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A Whoopensocker Of A Dictionary Project
January 31, 2012
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The Dictionary of American Regional English, an ambitious lexicographical project first undertaken in 1962, is set to reach the end of the alphabet for the first time next month. Harvard University Press will publish the fifth volume of the reference book, which collects examples of U.S. regional dialect from letters S ("slab") through to Z ("zydeco"), in March.

The dictionary started life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the guidance of Frederic Cassidy, who sought to compile thousands of examples of American linguistic variations into a single reference. By the time its founder passed away in 2000, the project had yet to be completed, though an optimistic Cassidy had the rallying cry "On to Z!" engraved on his tombstone.

The Guardian newspaper in the U.K. asked the DARE's current chief editor, Joan Houston Hall, to come up with some of her favourite entries, and she suggested "whoopensocker" ("something extraordinary of its kind, especially a large or strong drink, chiefly used in Wisconsin"), "strubbly" ("Pennsylvania German term for untidy") and "swivet" ("a term for a state of anxiety from the South").

Of course, we here in Canada are no strangers to regional linguistic diversity, and it turns out that we're not bad at chronicling it either, starting with compendia of our own national version of the English language. One of the biggest projects in this regard was the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, a lexicography that was conceived at a meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association in 1954 and was completed by 1967, just in time for Canada's centennial celebrations (and WAY ahead of Cassidy's U.S. project).

The DCHP is both a Canada-wide dictionary and a compilation of unique regional variations of Canadian English. Members of the Department of English at the University of British Columbia are currently working to develop a second edition of the DCHP, in order to include what its website calls "the rise of such ubiquitous Canadianisms as GST, grow-op, loonie, murder ball, Nanaimo bar, notwithstanding clause and seat sale."

As for specific regional dialects, such tomes as The Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English and The Dictionary of Newfoundland English already exist, the latter of which is published by the University of Toronto Press and available in a helpful online format.

Reading a dictionary, however, and mastering a dialect are two very different things, as George learned recently when Allan Hawco, of CBC-TV's hit show Republic of Doyle, was in the red chair and tried to teach our host a phrase or two of Newfoundlandese. Check out the language lesson below:


The Guardian

The Wall Street Journal

Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles

Dictionary of Newfoundland English

Site for Language Management in Canada

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