American English regional vocabulary

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Regional vocabulary within American English varies. Below is a list of lexical differences in vocabulary that are generally associated with a region. A term featured on a list may or may not be found throughout the region concerned, and may or may not be recognized by speakers outside that region. Some terms appear on more than one list.


Historically, a number of everyday words and expressions used to be characteristic of different dialect areas of the United States, especially the North, the Midland, and the South; many of these terms spread from their area of origin and came to be used throughout the nation. Today many people use these different words for the same object interchangeably, or to distinguish between variations of an object. Such traditional lexical variables include:[notes 1]

  • faucet (North) and spigot (South)[2]
  • frying pan (North and South, but not Midland), spider (obsolete New England),[3] and skillet (Midland and South)
  • gutter (Northeast, South, and West), eaves trough (West and Inland North), and rainspouting (Maryland and Pennsylvania)
  • pit (North) and seed (elsewhere)
  • teeter-totter (North; widespread),[2] seesaw (South and Midland; now widespread), and dandle (Rhode Island)
  • firefly (more Northern and Western) and lightning bug (widespread)
  • pail (North, north Midland) and bucket (Midland and South; now widespread)
  • sneakers (Northeast and fairly widespread), tennis shoes (widespread outside the Northeast) and gym shoes (Chicago and Cincinnati)
  • soda (Northeast, Greater Milwaukee, Great St. Louis, California, and Florida), pop (Inland North, Upper Midwest, and Northwest), coke (South), and tonic (Eastern New England possibility)
  • you guys (widespread), y'all (Southern and South Midland), you'uns and yins (Western Pennsylvania), and yous or youse (New York City, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Northeastern Pennsylvania)[4]

However many differences still hold and mark boundaries between different dialect areas, as shown below. From 2000 to 2005, for instance, The Dialect Survey queried North American English speakers' usage of a variety of linguistic items, including vocabulary items that vary by region.[4] These include:

  • generic term for a sweetened carbonated beverage
  • drink made with milk and ice cream
  • long sandwich that contains cold cuts, lettuce, and so on
  • rubber-soled shoes worn in physical education class, for athletic activities, etc.

Below are lists outlining regional vocabularies in the main dialect areas of the United States.


  • braht or bratbratwurst[1]
  • breezeway (widespread) ("skyway" in Minnesota) – a hallway connecting two buildings[1]
  • bubbler (esp. New England, Wisconsin and the Mississippi and Ohio river valleys) – a water fountain[1]
  • clout (originally Chicago, now widespread) – political or social influence[1]
  • davenport (widespread) – a sofa, or couch[1]
  • euchre (throughout the North) – card game similar to spades[1]
  • fridge (throughout North and West) – refrigerator[1]
  • hotdish (esp. Minnesota) – a simple entree cooked in a single dish, related to casserole[5]
  • paczki (in Polish settlement areas, esp. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin) – a jelly doughnut[1]
  • pop (widespread in North-Central and West) – a soft drink, carbonated soda[1]
  • soda (all the Northeast and parts of Wisconsin) – soft drink[6]
  • Yooper (Michigan) – people who reside in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan[7]


  • brook – creek. Mainly New England, now widespread but especially common in the Northeast[1]
  • cellar – alternate term for basement[8]
  • sneaker – although found throughout the U.S., appears to be concentrated in the Northeast. Elsewhere (except for parts of Florida) tennis shoe is more common.[9]
  • soda – a soft drink[6]
  • Mischief Night (or, rarely, Cabbage Night) – night when, by custom, preteens and teenagers play pranks; usually, the night before Halloween[1]

New England[edit]

  • grindersubmarine sandwich[1]
  • packie (package store) – a liquor store[1]
  • rotarytraffic circle[1]
  • tag sale – garage sale[1]
  • wicked (all of Massachusetts) – very; an intensifier and adverb, as in wicked cold meaning very cold[2]

Eastern New England[edit]

  • bulkhead – cellar hatchway[1]
  • cabinet (Rhode Island) – milk shake[1]
  • frappemilkshake[1]
  • hosey – (esp. parts of Massachusetts & Maine) to stake a claim or choose sides, to claim ownership of something (sometimes, the front seat of a car)[1]
  • intervale – bottomland; mostly historical[1]
  • jimmiessprinkles (ice cream topping)[1] see also Mid-Atlantic, below
  • johnnycake (also Rhode Island jonnycake) – a type of cornmeal bread[1]
  • leaf peeper – a tourist who has come to see the area's vibrant autumn foliage[1]
  • necessary – outhouse, privy[1]
  • quahog – pronounced "koe-hog," it properly refers to a specific species of clam but is also applied to any clam[1]
  • tonic (eastern Massachusetts) – soft drink[1]

