Science & Tech

Dictionary collects American regional expressions

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Research guide aides writers, actors, scholars — even law enforcement

Besides shedding light on mind-teasing and sense-pleasing expressions, the Dictionary of Regional English (DARE) is a fun book to browse through – all four volumes. Hundreds of maps show where the expressions originate, and the words are used in sentences. For example, you are most likely to hear “Martha ate her toast and dropped egg” in the Northeast, particularly Maine. “DARE is much more than a word list,” says Jennifer Snodgrass, reference editor and custodian of the dictionary project for the Harvard University Press, which publishes it. “It’s a portrait of American language. It’s a great resource, not only for librarians and scholars, but also for writers and for those who want to find out what grandma meant when she used words like ‘quiddle’ (to trifle or fuss). Law enforcement agencies have used it to search for regional clues in ransom notes, and dialogue coaches draw upon it to prepare Broadway actors for parts that require regional accents.” “We all assume we speak the same language,” notes Joan Hall, chief editor of DARE, which is put together at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “But we are constantly surprised by its wonderful regional variations. DARE is a record of these variations.”