30 Words That Have Different Meanings Throughout the U.S.
"Can I have some pop, Pop?"
It’s safe to say that, in the English language, some words have definitive meanings no matter where you are. A “stop” sign brings you to a halt and a “we’re closed” one means you’re not getting any food. But for some words in America, you’ll encounter totally different meanings when you cross state lines.
For instance: If you grew up on the east coast, then you likely use the word “ugly” to describe something that’s physically unappealing, but it might surprise you to learn that your Southern counterparts also use this adjective to describe someone who’s unkind. And most Americans think of the bread when they hear the word “sourdough,” but for Alaskans, this word will bring to mind people who were born and bred in The Last Frontier. (Don’t even get us started on the politics of soda/Coke/pop!) Before you take your next cross-country, use this list to make sure you don’t accidentally deploy an incorrect meaning in a far-flung corner of the country. And for more insight into our shared lexicon, learn The Fascinating Origins of These 30 Common Words.
Most people would use the word “wicked” to describe something evil (or to refer to the hit Broadway music). However, New Englanders use this word in the completely opposite way to describe something excellent—as in, “That cake was wicked good!”
In the South, sugar can be either the sweet stuff you put in your morning cup of coffee, or the word you use when you ask your grandkids for some affection. But if you head more specifically to Texas or Alabama, you’ll hear folks throw the phrase “Give me some sugar!”—yes, as in kissing—into conversation.
When you hear the word “pasty,” you probably think of a pale-skinned person or even the adhesive coverings that some women wear to music festivals. But in some Midwestern states, you can also use this word to order a meat- and vegetable-stuffed hand pie, like those made popular in the United Kingdom. And speaking of U.K. cuisine, here are 25 Weird British Foods Meghan Markle Needs to Know About.
Head to your local salad shop, and they’ll ask you what dressing you want with your mixed greens. But in the South, you also use dressing (what most Northerners know to be “stuffing”) to fill a Thanksgiving turkey. Whatever you want to call it, we can all agree on one thing: It’s delicious.
If someone in a Northern state like Maine uses the verb “fix,” they’re probably referring to repairing or refurbishing something. If someone in the South uses the verb “fix,” however, they are signaling that they are about to do something. For instance, a Southerner might say something like “I’m fixin’ to head to the store” to indicate that they’re getting ready to leave the house.
The word “dope” has seen its fair share of definitions. In the 1800s, it was used to refer to everything from gravy to medicinal mixtures—and even today, the word takes on a different meaning depending on where you are. In most of the United States, the word “dope” is slang to mean something is cool or outstanding, but in Midwestern states like Ohio, the word is a noun referring to ice cream toppings, particularly chocolate syrup—in which case, dope is dope!
“Pop” is most commonly used to describe a person’s father or the type of music that artists like Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande make. But in some parts of the United States (the Midwest and Pacific Northwest especially), the word “pop” also shows up in restaurants, as it refers to the soft drink that the rest of the country knows as soda—or in the South as simply “Coke” (a catch-all term for soda of any brand). And for more insight in the origins of our country, learn The 40 Most Enduring Myths in American History.
If you live anywhere outside of New England, you probably don’t use the word “carriage” all too often (unless you’re a big Cinderella fan). If you live in a state like Massachusetts, however, you probably use this word often—not referring to a horse-drawn vehicle, but a shopping cart. And before you load up your “carriage,” read up on the 15 Grocery Shopping Mistakes That Are Killing Your Wallet.
“Elastic” can refer to both the material used to make a rubber band and the rubber band itself, depending on where you’re from. And to learn more about how the rest of the country talks, See the Top Slang Term from Every U.S. State.
American chefs keep grinders in their kitchen to break down everything from coffee beans to raw spices. A New England cook doesn’t just have a grinder, but also makes one, as this is the term used to describe the type of sandwich you’d find at a place like Subway.
Sourdough is arguably the best type of bread in existence (what’s up, San Fran?), but that’s not all it is. In Alaska, a sourdough is also a person who has lived in the state for their entire lives. The word took on this dual meaning during the days of the Klondike Gold Rush, when commercial baking powder and yeast were hard to come by and so miners needed sourdough starter to leaven bread.
You definitely don’t want to confuse the puppy chow of the Midwest with the puppy chow of the rest of the country. In most of the country, puppy chow is exactly what it sounds like—dog food—but in the Midwest, it refers to a delicious homemade snack made with cereal, melted chocolate, peanut butter, and powdered sugar. And if you love dessert, then good news: This is How Chocolate Will Boost Your Workout (Seriously).
The word “buggy” has several definitions, most of them relating to things on wheels (like a golf buggy or a baby buggy). So it should come as little surprise that, in the South, the noun also refers to the wire cart—on wheels—used in grocery stores and shopping malls to lug items around. Those in the northeast have their carriages, and those in the south have their buggies.
