Alison Flood reports on a clever initiative:
It’s not quite as vital as the battles to save the likes of the Amur leopard and giant panda from extinction, but a campaign to preserve a host of endangered regional American words and phrases has been launched, looking to save the likes of “wamus” to “sonsy”, and “spouty” to “bonnyclabber”.
The list of 50 words and phrases was compiled by the Dictionary of American Regional English, a project that has been running since 1965, when almost 3,000 face-to-face interviews were conducted with people across the US to map the thousands of differences in dialect across the states. DARE has chosen the words it believes to be “on the cusp of extinction” and teamed up with podcasting platform Acast, asking its producers and presenters to “adopt” an endangered word or phrase and use it on their shows.
The words and phrases range from to “be on one’s beanwater”, a New England phrase that means to be in high spirits or to feel frisky, to the south Atlantic verb “to fleech”, meaning to coax, wheedle or flatter. A heavy rain is described as a “frog strangler” in the southern states and south midlands, or a “goose drownder” in the midlands; “to vum” is to swear or declare in New England; “the last button on Gabe’s coat” is used in the south to refer to the last bit of food.
“Although language change is inevitable, it’s too bad to see some of our most colourful expressions going out of use,” said Joan Hall, former editor of DARE. “It would be fun to see them revitalised.”
I agree, and I hope people will take them up on it; the piece ends with a list of “the 50 endangered words and phrases.” A couple of quibbles: they should have made more of an effort to separate out “cute dialectal terms that nobody else is ever going to use” (e.g., Racket store: a variety store; Skillpot: a turtle) from words that one can imagine being adopted (Cuddy: a small room, closet, or cupboard; Fogo: An offensive smell; Sonsy: cute, charming, lively). Also, Shat: a pine needle? Get serious. (Thanks, Trevor!)