Regional vocabularies of American English

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Regional vocabularies of American English vary. Below is a list of lexical differences in vocabulary that are generally associated with a region. A term featured on a list may or may not be found throughout the region concerned, and may or may not be recognized by speakers outside that region. Some terms appear on more than one list.


Historically, a number of everyday words and expression used to be characteristic of different dialect areas of the United States, especially the North, the Midland, and the South; many of these terms spread from their area of origin and came to be used throughout the nation. Today many people use these different words for the same object interchangeably, or to distinguish between variations of an object. Such traditional lexical variables include:[notes 1]

  • faucet (North) and spigot (South);[2]
  • frying pan (North and South, but not Midland), spider (New England; obsolete),[3] and skillet (Midland, Gulf States);
  • clapboard (chiefly Northeast) and weatherboard (Midland and South);[4]
  • gutter (Northeast, South, West), eaves trough (inland North, West), and rainspouting (chiefly Maryland and Pennsylvania);
  • pit (North) and seed (elsewhere);
  • teeter-totter (widespread),[2] seesaw (South and Midland; now widespread), and dandle (Rhode Island);
  • firefly (less frequent South and Midland) and lightning bug (less frequent North);
  • pail (North, north Midland) and bucket (Midland and South; now widespread).

However many differences still hold and mark boundaries between different dialect areas, as shown below. From 2000-2005, for instance, The Dialect Survey queried North American English speakers' usage of a variety of linguistic items, including vocabulary items that vary by region.[5] These include:

  • generic term for a sweetened carbonated beverage
  • drink made with milk and ice cream
  • long sandwich that contains cold cuts, lettuce, and so on
  • rubber-soled shoes worn in gym class, for athletic activities, etc.

Below are lists outlining regional vocabularies in the main dialect areas of the United States.

The North[edit]

  • braht or brat - bratwurst[1]
  • breezeway (widespread) - a hallway connecting two buildings[1]
  • bubbler (esp. New England, Wisconsin and the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys) - a water fountain[1]
  • clout (originally Chicago, now widespread) - political influence[1]
  • davenport (widespread) - a sofa, or couch[1]
  • euchre (throughout the North) - card game similar to spades[1]
  • fridge (throughout North and West) - refrigerator[1]
  • hotdish (esp. Minnesota) - a simple entree cooked in a single dish, related to casserole[6]
  • paczki (in Polish settlement areas, esp. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) - a jelly doughnut[1]
  • pop (widespread in North-Central and West) - a soft drink, carbonated soda[1]
  • sack (Southern Ohio) - a bag at a grocery store[citation needed]
  • soda (all the Northeast and parts of Wisconsin) - soft drink[7]
  • toboggan (South Eastern Ohio and Central Kentucky) - a plastic sled[citation needed]
  • Yooper (Michigan) - people who reside in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan[8]


  • brook - creek. Mainly New England, now widespread but especially common in the Northeast[1]
  • cellar - alternate term for basement[9]
  • sneaker - although found throughout the U.S., appears to be concentrated in the Northeast. Elsewhere (except for parts of Florida) tennis shoe is more common.[10]
  • soda - a soft drink[7]
  • Mischief Night (or, rarely, Cabbage Night) - night when, by custom, preteens and teenagers play pranks; usually, the night before Halloween[1]

New England[edit]

Eastern New England[edit]

  • bulkhead - cellar hatchway[1]
  • Cabinet (Rhode Island) - milk shake[1]
  • frappe - milkshake[1]
  • hosey - (esp. parts of Massachusetts & Maine) to stake a claim or choose sides, to claim ownership of something (sometimes, the front seat of a car)[1]
  • intervale - bottomland; mostly historical[1]
  • jimmies - sprinkles (ice cream topping)[1] see also Mid-Atlantic, below
  • johnnycake (also Rhode Island jonnycake) – a type of cornmeal bread[1]
  • leaf peeper - a tourist who has come to see the area's vibrant autumn foliage[1]
  • necessary - outhouse, privy[1]
  • quahog - pronounced "koe-hog," it properly refers to a specific species of clam but is also applied to any clam[1]
  • tonic (eastern Massachusetts) - soft drink[1]

Northern New England[edit]

  • ayuh - "yes" or affirmative[1]
  • creemee - (Vermont) soft serve ice cream [11]
  • dooryard - area around the main entry door of a house, specifically a farmhouse. Typically including the driveway and parking area proximal to the house[1]
  • Italian (sandwich) - (Maine) submarine sandwich[1]
  • logan (also pokelogan) - a shallow, swampy lake or pond (from Algonquian)[1]
  • muckle - to grasp, hold-fast, or tear into[1]
  • mud season - early spring [12][13]

The Mid-Atlantic[edit]

New York City Area[edit]

The Midland[edit]

  • barn-burner (now widespread) - an exciting, often high-scoring game, esp. a basketball game[1]
  • dinner (widespread) - the evening meal; the largest meal of the day, whether eaten at mid-day or in the evening[1]
  • hoosier (esp. Indiana) - someone from Indiana; (outside of Indiana, esp. in the St. Louis, Missouri area) a person from a rural area, comparable to redneck[2]
  • mango - green bell pepper, sometimes also various chili peppers[1]
  • outer road - a frontage road or other service road[1]
  • pop - a soft drink (except in a large area centered on St. Louis, Missouri, where soda predominates)[7]

