When Cam and Sharon meet, one of their first conversations shows the process Sharon uses to determine where Cam is from. Over the years of living across the United States, I learned how regional dialects presented themselves. Now that I’ve lived outside of Wisconsin for almost as long as I lived in it, I’ve lost track of what terms are used where.
Thankfully, someone did research on this very subject and compiled the results for 122 different terms. When you click on this link you’ll get the entire list. But let’s refresh our memory with some specifics.
Regional Dialect: Soda vs Pop
I’m curious if any other country in the world has as much variation as the word for soda. See, that’s what I grew up on, though pop isn’t uncommon. Coke makes my head hurt, but it’s all regional, as you can see from these maps. Unfortunately they don’t allow you to zoom in, but soda is the preference for eastern Wisconsin.
Excerpt from A Marine Awakening
“So, Warren, where are you from? I’d bet somewhere up north,” Rodriguez asked as she dusted the windowsill.
“Easy guess since almost every state is north of Florida.” Cam smirked at her before returning to her task of wiping the baseboards down.
“Smartass. I bet I can guess with just a few questions.” Cam glanced at her, curious. Rodriguez asked her first question confidently. “Let’s see… soda or pop?”
“Soda. What about you?” Cam tried to keep her face neutral as she looked back at Rodriguez. Not that she knew where people said soda versus pop, anyway.
“I’m asking the questions, just wait your turn. Favorite football team?”
“No way, that would give it away in a second,” Cam fired back.
“So, you’re a hometown girl.” Rodriguez stated without question. She considered her next question. “I know, casserole or hot dish?” Rodriguez’s eyes glinted in amusement, enjoying her game.
“You eat casserole?” Shit, was that kinda racist to even ask?
“Aha!” Rodriguez pointed her finger at Cam and laughed, interrupting her thoughts.
“Damn. But how do you even know to ask that question?”
“It’s still not your turn yet. I’ve almost got you pegged.” Her eyes were mischievous, which made Cam grin involuntarily.
Regional Dialect: Casserole vs Hot Dish
Unfortunately, this split wasn’t covered in the prior link and I have been unable to find the article I read years ago explaining the split between casserole and hot dish in Wisconsin. I did, however, find a fascinating article that discusses the east-west divide in Wisconsin. You can read it here.
What it boils down to is this. If you live in the east, you’ll use words that Cam use, like bubbler, soda, and casserole. If you live in the west, your language is much more Minnesotan, which is where you’ll say drinking fountain, pop, and hot dish.
A quick note regarding Cam’s slightly panicked question in the excerpt. Since Cam had traveled a little before joining the Marine Corps, she’d learned a few of the regional dialect differences. However, she wasn’t experienced enough to know what to expect from Sharon’s life, hence the second guess about casserole. At this point in her life, she knows that it’s easy to unintentionally cause harm, but she doesn’t always know what will offend someone. And that’s very important to her.
Regional Dialect: Bubbler
Seriously, bubbler is one of my all time favorite words. It’s super fun to say and rarely used. In the US, it’s estimated only 4% of the population uses the term and I think they’re missing out. Here’s the map showing the various words that fail to be as entertaining as bubbler.
Excerpt from A Marine Awakening
“What do you drink water from?”
“A canteen,” Cam said evenly, though she knew where this was going and she really wanted to know how Rodriguez knew so much. Cam learned most things from books, and she wasn’t aware of books that included all of this information.
“Fine, what do you call the machines that provide drinking water outside bathrooms.”
“I plead the fifth,” Cam said, knowing her response provided the same information as if she’d answered the question. She had only recently learned in college that the word she used for drinking fountains, bubbler, was almost exclusively used in Wisconsin. Even stranger, no one knew why.
“Which tells me all I need to know. You’re a Wisconsin kid,” Rodriguez said.
These are examples just from a small portion of the United States. Start reading books from other countries and you’ll discover more words than you could imagine. If you don’t believe me, hang out with some Aussies and you’ll work hard to figure out what they’re saying.
In the upcoming novel, A Marine’s Conflict, you’ll discover some of these differences as Lane is from London. I co-wrote this book with Elle Armstrong and there were a few times when I had to ask what a word meant because it was a regional term that I hadn’t been exposed to via Doctor Who. (Raise your hand if the bulk of your British English references come from Doctor Who!)
I hope you enjoyed exploring these dialect differences with me. At this point, my accent and dialect is so mixed up I’m never sure what words will come out of my mouth. My wife is from southern Indiana which is far more southern than midwestern. However, I’ve made sure that my Colorado native child knows what a bubbler is and is a prolific ‘ope-er’.
You’re not familiar with ope? Well I have a treat for you. Charlie Berens is a comedian who accentuates the Wisconsin idiosyncrasies. Ope is a word I didn’t realized I used constantly (easily dozens of times per day) until this video started making the rounds on Facebook. Then I noticed my daughter saying it frequently and it made me smile. Ultimately, that’s how all dialects are passed on, but I love that a part of her can speak the language of her extended family.
I understand if my level of amusement over these words is bewildering to you. But I hope it’s made you think about your favorite words that remind you of home. Or even of someone else’s home. I’m a big fan of y’all myself. It’s efficient and rolls off the tongue. What are your favorite words? Share them in the comments.
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