Northern New England[edit]

  • ayuh – "yes" or affirmative[1]
  • creemee – (Vermont) soft serve ice cream [10]
  • dooryard – area around the main entry door of a house, specifically a farmhouse. Typically including the driveway and parking area proximal to the house[1]
  • Italian (sandwich) – (Maine) submarine sandwich[1]
  • logan (also pokelogan) – a shallow, swampy lake or pond (from Algonquian)[1]
  • muckle – to grasp, hold-fast, or tear into[1]
  • mud season – early spring [11][12]


Greater New York City[edit]

  • bodega – small corner grocery store[1]
  • catty corner – on an angle to a corner[1]
  • dungarees (older) – jeans[1]
  • egg cream – a mixture of cold milk, flavored syrup, and seltzer[1]
  • have a catch – play catch[1]
  • hero – submarine sandwich[1]
  • kill – a small river or strait, in the name of specific watercourses; e.g. Beaver Kill, Fresh Kills, Kill Van Kull, Arthur Kill (from Dutch)[1]
  • on line – waiting or standing in a line[2]
  • potsyhopscotch[1]
  • punchball – a baseball-like game suitable for smaller areas, in which a fist substitutes for the bat and a "spaldeen" is the ball[1]
  • scallion – spring onion[1]
  • sliding pondPlayground slide
  • stoop – a small porch or steps in front of a building, originally from Dutch[17]


  • barn-burner (now widespread) – an exciting, often high-scoring game, esp. a basketball game[1]
  • hoosier (esp. Indiana) – someone from Indiana; (outside of Indiana, esp. in the St. Louis, Missouri area) a person from a rural area, comparable to redneck[2]
  • mango – green bell pepper, sometimes also various chili peppers[1]
  • outer road – a frontage road or other service road[1]

A soft drink is generally known in the American Midland as pop, except for being soda around Greater St. Louis in Missouri and Illinois, and coke in central Indiana and central and western Oklahoma[6]


  • alligator pearavocado[1]
  • arkansas toothpick – a big knife or heavy dagger; similar to a bowie knife
  • bad-mouth – to speak with poor regard of something or to criticize
  • banquette (southern Louisiana) – sidewalk, foot-path[1]
  • billfold (widespread, but infrequent Northeast, Pacific Northwest) – a man's wallet[1]
  • bless one's heart – implies that one is stupid (one is replaced with his, her, etc)
  • britches – pants or underpants
  • cain't never could – one will never be able to do something if they don't try
  • cap (also Midlands) – sir (prob. from "captain")[1]
  • cattywampus or catawampus – knocked askew or not in alignment
  • chill bumps (also Midlands) – goose bumps[1]
  • chuck – toss or throw an object[2] (Now somewhat widespread)
  • clicker – a remote control, typically for a television
  • coke – any brand of soft drink[6]
  • commode (also Midlands) – bathroom; restroom; particularly the toilet itself[1]
  • crawfish – a crayfish
  • crocus sack (Atlantic), croker sack (Gulf) – burlap bag[1]
  • cut on/off – to turn on/off[1]
  • dadgum or dad gum – expresses mild annoyance
  • devil beatin' his wife – rain when the sun is still shining
  • directly – in a minute; soon; presently[1]
  • dirty rice (esp. Louisiana) – Cajun rice dish consisting of rice, spices, and meat[1]
  • fais-dodo (southern Louisiana) – a party[1]
  • fit to be tied – very angry, livid
  • fix – to get ready, to be on the verge of doing, e.g. "I'm fixing to go"; (widespread but esp. South) to prepare food[1]
  • fly off the handle – to unexpectedly become very angry or agitated
  • have half a mind – expresses that one would like to do something but is probably it going to (used when angry or annoyed)
  • gumption – spirited initiative, courage, boldness, or sometimes resourcefulness
  • hankering – a strong desire to do something or have something
  • house shoes – bedroom slippers[1]
  • howdy – used as an informal greeting
  • lagniappe (Gulf, esp. Louisiana) – a little bit of something extra[1]
  • lickety-split – very quickly
  • locker (esp. Louisiana) – closet[1]
  • make (age) (Gulf, esp. Louisiana) – have a birthday; "He's making 16 tomorrow."[1]
  • near, also damn near or nearabout – almost
  • neutral ground (Louisiana, Mississippi) – median strip[1]
  • off-kilter or out-of-kilter – not right, out of sorts
  • ornery – having an irritable disposition
  • po' boy (scattered, but esp. South) – a long sandwich, typically made with fried oysters, clams, or shrimp[1]
  • precious – an insult said sarcastically after being insulted by another person
  • put up – put away, put back in its place[1]
  • right – very
  • right quick – very quickly ("right" is used as an adverb), see above
  • rile – to make agitated or angry
  • skedaddle – to run away, to scatter
  • tarnation – surprise, shock, displeasure, or censure (also commonly seen as what in tarnation?)
  • tote – to carry
  • uppity – conceited
  • varmint – a pest animal or vermin
  • whoop or whup – to hit, beat, or spank (also, whoopin)
  • yankee – northerner; also damn yankee, damned yankee[1]
  • yonder (esp. rural) – over there, or a long distance away; also over yonder[18]


