Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Regional word choice: would you rather a frappe or a cabinet?

Not just plants are regional: words, too.
I moved all over the place when I was a kid, and I collected words and differences in pronunciation of words like most kids collected bubble gum trading cards.

Milkshake, cabinet, frappe

Even though these words reference the same thing, each brings a different feel to the image. When I think of a frappe being served at my table, the imagined tall glass of white is full of lumpy froth at the top with condensation on the glass so thick it is opaque, and the only places where I can see the milky fluid is where the fingertips of the waitress touched.  And the container is cold, and I cannot view it as any color other than white, with the smell of vanilla beans thick in the breath I take before slurping in the first taste of half air half tantalizing sponginess that sounds like distant firecrackers as the tiny bubbles pop against my lips. 

Tennis shoe, sneaker

I wore sneakers into my teens.  When I first heard there were shoes called tennis shoes, I thought I had to play tennis to wear them.

route: route (root) or route (rout)

Don't ask me for directions unless you are prepared to hear me switch back and forth in my pronunciation of this word and not even know I am doing it.

aunt: aunt (ant) or aunt (awnt) or aunt (tante)

I only used the first two of this one.  I had two aunts, one on each coast.  I met them when I was a child.  I thought saying Aunt (ant) Sue and Aunt (awnt) Peg was just a case of that being their names, similar to Sally Ann or Jim Bob. Later I understood that they resided on different coasts and geography made all the difference.

submarine sandwich, hoagie, grinder, sub, Italian, hero, wedge

I can still remember when my family was moving from Massachusetts to New Jersey.  We had been traveling for what seemed like all day, and we went into one shop to get something to eat.  I looked at the menu and had no idea what they were offering.  I wanted a submarine sandwich, but there were none listed.  Would a hoagie taste good?  I was about 12 years old and thought this was probably the only place in the US silly enough to call them hoagies.

purse, pocketbook, bag, handbag

This one still gets me in trouble.  I say pocketbook and my students give me blank looks. They trust that I know what I am talking about, but they don't know what I am talking about.

toilet, john, head, loo, porcelain pony, commode

I only came across the first three of these in my travels.  Toilet is my word of choice, but recently my husband was explaining what a room in the house we are building was and said "commode."  My daughter looked at me unsure of what we were putting in the house. So I had to explain.

The second one I am very familiar with, but "john" is one I just can't use.  Both my grandfathers were named John, my brother and my father.  But my mom thought it was quite funny to say things like, "John is in the john" or "We have several johns, are you looking to talk or use?"  My dad was a Navy man, and when out on the ocean fishing, he always said "head" but never in the house.  And he never referred to a toilet as a john.

What makes word choice so important? It adds characterization and settings if you are picking a specific region for your story. What regional words have you noted?  Do you know the reason behind their use?

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