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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: Regions still have some verbal disconnects

Lo those many decades ago when I had just arrived in Spokane, I was a guest at someone’s home and asked if I’d like a pop. Well, I already had a pop who was living with a mom back home in Miami. However, I would like very much to have a soda, thank you.

And so began my adjustment to regional language differences. I’m pretty much caught up by now and quite acclimated. Now when I’m back home visiting, “soda” sounds funny. But just to confuse things, friends elsewhere in the South refer to any sweetened carbonated beverage as coke, small “c.”

From time to time I enjoy having fun with words. They are such interesting things – eloquent and inspiring when properly deployed, funny in certain combinations and painful to the ears when abused and misused.

Going through a stack of old magazines I recently came across a short magazine article from 2013 about a project on classic regional dialect differences done by Joshua Katz, a graduate student at North Carolina State University. And one of the differences he dealt with was the whole pop-soda thing. I had to know more.

The lovely Internet provided me that, and much more. Boy howdy, as used to be said in areas of the South (though I rather doubt it’s still popular), is there a whole lot of information available on the subject. The first thing I learned is that this study was a big deal two years ago and burned up the media, from BuzzFeed to the New York Times. How did I miss it the first time? Going from Mr. Katz to elsewhere, I learned a lot.

For example, the majority of us in our region pronounce “caramel” so that it sounds like “car’ml,” while Miamians prefer “cara-mel.” We like to pronounce the second syllable of the word “pajamas” so that the “a” sounds like it does in the word “father.” But back in Miami, it sounds like the “a” in “jam.” And here’s a gimme: We are more likely to call a group of two or more people “you guys,” while in much of the South it’s “y’all.”

I have learned that the device that dispenses water in a school hallway, for us in Spokane is a drinking fountain while in the Southeast and much of New England it’s a water fountain. And just to assert their independence, apparently, it’s a bubbler in Rhode Island. And that thing we need to navigate around in the middle of an intersection is called a roundabout hereabouts, but it’s a traffic circle to the people of New York City.

This one is getting a little dated, but those rubber-soled things we put on our feet in gym class are tennis shoes in Spokane, but the preferred term in Miami is sneakers. We like frosting on our cupcakes, while the folks in Pennsylvania prefer icing. Out here we mow the lawn, yet in New Orleans they cut the grass. For us the first syllable in “Bowie knife” is pronounced “bo,” but in the Texas Panhandle it’s “boo.” And here our mother’s sister is our “ant,” but she’s our “ahnt” in Massachusetts. Who knew?

Clearly I can’t get enough of this stuff.

But I think my favorite is the category in which we have no preferred terms. One question in the Katz survey asked: What do you call it when rain falls while the sun shines? In Miami, the answer is “sun shower.” But for us, we have no particular term for the occurrence. We get lots of sunshine and not much rain (at least by Miami standards), so it seems that the combination of the two is a bit of a unicorn for us. We also have no preferred term for a drive-through liquor store because we don’t have any of those (at least as of 2013), but in Norfolk, Virginia, it’s a “brew-thru.”

I could go on and on, but perhaps I should stop now. OK, one more. That impolite thing the kids in your neighborhood just did to your house is called “TP-ing” around here, but in Mississippi it’s called “rolling.”

Still enjoying it, but stopping now for real.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at

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