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America in Other Words

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Dictionary Of American Regional English Digital Edition

The Dictionary of American Regional English is a magisterial account of how English is spoken and used in the U.S. and an invaluable resource (and treat) for scholars, professionals, and word fiends alike.

Author - Editorial Staff

Date - 20 November 2023

Time to read - 2 min

About the Making of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE)

In 1962, Frederic Cassidy, Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was appointed chief editor of a dictionary of American dialects. Over the next several years, he crafted a 1,600-question survey dealing with every aspect of daily life, from time and weather to courtship and marriage. Starting in 1965, eighty fieldworkers (some of them driving campers dubbed “Word Wagons”) took surveys in hand and headed to more than a thousand representative communities across the U.S. Over the course of six years, they interviewed nearly three thousand people.

Back in Madison, editors mapped that trove of data and then spent 40 years combining it with printed citations (from the eighteenth century to the twenty-first century) to reveal the geographic distributions of thousands of usages. The product of those decades of labor is a classic and beloved 60,000-entry dictionary that offers definitions, variant spellings, word origins, and variant pronunciations—but also shows where a word is used and lists synonyms for the same term from across the country.

Dare Beth Witherell And Jennifer Ellsworth
Project Assistants Beth Witherell (left) and Jennifer Ellsworth, listening to DARE tape recordings. Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin–Madison Archives, 1971.

“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,” said John Gross in the New York Times about the latest edition of DARE. “It is a work to consult and savor—a work to last a lifetime.”

This massive collection of regional words and phrases captures the language of our lives, from east to west, north to south, urban to rural, childhood to old age. Dip into its pages, and learn what Oregonians played before pickleball (Pelota), what Southerners do when they use their tom walkers, and what Wisconsin folks celebrate at a kermis. Explore the old words and new sayings that distinguish us, one from the other, and knit us together in one vast linguistic tapestry.

“For language lovers, it’s like New Year’s, Fourth of July, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one.”

—A Way With Words
Dictionary Of American Regional English Digital Edition