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Sex & Low Beach
Depending on where you are, a pancake might be called a flapjack, clapjack, or a flapover. It can also be referred to as a flat, a flatcake, a flatjack, a flip, a flipjack, a flipper, a flopjack, a flopover, or a slapjack. If you’re in South Carolina, a flapjack is defined as a “fruit turnover,” also known as an applejack, fried puppy, or jack. In Illinois and other states in the Midwest, a flapjack is “a kind of fried bread or biscuit” and can also go by flatcake, jack, or slapjack.
No, these terms aren’t copied and pasted from the world’s most eccentric thesaurus, nor are they more terms that Parks and Recreation’s Tom Haverford has assigned to breakfast food. They’re all from a single entry for the word “flapjack” in the Dictionary of American Regional English, which published its fifth and final volume in March.
Last month, the dictionary’s final volume, covering regionalisms from Si to Z, was released, completing a project begun in 1964 with the distribution of a 1,087-question survey that sought to collect participants’ regional expressions. Over the following six years, field workers compiled about 2.5 million responses from 1,002 individuals across the United States. It took 15 years for the responses to be counted and cross-referenced before the first volume, which covered every regional term from A to C, was published. The time it took to complete all five volumes of DARE—48 years from start to finish—seems a testament not only to the sheer number of different colloquial- isms in America but also to the variance in these dialectal forms from region to region.
“We tend to think that language is uniform, and to a very large extent it is, but the things that tend to be regional are usually pretty personal—things like what you call your grandparents or names for items of clothing or foods—things that you don’t learn from books. You learn them from your family and friends,” says Joan Houston Hall, who became the chief editor of DARE in 1995 and has been a member of the project since 1975. This regional variation in language to which Hall refers exists largely because of each region’s history.
The dictionary’s representation of that his- tory through language seems to be the most im- portant thing that DARE brings to the table: “It’s a wonderful reflection of our history and our culture,” Hall says. “You can look at words like lutefisk, for instance, and find that it’s chiefly in the upper Midwestern states. Of course, there’s a very good reason for that—that’s where Norwegians and Swedes settled. ... We can get a whole lot about the history of a person by the language he used.”
While regionalisms capture the history of an area in words that are derived from the language of the people who settled it, they also represent a moment in history in and of themselves. In this way, despite its five volumes, DARE may only be scratching the surface.
“Of course, like all dictionaries, a work like DARE is only a slice of what exists, since change occurs across time as well as across space. ... For the incredible amount of effort put into it [DARE], trying to understand the constantly shifting patterns of regionalisms over time would be an even more monumental task,” says Alex Klapheke, a senior in CC, linguistics major, and board member for the Columbia Linguistics Society. “However, that fact makes the project all the more important, since it has effectively captured a moment in time in American speech that would otherwise be very quickly lost to us.”
Indeed, if not for DARE, these regionalisms would likely be neither spread nor appreciated. They come up in conversation occasionally, but otherwise they’re private expressions used within families and small communities in certain parts of the country. “Minor differences in speech such as slang words can reflect deep underlying social patterns, which a work such as DARE can help uncover,” Klapheke says. “People are often embarrassed to use regionalisms—in fact, this sometimes made the collection of words difficult for the fieldworkers—but these little differences help add color to the linguistic landscape, and I think DARE is instrumental in lending them legitimacy.”
Of course, in the nearly fifty years since the DARE project began, the Internet and its accompanying rapid exchange of information have come into being—a development that might appear to be conducive to spreading regionalisms or even destroying them. But while the Internet has given rise to sites like Urban Dictionary that appear to do work similar to DARE’s, Hall thinks that, despite its ability to connect the whole world, the Internet won’t result in a universal slang: “I don’t think the Internet will cause them [regionalisms] to disappear. The kinds of differences we’re talking about are the kinds of words we use with family and friends and not the kinds of words we learn from teachers and books ... I suspect that most of those are perhaps not the kinds of things we’d be using on the Internet.”
For now, unless those “Shit X Say” videos come back into vogue and take a turn for the region-specific, word of mouth and DARE may be the only way we hang on to our etymological quirks. The experience of trying to suppress your giggles at some of the terms—or, even better, your amazement when you realize you aren’t the only one who says “flatcake”—makes a trip to the Butler Reference Room to pore over one of the tomes well worth your time.
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