How do Americans really talk—what are their hometown, everyday expressions in the many regions and sections of this huge country? The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), twenty years in preparation, answers these questions. It gives visible proof of the diversity—and the vitality—of American folk language, past and present.
DARE includes thousands of words and phrases not found in conventional dictionaries, and out-of-the-way meanings for common terms. Here are local names for familiar objects, from old cars to frying pans to dust-balls under the bed (176 names for these); for plants, animals, and critters real and imaginary; for rainstorms and heat waves; for foods, clothing, children’s games and adults’ pastimes; for illnesses and traditional remedies. Here are terms—salty, sarcastic, humorous—by which people describe each other, their physical appearance, characters, emotions, states of mind. Here are metaphors and similes galore.
In Wisconsin a man whose motives are suspect “has beans up his nose.” In Georgia a conceited person is “biggity”; someone important or self-important in the Northwest is “bull of the woods.” A close friend may be “bobbasheely” (Mississippi) or an “ace boon coon” (New York City). West of the Appalachians the old saw “I wouldn’t know him from Adam” becomes “I wouldn’t know him from Adam’s off-ox” (or, in the South, “from Adam’s housecat”). These and some twelve thousand other expressions are identified and explained in the first volume of DARE.
While DARE is the work of many dedicated people, it owes its existence to Frederic G. Cassidy, who in 1963 agreed to organize the project, raise funds for it, and serve as Editor-in-Chief. Cassidy trained teams of fieldworkers and equipped them with a carefully worded questionnaire: 1,847 questions grouped in 41 broad categories ranging over most aspects of everyday life and common human experience. From 1965 to 1970 the fieldworkers conducted week-long interviews with natives of 1,002 representative communities in all fifty states. The two and a half million items gleaned from the fieldwork, coded and computer-processed, are DARE’s primary data base, a rich harvest of regional Americanisms current in the seventh decade of this century. Earlier collections have been drawn upon as well, notably the 40,000 expressions recorded by the American Dialect Society since 1889; and some 5,000 publications, including regional novels and diaries and small-town newspapers, have been combed for local idioms.
A unique feature of the dictionary is the computer-generated maps that accompany many of the entries to show the geographical distribution of the term. The base map is schematic, distorting the areas of the states to reflect their population density.
Volume I includes extensive introductory material on DARE itself and on American folk speech. Its entries, from Aaron’s rod to czarnina, cover nearly a quarter of the total DARE corpus.
DARE, as it is known, has the information you will need to bush around (discuss) the difference between bush-busters (hillbillies) and bush eels (rattlesnakes). One could make a sport out of guessing the meanings of DARE entries… Every page of DARE shows the absolute centrality of metaphor and other forms of verbal figuration to colloquial speech. Naming storms for the damage they do, or foods for what they do to your stomach, or foreigners for the strange traits they exhibit—these tendencies suggest just how much of reality is established after the fact, in conversations about shared experience by people with a common world of reference… Because of its reliance on and scrupulous recording of personal testimony, DARE is one of the most poignant reference books ever compiled, a great exploration of the far reaches and dark corners of American cultural memory… This massive cataract of language is enough to make one cry uncle, or calf rope, or barley out, or I want a crab apple—or a perennial favorite, never out of style for long: mama.
This long-awaited, definitive and fascinating Dictionary of American Regional English [DARE]…is all we had hoped for and more. It includes the regional and folk language, past and present, of the old and the young, men and women, white and black, the rural and the urban, from all walks of life… Although DARE will be one of the most scholarly, comprehensive and detailed dictionaries ever completed…it will also be one of the easiest and most enjoyable to use or browse in… This is an exciting, lasting work of useful scholarship accomplished with excellence, a work that scholars and laypeople alike will study, use and enjoy for generations.
It already seems clear that…the dictionary will rank as one of the glories of contemporary American scholarship… It is endlessly rewarding to dip into, and if you look up a particular word or phrase you are in constant danger of being seduced to something else… It is a work to consult, and a work to savor—a work to last a lifetime.
In its scope and thoroughness, Cassidy’s dictionary is unmatched as a kind of refuge for colloquialisms threatened with extinction… Writers, etymologists and other devotees of verbal arcana have never been given a richer browsing ground. But while they are discovering that a blind tiger is a place to buy and drink moonshine, or that there are 176 names for dust balls under the bed, they are also bound to be awed by the dictionary’s staggering scholarship.
A staggering work of collective scholarship… DARE is not only a reference treasure for the scholar and the general word lover, it’s a lode for raiding parties by specialists of all kinds… Most of all, DARE is evidence that American speech will never become stale and fusty, that the great linguistic homogenization of television is a myth.
A monumental and impressive work.
Because these volumes are the most complete lexical records we have of the American experience, much of the history and contemporary condition of American society can be found in their pages… We are very fortunate to have DARE; it is not a dictionary; it is a national treasure.
To open its pages is to thrill at the exploration of the New World and to trace the course of American history through its language… Its editors, led by Professor Frederic G. Cassidy, have caught the native poetry of America on every page.
More than 20 years in the making, this ‘brand-fire-new’ tome is loaded with the ‘bare-naked’ speech that Americans really use when they ‘bump their gums’ with or without having had some ‘sweet spirits o’ cats-a-fightin’’ or ‘conversation fluid’ to make their ‘chin music’ happen. The result is a testimonial to the metaphor-making power of the American language at its most vigorous.
Proof that tourism, television and technological change haven’t rounded off all the gaudy and gracious edges of the way we talk.
- 1064 pages
- 8-1/2 x 11 inches
- Belknap Press
- Editor-in-chief Frederic G. Cassidy
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