Y’all in the Great Lakes wouldn’t have just slaw with your Coke and crawdads

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Upending the Basin rotation


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?



12 thoughts on “Y’all in the Great Lakes wouldn’t have just slaw with your Coke and crawdads

  1. The whole pizza as a pie thing. “Would you like to split a pie” ? really threw me when I first heard it in reference to Pizza. Most guys I knew in Michigan growing up as a kid, don’t ask another guy to split a pie with them. They would ask if you want to get a pizza and split the cost of it, paying half of the bill/receipt.

  2. Thanks for that Elisa.

    I’m long removed from Detroit but your note helped me remember as a kid my Mom’s often spoken words, “put that up.” Meaning put that away.

    Gary Wilson

  3. A phrase I particularly associate with Detroit is, “put up”, as in having to put something away. “I have to put up the bikes before we go”

  4. And don’t forget ex-Chicago Bear coach Mike Ditka who always referred to the Detroit Lions as the Deeetroit Lions.

    “We play Deeetroit next week.

    Ditka was originally from Pennsylvania, which barely touches the Great Lakes.

    Gary Wilson

  5. A 10 year old from Florida ask why some people wanted to hit him when they asked him if he wanted a “pop.”

  6. Pronounciation: not sure region controls this, but sometimes one gets a phonetic pronounciation of ‘creek’, with the long ‘E’ sound. Others say, ‘crick’. I’ve only heard ‘crick’ in Minnesota, but that is unlikely the only place where one hears it.

    ‘Roof’. Some say, rOOf, with the long ‘O’, others something like ‘ruhf’, where the long O is not present.

    The contributions to word groups made by the Pennsylvania Dutch is a whole ‘nuther article. My mother grew up in Meadville, Pennsylvania, so there were a whole passel of those around the house.

  7. All my life I’ve said, “I’m going to the beach, do you want to come with?” or “If you’re going to the beach, I’d like to go with.” This is common where I’m from (southern tip of Lake Michigan in Indiana)–or at least common in my family. In fact, even as a former English teacher, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that it might be wrong or sound wrong to others. My hometown was truly a patchwork of immigrants back in the day, including one set of grandparents who spoke little English, and both my parents grew up with friends and neighbors of all nationalities.

    Several references to Chicago/the Midwest here in relation to “come/go with”

  8. How about “excuse me” versus “pardon me”? I have noticed that “excuse me” seems to be more commonly spoken in the Great Lakes region, at least where I grew up and “pardon me” is heard more often along the East Coast.

  9. In Chicago, the use of “over by” followed by a location instead of “to” or “over to” a location. ie, “I’m going over by my mother’s house” instead of “I’m going to (or over to) my mother’s house.”

    If taken literally, it would mean “near” the mother’s house, but that’s not the intent.

    Not sure if it’s unique to Chicago but I never heard it growing up in Detroit or when I lived in Cleveland.

    It’s mostly used in reference to relatives and may be more used more by Italians and people of eastern European descent. Not sure.

    Gary Wilson

  10. I have friends down south in Mississippi, you say crawdad your tagged a yankee! My favorite term is “Might could” where we might say “there’s a disticnt possibility of the happening” they just say “I Might could” and Y’all fits anywhere.

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