Even if you’re conversing with someone in the same dialect, you might be speaking different languages. Take American English. The same object might be called one thing in Maine and one thing in Mississippi and another thing entirely in Minnesota. A Californian trying to order a milkshake in Connecticut might not get very far, while an Alabaman might get laughed out of a Arizonan grocery store if they ask for a “sack.”
Though some might say differences like this divide us, we’d like to believe that, actually, they just make this grand country of ours that much more rich and interesting—and there’s no way that’s more apparent than in our language. Here, as proof, are 30 common things that have wildly different names around the country, even if you just step across a single simple state line. And once you’ve burnished your lexicon with this knowledge, brush up on the 30 Words That Have Different Meanings Throughout the U.S.
Carbonated Soft Drinks
In most of the country, a carbonated soft drink is known as “a soda” or maybe “a Coke” (especially in the South), but once you get into the Midwest, you’re in “pop” country. Apparently due to the “pop” sound the drink made when the top of the original glass bottles were opened, if you hear someone say it, you know you’re talking to a Midwesterner. And if you’re drinking pop or soda from a can, learn The Secret Second Use Built into Your Soda Tab.
Linguistic researchers Bert Vaux and Scott Golder conducted a survey of how Americans pronounce words or describe the same thing, and statistics Ph.D. student Joshua Katz at North Carolina State University published a group of maps to help visualize the data. One of the most divisive terms was what word Americans use to “call the miniature lobster that one finds in lakes and streams.” The South knows these as “crawfish,” the East Coast and Great Lakes region knows them as “crayfish,” and the Midwest knows them “crawdads.”
Though we think of these convergences of several roads into a circle as a more European thing, there are quite a few throughout the United States—and, similarly, quite a few names for them. While much of the West calls them “roundabouts,” in the Southeast, they tend to call them “traffic circles.” In parts of Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, however, they’re known as “rotaries.” And for more coverage of the crazy things we say, here are the 40 Common Sayings You’ve Been Using Wrong Forever.
The refreshing faucets providing fresh water is known as a drinking fountain in much of the Western and Midwestern states, but head south and you’re more likely to call it a “water fountain.” In Rhode Island and Wisconsin, folks go a whole different direction, though, and call it a “bubbler.”
While Katz found that the vast majority of the country calls rubber-soled shoes worn while exercising or running as “tennis shoes,” New Englanders opted to call them “sneakers.” (Apparently because they are doing more sneaking than exercising? No, that doesn’t seem right…)
Big Road on Which You Drive Fast
Most of the U.S. calls these stretches of tar “highways” or maybe “interstates.” But on the West Coast—California in particular—they prefer to call them “freeways,” emphasizing the open road and high speed limits. And for more on how the asphalt differs from state to state, learn The Busiest Road in Every State.
The South keeps it simple and just calls this popular shredded-cabbage dish “slaw.”
The Patch of Grass Between the Sidewalk and the Road
Most Americans have no word for this whatsoever, but those who do give it wildly different names depending on their region. According to Vaux and Golden’s findings, those in the Northeast call it a “bern,” while those in the Great Lakes region prefer “terrace,” while the term “verge” tends to be more popular on the East Coast.
Most of us call the long narrow area in the middle of a divided highway a “median,” while a smaller number of people (about 13% of Americans, by Vaux and Golden’s account) call it a “median strip.” But people in Louisiana, specifically coastal Louisiana see it in competitive terms, calling it “neutral ground.”
A Certain Long-Legged Insect
The most common term for this creepy, if harmless critter, is “daddy long legs,” which more than 94 percent of respondents to Vaux and Golden’s survey called them. But head south and you might find folks who call it a “granddaddy” and a few respondents in Texas and Arkansas who call it “daddy graybeard.” Also, speaking of these creepy crawlers, did you know they’re technically not spiders? That’s just one of the 100 Facts That Will Make You Say “Wow!”
Most of the country knows the delicious stuff you put on top of spaghetti to be “tomato sauce.” But there are pockets of the country—Philadelphia, the Bronx, Boston, and Chicago, according to Lorraine Ranalli, author of Gravy Wars—where communities are more likely to call it “gravy.”
This is an item with many names depending on where you’re standing. While most places a long sandwich filled with cold cuts, cheese, and veggies is simply a “sub,” in New York City you’ll be more likely to get what you want by asking for a “hero.” In Pennsylvania, it’s a “hoagie” (usually filled with Italian cold cuts), while New Englanders call it a “grinder” (where it’s going to be filled with meatballs or sliced chicken breast). Sure, there are fine distinctions between each of these, but when you come down to it, they’re pretty much the same thing with a different name.
End of a Loaf of Bread
Most Americans call those last slices of bread at the end of the loaf the heel, while a smaller number call it the “end” (about 17 percent) or the “crust” (15 percent), in a couple parts of the country, particularly Louisiana, it’s, per Vaux and Golden, referred to by some as the “nose.”
