A while back I wrote about the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, a phrase language experts use to describe an accent particular to our region.
It’s not just the accent. A North Carolina State University statistics graduate student recently published a series of maps showing regional variation in word use.
A good one is the generic phrase we use to describe a sweetened carbonated beverage. The map created by Joshua Katz shows that people on the West Coast and in the Northeast call it soda. In the south it is referred to as Coke — even when it’s a beverage other than Coke.
Here in the Midwest? We call it “pop.”
Well, not quite everywhere. Katz’s map shows that Chicago is pretty strong soda territory. What’s up with that?
Jonah Berger, a Wharton professor and author of the New York Times bestseller Contagious: Why things catch on, says it’s because there is lots of social interaction between disparate regions.
“Just count the number of flights everyday between Chicago and LA,” he writes.
Maybe, but I’m not quite buying it. There are a lot of flights between Chicago and a lot of other places including those in popland. And there are a lot of flights between the soda drinkers of LA and New York and cities that insist on drinking pop.
Something more may be at work here. I can’t explain it, but the mystery is intriguing.
One we all know is the regional difference in addressing a group of two or more people. To the north, it’s “you guys.” To the south, it’s “y’all.”
Us northerners tend to look down our noses at y’all as grammatically incorrect. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge. At least “y’all” is non-sexist and inclusive.
You can spend a lot of time with Katz’s maps which illustrate regional differences in the use of 122 words or phrases.
What do you call a miniature lobster living in freshwater lakes and streams?
The Great Lakes region is split on that question. Residents of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York call them crayfish. Those living in Ohio, Indiana and Illinois tend toward crawfish and in some areas crawdads.
And that’s puzzling all around. For one thing, they aren’t fish. And what’s up with the “dads” thing? If they look like miniature lobsters, shouldn’t they be crawbabies? But then how do you explain the craw? Or the cray, for that matter?
One I never thought of much before is the acceptability of referring to cole slaw as simply slaw. Apparently northern Great Lakes residents need both words.
But the folks in Indiana, Illinois and Ohio? They’re good with just the slaw.
How about you? What’s your favorite regional word or phrase?