  • barrow pit (esp. Rocky Mountains) – a ditch to conduct water off a surface road[1]
  • davenport (widespread) – couch or sofa[1]
  • hella/hecka (esp. San Francisco Bay Area) – "very" or "a lot of"[19]
  • pop (widespread in West and North) – carbonated beverages; soda predominates in California, Arizona, southern Nevada,[6] while coke is used in parts of New Mexico and Tucson, Arizona[20]
  • snowmachine (Alaska) – a motor vehicle for travel over snow. Outside Alaska known as a snowmobile[21]

Pacific Northwest[edit]

  • skid road or skid row – a path made of logs or timbers along which logs are pulled; (widespread) a run-down, impoverished urban area[1][21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Examples in this section are from the Dictionary of American Regional English (2002), which published lexicology from interviews carried out between 1965 and 1970, except where otherwise noted.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh bi bj bk bl bm bn bo bp bq br bs bt bu Cassidy, Frederic Gomes, and Joan Houston Hall (eds). (2002) Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Metcalf, Alan A. (2000) How we talk: American regional English today. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  3. ^ Allen, Harold Byron, and Gary N. Underwood (eds). (1971) Readings in American Dialectology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  4. ^ a b Vaux, Bert, Scott A. Golder, Rebecca Starr, and Britt Bolen. (2000–2005) The Dialect Survey. Survey and maps.
  5. ^ Mohr, Howard. (1987) How to Talk Minnesotan: A Visitor's Guide. New York: Penguin.
  6. ^ a b c d e Campbell, Matthew T. (2003) Generic names for soft drinks by county Archived 2008-08-11 at the Wayback Machine. Map.
  7. ^ Binder, David. (14 September 1995). "Upper Peninsula Journal: Yes, They're Yoopers, and Proud of it." New York Times, section A, page 16.
  8. ^ "Dialect Survey-Level of a building that is partly or entirely underground". University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Archived from the original on 2008-09-06. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
  9. ^ "Dialect Survey – General term for rubber-soled shoes worn for athletic activities, etc". University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Archived from the original on 2008-08-29. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
  10. ^ Bartlett, Ray; Gregor Clark; Dan Eldridge; Brandon Presser (2010). Lonely Planet New England Trips. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-74220-391-1. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  11. ^ Collins, Jim (March 2008). "Mud season: New England's fifth season". Yankee. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  12. ^ Zielinski, Gregory A.; Keim, Barry D. (2005). New England Weather, New England Climate. UPNE. ISBN 978-1-58465-520-6. Retrieved 4 September 2013.
  13. ^ a b c Freeman, Amy (March 4, 2015). "Philly Slang: Philadelphia Sayings You Don't Hear Anywhere Else". Caldwell Banker. Retrieved February 12, 2017.[better source needed]
  14. ^ "WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPRINKLES AND JIMMIES?". Archived from the original on 21 December 2016. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  15. ^ "How they Talk in Philadelphia". Retrieved 2017-02-13.
  16. ^ Bykofsky, Stu (July 16, 2006). "Philly Slang". Archived from the original on March 23, 2008.
  17. ^ "Stoop | Define Stoop at". Retrieved 2011-02-01.
  18. ^ Wolfram, Walt, and Natalie Schilling-Estes. (2006) American English: dialects and variation second edition. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
  19. ^ Eghan, Adizah (August 2015). "The Origins of Hella". KQED. Archived from the original on 2015-09-23. Retrieved 2015-11-18.
  20. ^ Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. p. 289. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
  21. ^ a b Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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