For language lovers, it’s like New Year’s, Fourth of July, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one: The brand-new online edition of the Dictionary of American Regional English. Martha and Grant explain what all the fuss is about. Plus, the debate over that meal in a glass container: some call it a hot dish, while others say it’s a casserole. And just when did we start using the terms boyfriend and girlfriend? Also in this episode: painters and artists, vaping, chamber pots, the lucky phrase rabbit, rabbit, and a news quiz in limericks!

This episode first aired January 25, 2014.

Download the MP3.

Language lovers, rejoice! The Dictionary of American Regional English is now available online. This massive collection of regional words and phrases across the United States requires a subscription, but 100 sample entries, including sound recordings, are available for browsing.

What do you call it when a cop is on the road so everyone slows down? A Tallahassee, Florida, listener suggests the term cop clot.

There are plenty of fish in the sea, but beware the catfish when trawling online. To catfish, from the 2010 documentary of the same name, has come to mean misrepresenting yourself online or instigating a hoax of a relationship.

The terms boyfriend and girlfriend came into common use in the late 1800’s.

Why do we say get out of my bathtub when we’re in sync on a playground swing with the person next to us? Listeners suggest that maybe it’s because you’re swinging “in sink.”

If you’ve kept up with the news these past few months, you’re all set for John Chaneski’s News Limerick Challenge.

Is there a difference between a hotdish (or hot dish) and a casserole? Here’s the science: hotdish can refer to the same thing as a casserole, but not every casserole is a hotdish.

Bae, as in baby, came into vogue via the bae caught me slippin meme-a selfie that’s meant to look as if one’s sweetheart actually snapped the picture.

Would you call an artist who paints a painter, or does painter only apply to a technician, like one who paints houses?

Kurt Vonnegut on scathing book reviews: “Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”

Among some speakers of English, saying rabbit, rabbit before saying anything else on the first morning of the first day of the month supposedly ensures good luck for the next four weeks. Other versions of this superstition include saying white rabbits and just rabbits. If you forget and say something else before you say the magic phrase, you can always reverse your luck by saying tibbar, tibbar (rabbit, rabbit spelled backwards) just before going to bed that night.

Thanks to the fatberg-a 15-ton blob of fat and grease found in a London sewer-the -berg suffix lives on.

The Dictionary of American Regional English offers these alternative words for doughnut: friedcake, twister, floater, sinker, finger, and chokerhole.

Not bad-which, like many phrases, sounds cool when you say it with an English accent-is an example of litotes, or an understatement used for effect.

The Dictionary of American Regional English has many terms for practical jokes played on newbies, like sending someone out for a bucket of steam, or for pigeon milk, or for a nickel’s worth of dimes.

The small of the back—the part of one’s lower back where the spine curves in—is so called because it’s the narrowest point. When Vladimir Nabokov wrote about that in English, he borrowed the sexy French word ensellure.

White owl, whispering kettle and slop jar are all dialectal terms for the chamber pot, the container kept under the bed before indoor plumbing became common.

In the American South, a sirsee, also spelled sursie, sussie, surcy, or circe, is a small, impromptu gift. The term may derive from word surprise.

Vape, meaning “to smoke an electronic cigarette,” is among the entries in Grant’s tenth annual Words of the Year List for The New York Times.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Photo by Robobobobo. Used under a Creative Commons license.

4 Responses

  1. Ron Draney says:

    Grant Barrett said

    What do you call it when a cop is on the road so everyone slows down? A Tallahassee, Florida, listener suggests the term cop clot.

    I’ve been calling a traffic jam a car clot for years now, which omits the aspect of explaining what caused it, but allows the more impressive equivalent vehicular embolism.

    Would you call an artist who paints a painter, or does painter only apply to a technician, like one who paints houses?

    I’ve heard the artist sort, whether talented or not, called a dauber.

  2. Dick says:

    Since I heard this episode, I have asked two artists I know, who are painters, what they think of this “problem.”  They both have heard some complaints about the term painter but they both agree that someone is being over sensitive.  In any conversation, confusion with a house painter would be hard to imagine.

  3. deaconB says:

    Many photographers consider the,selves portraitists, and so do many artists who work in pencil, ink, pastels, etc..although I described myself as “kidnapper” on my Form 1040 in the mid-1970s.

    Describing a fine arts painter as a dauber is rather insulting. A dauber is a hobbyist, lacking in skills, training amd discipline,not caring to please anyone but his self (which is not a criticism; a paint dauber enjoys his hobby,and rarely hams others.)

    My mother had a much-worn nook, probably published in the 1930s, called “the old dirt-dauber’s garden book” or something similar to that.  At “dirt dauber, org”, they report thar The Spartanburg Men’s Garden Club (SMGC) was founded in 1948 as the “Dirt Daubers” by a group of civic-minded men who enjoyed gardening and sharing this passion with each other and the community.

    And mud daubers aren’t to be messed with. They’re downright nasty!

  4. dayofthedave says:

    I am a vaper who enjoys vaping, although I do rather hate the tobacco-centric terminology that surrounds this new technology. Please join my crusade to bury the ugly “e-cigarette” label in the ashtray of abandoned English, in favor of a simpler and less polarizing word, like “steampipe”.

    For the record, the juice in my steampipe is not made from tobacco, it contains no nicotine, and I only consume about 50 drops of it per day. Compared to a cigarette or even a cup of coffee, a nicotine-free steampipe is like an ant next to an elephant.

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