain, for example, is also a drinking fountain, and in Wisconsin and parts of Rhode Island, a bubbler too. In the Midwest, a couch is a couch, while in New England it’s a sofa.
Some American houses are cleaned with vacuums, some with sweepers and some not at all. Buckets are pails, and can be filled by kitchen faucets (or spigots). But, really, why clean house when you can throw on a bathing suit (or swimsuit) and take a dip?
Speaking of houses, some have basements while others have cellars. All usually have toilets, but whether you’ll find them in the bathroom or the restroom depends on what part of the US you’re in. In New England, houses have dooryards; in the Midwest, they simply have yards.
In the north, dinner is common, while the south prefers supper. Ingredients (or fixings) are purchased at the grocery store (or supermarket) and kept in the refrigerator (or icebox, if you’re in the rural south). If you prepare a pie in say, Iowa, it’s something like blueberry or pecan; a pie in New York City, however, has pepperoni and cheese (i.e. pizza).
Pie may be pie in Iowa, but parking garages are ramps. Cars in those ramps have glove boxes (glove compartments elsewhere), and also turn signals (or blinkers). Of course, those without wheels stick to the sidewalk (or pavement in the east).
The variants of American regional English compound – and confound – quickly. Here’s a few more match-ups worth noting:
- Shopping cart (Midwest & East) vs. shopping buggy (South)
- Long johns (Midwest & South) vs. thermals (East & West)
- Bag vs. sack
- Sucker vs. lollipop
- Billfold (South) vs. wallet
- Iced tea vs. sweet tea (South)
Linguistic Constructions & American Regional English
Aside from single words and phrases, American regional English exhibits other distinctive tics.
In New York City, for example, blunders are committed “on accident,” while in the rest of the country they’re “by accident.” Likewise, New York takeout is either “to stay or to go,” while the rest of the country’s restaurants ask “for here or to go?”
Elevators can be “out of service” or “out of order.” Either way, if they’re in Wisconsin they’re “busted” (not broken). Taking the stairs might require you to “wait in line,” unless you’re in parts of the East, where you’ll “wait on line.”
Time is a bit rubbery in the South. Folks there are always “fixing” to do something, or will do it “directly” (meaning momentarily). Southerners are also a vaguely inclusive lot, affixing an “and them” to many possessives, e.g. “Yesterday I went to my brother’s and them.”
And let’s not forget the famous Southern “y’all.” Although fondly mocked by the rest of the country, Midwesterners, in particular, use constructions not far removed: “Who all did you see?” “What all did you do?”
“A rose is a rose is a rose,” Gertrude Stein wrote, but in American English, it’s also probably a half-dozen other things as well. Ours is a language flushed with idioms and social expressions, which makes speaking it a pleasurable but sometimes dizzying experience.
There’s always a different expression just “over yonder.”