Everyone uses the word “ugly” when they want to call someone or something visually unpleasant, but only Southerners use the word to also call someone rude or unkind. So the next time someone treats you with hostility, now you know to call them ugly. Or you can try these 20 Best Ways to Calm Your Anger Instantly.
If and when you use the word “holler,” it’s likely that you use it in its verb form to describe the action of someone who’s shouting something. But below the Mason-Dixon line, this word is more often found in its noun form, and is used to refer to contacting someone. (For instance: Give me a holler when you’re ready and I’ll pick you up.)
During baseball season, you’ll hear the word “pitcher” during games, referring to the player who throws the ball from the mound to the plate. And in the South, you’ll also hear the word “pitcher” during, well, every-other-ball season, referring to the container holding copious amounts of alcohol and sweet tea.
Though it originated across the pond as a slang term for vomiting, the word “cascade” eventually made its way over to the South. So if you’re ever in South Carolina and you hear someone say that they’re about to cascade, you best get out of the way!
As a verb, the word “soak” is fine. You can soak in a bathtub, soak your dishes in the sink, and, if you’re Sheryl Crow, soak up the sun. However, the last thing you want is for someone to call you a soak. In certain states like South Dakota, this noun is used to describe someone who frequently enjoys too many. And while you soak in that new information, read up on The Most Popular Search Term in Every State.
When someone describes their computer as laggy, they are trying to say that it is slow. Similarly, when someone from New Jersey says they’re feeling laggy, they mean to say that they, too, are feeling slow and lethargic. And if you often find yourself feeling laggy throughout the day, try these 50 Ways to Be a Higher-Energy Person Immediately.
Hear the word “slug” and what likely comes to mind is the slimy mollusk that leaves a trail of goo wherever it goes. If you live in Washington D.C., however, you’ll more commonly hear this word referring to the many people who commute to work with strangers, in order that the car’s owner might use the HOV lane and get to work faster. The entire “slugging” process, as its known, is so popular that there is even a website devoted to finding a ride.
Everywhere in the United States, “laws” refers to rules that keep a society civilized. But in the South (and in Texas particularly), laws are not just the rules, but the people who enforce them. Don’t mess with the laws!
When you want to turn food into more of a paste, you mash it. And in the South, when you want to get to another floor in a building, you need to mash the buttons in the elevator before it will move.
“Hero” and “kitten-saving firefighter” are interchangeable nationwide. But “hero” and “sandwich”? Only in Northern states like New York and New Jersey can you order a hero at the deli and get a nod of understanding in response. (If you’ll recall, you’ll need to call it a grinder if you’re ordering in New England.)
Parlors aren’t often found in your house—unless you live in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, that is. There, the word “parlor” doesn’t just refer to a shop, but also a sitting room where people relax. If you’re not from the Mid-Atlantic region, you might know this room as the “den” or “family room.”
Based on its common definition, most people don’t ever want to find their name in the same sentence as the word “dumb.” But if you’re using the East Coast version of the word, meaning “super” or “extremely,” then being associated with “dumb” isn’t so bad. Of course, someone could call you “dumb stupid” or “dumb ugly,” but they could also call you “dumb sexy,” as is the case for one James Marsden. And for more on the Westworld star, read why he thinks more men should embrace their feminine sides.
In the United States, everyone knows that guacamole at Chipotle costs extra, and on the East Coast, everyone knows that Mariah Carey is extra. No, this isn’t to say that Mariah will run a higher tab. Rather, it means that she is infamously over-the-top and excessive in her habits. And speaking of celebrities being “extra,” don’t miss the 15 Most Lavish Celebrity Weddings of All Time.
The only place you’ll ever want to hear the word “shoots” thrown around is in Hawaii. There, the word doesn’t have anything to do with using a gun, but is a slang word used to mean “all right.”
There are two types of toboggans that make an appearance in the cold. One, the more common kind, is used to go sledding down icy, snowy hills. The other, found in the South, is a knit cap, used to keep the noggin warm in the wintertime.
Most people have their own version of a “regular” when it comes to a food or drink order at their go-to coffee shop. But if you order a regular anywhere in Massachusetts, you won’t get your usual, but a coffee with cream and sugar. Yes, this order is so common in the New England state that it warrants its own slang.
Be careful ordering a gin and tonic at a bar in Massachusetts. In most places, a gin and tonic is a straightforward order—but in Massachusetts, the word “tonic” is more commonly used to refer to soda. If you do fancy a gin-and-tonic, make sure to clarify that you want tonic water. And for more bartending inspiration, learn the 20 Cocktails Everyone Should Know How to Make.
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