The South[edit]

  • alligator pear - avocado[1]
  • banquette (southern Louisiana) - sidewalk, foot-path[1]
  • billfold (widespread, but infrequent Northeast, Pacific Northwest) - a man's wallet[1]
  • cap (also Midlands) - sir (prob. from "captain")[1]
  • chill bumps (also Midlands) - goose bumps[1]
  • chuck - toss or throw an object[2]
  • coke - any brand of soft drink[7]
  • commode (also Midlands) - bathroom; restroom; particularly the toilet itself[1]
  • crocus sack (Atlantic), croker sack (Gulf) - burlap bag[1]
  • cut on/off - to turn on/off[1]
  • directly - in a minute; soon; presently[1]
  • dirty rice (esp. Louisiana) - Cajun rice dish consisting of rice, spices, and meat[1]
  • fais-dodo (southern Louisiana) - a party[1]
  • fix - to get ready, to be on the verge of doing; (widespread but esp. South) to prepare food[1]
  • hip - to know, to have knowledge of (i.e. "I'm hip" = "I know")
  • house shoes - bedroom slippers[1]
  • lagniappe (Gulf, esp. Louisiana) - a little bit of something extra[1]
  • locker (esp. Louisiana) - closet[1]
  • make (age) (Gulf, esp. Louisiana) - have a birthday; "He's making 16 tomorrow."[1]
  • neutral ground (Louisiana, Mississippi) - median strip[1]
  • po' boy (scattered, but esp. South) - a long sandwich, typically made with fried oysters, clams, or shrimp[1]
  • put up - put away, put back in its place[1]
  • yankee - northerner; also damn yankee, damned yankee[1]
  • yonder (esp. rural) - over there, or a long distance away; also over yonder[20]

The West[edit]

  • barrow pit (esp. Rocky Mountains) – a ditch to conduct water off a surface road[1]
  • davenport (widespread) - couch or sofa[1]
  • Hella (esp. Bay Area) - "very" or "a lot of"[21]
  • pop (widespread in West and North) - carbonated beverages; soda predominates in California, Arizona, southern Nevada,[7] while coke denotes any carbonated beverage in New Mexico.
  • snowmachine (Alaska) – a motor vehicle for travel over snow. Outside Alaska known as a snowmobile[22]

Pacific Northwest[edit]

  • Skid road or Skid row - a path made of logs or timbers along which logs are pulled; (widespread) a run-down, impoverished urban area[1][22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Examples in this section are from the Dictionary of American Regional English (2002), except where otherwise noted.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu bv Cassidy, Frederic Gomes, and Joan Houston Hall (eds). (2002) Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Metcalf, Alan A. (2000) How we talk: American regional English today. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  3. ^ Allen, Harold Byron, and Gary N. Underwood (eds). (1971) Readings in American Dialectology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  4. ^ Wood, Gordon Reid. (1971) Vocabulary change: a study of variation in regional words in eight of the Southern States. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
  5. ^ Vaux, Bert, Scott A. Golder, Rebecca Starr, and Britt Bolen. (2000-2005) The Dialect Survey. Survey and maps.
  6. ^ Mohr, Howard. (1987) How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor's Guide. New York: Penguin.
  7. ^ a b c d e Campbell, Matthew T. (2003) Generic names for soft drinks by county. Map.
  8. ^ Binder, David. (14 September 1995). "Upper Peninsula Journal: Yes, They're Yoopers, and Proud of it." New York Times, section A, page 16.
  9. ^ "Dialect Survey-Level of a building that is partly or entirely underground". University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  10. ^ "Dialect Survey - General term for rubber-soled shoes worn for athletic activities, etc.". University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Retrieved 2008-06-17. 
  11. ^ Bartlett, Ray; Gregor Clark; Dan Eldridge; Brandon Presser (2010). Lonely Planet New England Trips. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-74220-391-1. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  12. ^ Collins, Jim (March 2008). "Mud season: New England's fifth season". Yankee. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  13. ^ Zielinski, Gregory A.; Keim, Barry D. (2005). New England Weather, New England Climate. UPNE. ISBN 978-1-58465-520-6. Retrieved 4 September 2013. 
  14. ^ a b c Freeman, Amy (March 4, 2015). "Philly Slang: Philadelphia Sayings You Don’t Hear Anywhere Else". Caldwell Banker. Retrieved February 12, 2017. [better source needed]
  15. ^ "WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPRINKLES AND JIMMIES?". Retrieved 12 December 2016. 
  16. ^ "How they Talk in Philadelphia". Retrieved 2017-02-13. 
  17. ^ Bykofsky, Stu (July 16, 2006). "Philly Slang". Archived from the original on March 23, 2008. 
  18. ^ "Stoop | Define Stoop at". Retrieved 2011-02-01. 
  19. ^ Popik, Barry (June 14, 2005). "Westchester: Wedge sandwich". The Big Apple. Retrieved 2012-09-19. 
  20. ^ Wolfram, Walt, and Natalie Schilling-Estes. (2006) American English: dialects and variation second edition. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
  21. ^ Eghan, Adizah (August 2015). "The Origins of Hella". KQED. Retrieved 2015-11-18. 
  22. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

External links[edit]