The Dictionary of American Regional English

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Book: The Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume V: Sl-Z

“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…have caught the native poetry of America on every page.”
—Fred Strebeigh, Smithsonian

“[T]hese volumes are the most complete lexical records we have of the American experience… DARE…is not a dictionary; it is a national treasure.”
—Edward Callary, Language in Society

“[T]he set that no library can afford to absquatulate.”
—William Safire

Watch DARE Chief Editor Joan Houston Hall and Wordnik founder Erin McKean explain
the history and significance of this authoritative record of American English:

American English, from ‘Ayuh’ to ‘Zydeco’

Since the 1985 publication of Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume I : A–C, this magisterial account of how English is spoken and used in the U.S. has been an invaluable resource (and indulgence) for scholars, professionals, and word fiends alike. With the arrival of Volume V : Sl–Z comes a further installment of riches for DARE fans new and old. Whether you need to know what to wear to a tacky party, what it means to telephone fish, or where to find a Yooper—or if you want to know the geographic origin and evolving usage of any of those terms—Volume V  is the place to go.

The five volumes of 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 1600-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 1002 representative communities across the U.S. Over the course of six years, they interviewed 2777 informants.

Back in Madison, DARE editors mapped that trove of data, and then spent the next 40 years combining it with printed citations (from the eighteenth century up through 2011) to reveal the geographic distributions of thousands of usages. The product of those decades of labor is a 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.

Interior page from Volume V of DARE showing the entry for 'trace'

The arrival of the Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume V  fills out this definitive story of American speech, realizing Fred Cassidy’s dream and satisfying the anticipation of language lovers everywhere.

Dive Deeper into DARE

At the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s DARE page, listen to audio recordings of speakers from different parts of the country, view a slideshow of historic photos, and test your mastery of American regional English with an interactive quiz. You can also view a complete sample entry from the dictionary, including the DARE fieldworker’s original survey question and the classic “DARE Map” showing where in U.S. the term is used.

The Books

Harvard University Press is happy to offer new dust jackets to longtime DARE devotees who would like their older volumes to match the updated look of Volumes V and VI. Please for details.

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