Blended ice cream, milk, and flavored syrup is known most commonly as a milkshake, but New Englanders go their own way, preferring a “cabinet.” A strange name for a drinkable dessert, said to be called that because it’s made in a blender from the kitchen cabinet. The coffee cabinet (a milkshake with coffee) is so beloved in Rhode Island that its key ingredient of coffee milk has been minted as the state’s official drink.
On those warm summer nights when you’re out as the sun goes down, you may see a little spark from a flying bug that adds a bit of romance and atmosphere to the evening. But if you’re looking for what to call it, in the South you’ll want to refer to it as a “lightning bug,” while in New England, you’ll be in the right by calling it a “firefly.”
You Group of People Over There
In most of the country, when you’re addressing a group of people, you might just call them “you guys.” But the South famously has the much more charming term of “y’all” for this. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, goes its own way, with a version of “you ones” that’s somehow morphed into “yinz.”
The Thing You Carry Groceries in
While more than 90 percent of Americans refer to this as a “bag,” a number of people, particularly in the Midwest and South, know it as a “sack.” And if you’re hitting the store often, don’t miss the 15 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Are Killing Your Wallet.
Thing That Changes the Channel
New Englanders get to the point with this one, saving a few syllables and calling it a “clicker.” The rest of the country calls it a “remote control.”
When Rain Falls as the Sun Shines
In Florida and New England, as well as smatterings of other parts of the U.S., this rather beautiful contrast in weather conditions is known as a “sunshower.” In the Southern U.S., however, they see a Biblical drama playing out, and refer to this as “the devil beating his wife” (though in Tennessee it’s “the devil kissing his wife”). The idea is that the devil is angry because God created such a lovely day and Satan wants to ruin it.
Drive-Through Liquor Store
While the plurality of the country only wishes that it had such an establishment nearby, there is a surprising proliferation of places where you can pick up alcohol without getting out of your car, all of them various degrees of clever. The Southeast tends to call one of these a “brew thru” while the Texas and other states might call it a “beer barn.” A smattering of spots also know them as “bootleggers” and “beverage barns.”
Those colorful bits that go on the top of ice cream and cupcakes may be known as sprinkles throughout most of the U.S., but in the Mid-Atlantic region, you’re more likely to hear them referred to as “jimmies.”
Eggs Prepared in Boiling Water
In most parts of the country, you’d call this technique “poaching an egg,” when you crack it and drop it into boiling water, serving on toast or atop veggies. It’s a term chefs use for other ingredients that are simmered in a small amount of liquid, such as salmon, chicken or fruit. But New Englanders go for a more literal term, calling the dish “dropped” egg, as in the action that happens to the egg after it’s cracked and dropped into a pot.
You get water out of the “tap”—unless you’re in the South, where they prefer to call it a “spigot,” or the North, where they prefer the more French-inspired “faucet.”
Flat Carbo-Loaded Buttered-Up Breakfast
You and I and IHOP all refer to these flat, batter cakes as “pancakes,” (before covering them in maple syrup, or some other sweet fruit topping). But head to some corners of the country, and you’re more likely to encounter flapjacks. The Dictionary of American Regional English offers up even more synonyms for the pancake, depending where you are ordering it: “Also called clapjack, flapcake, flapover, flatcake, flatcjack, flipjack, flipper, flopjack, flopover, slapjack.”
Selling Stuff In Front of Your House
Pulling together all the old stuff around your house you longer need, putting it outside and inviting friends, neighbors and complete strangers to look it over and pay you for it is called a “yard sale” or “garage sale” right? Not if you’re in New York City, where most people have no garages or yards, so they have “stoop sales,” or New England, where they focus less on where things are being sold than how you know how much they cost and call these “tag sales.”
Orange Peppery Produce
If you’re in the Midwest and someone asks you for a “mango,” you’re not going to reach for the sweet, juicy orange fruit, but rather a mild, green bell “pepper.” The reason for this may be that as green bell peppers ripen, they feature red-gold splotches and look similar to mangos. Either way, you may want to double check what food a person is referring to.
Piece of Furniture Multiple People Can Sit On
New Englanders tend to like calling these “sofas” and while in Upstate New York, you might have the opportunity to recline on a “davenport.” The rest of the country? “Couch.”
Hard Candy on a Stick
While “lollipop” is the most familiar name for this confection throughout the country, folks in the Midwest and South are most likely to call these “suckers” (though there is a slight variation between the two, as lollipops tend to be shaped like discs, while suckers are usually more spherical).
Thing That Holds Your Cash and Cards
When pulling out your money in the South, you might be pulling it from a “billfold” rather than a “wallet,” as the rest of the country does.
This institution of home-cooked meals can come in many varieties with as many ingredients as you could devise, but while most of the country calls this decadence a “casserole,” in the Dakotas and Minnesota, you better call it “hotdish.”
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