Words Where You Are.

The OED has an appeal I want to help spread:

How we speak can reveal where we are from: not just our accent, but the language we use. Words and phrases particular to a city, region, or country are a distinctive part of English, and we at the OED are asking you to help us identify and record them.

Most of us have experience of using a familiar term in unfamiliar circumstances and being met with a blank stare. Many of us can recall a moment when a word we’ve known and used for years at home turns out to be baffling to people from other parts of our own country, or from another English-speaking region. If a picture is hanging askew, would you say that it is agley, catawampous, antigodlin, or ahoo? At the beach, do you wear flip-flops – or would you refer to them as zoris, jandals, or slipslops? Would you call a loved one your doy, pet, dou-dou, bubele, alanna, or your babber? Many such words are common in speech, but some are rarely written down, so they can easily escape the attention of dictionary editors.

Whether you’re in Manchester, Mumbai, Manila, or Massachusetts, the OED would like to hear from you. Please use the form below to tell us about the words and expressions which are distinctive to where you live or where you are from. We’re looking forward to reading your suggestions. You can also join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #wordswhereyouare

My wife and I have used ahoo ever since reading the Aubrey/Maturin novels. I got the link from Vesihiisi’s MetaFilter post, where one commenter correctly points out that “The challenge is knowing what perfectly ordinary words you use in your everyday life are actually ‘regionally distinctive words'” and another praises the Southern US word “tump” (“When something tumps, it doesn’t just dump over. There’s a moment of precariousness, in which you hope desperately that the object in mid-tump might right itself and settle back down, but nope, nope, over it goes. Also, there’s a really weird unspoken context that matters. Boats capsize; canoes tump. Tricycles can tump, but bicycles cannot”). So send ’em your own!


  1. J.W. Brewer says

    I can understand the economics of why the whole current OED is not freely available online to non-subscribers (and I know many people can get access via their local public library’s subscription if they know how to work the system). But it would seem like this sort of crowdsourcing would be much more effective if the OED encouraged everyone to use some sort of search function to confirm that their proposed word-submission was in fact a word (or a relevant sense of a word) the OED wasn’t already aware of.

  2. Good point.

  3. I’m sure they subject submissions to an automated screener at their end.

    I know that I would be discouraged if they told me my submission was old stuff that everybody knows. I probably wouldn’t send in a second one.

    On the other hand, if they thanked me for my submission whether they found it interesting or not, I’d probably submit more, and one of them might be useful.

  4. My mother used to call packaged white bread of the Wonder Bread/Sunshine Bread style “flannel bread.” I have no idea where she got this, have never heard it from anyone else – i don’t think it’s regional, but I also don’t think she made it up.

  5. @Bloix: Did your mother speak any Yiddish? My grandmother sometimes uses odd expressions like that, especially for food items, that turn out to have been calqued from Yiddish (probably by her own mother or grandmother).

  6. My mother spoke some Yiddish and both her parents’ first language was Yiddish. So perhaps that’s the answer.

  7. But it just occurred to me to google it (duh) and there are many examples from England, including this one from a Christian website in 2017:

    But the Chorleywood process to industrialise the making of bread into what I call flannel bread was one of the biggest culinary disasters of the 1960s!


    So either it’s been invented more than once or it’s probably not from Yiddish.

  8. marie-lucie says

    Google “flannel bread” and you will find pictures of it. I don’t know any more.

  9. Giacomo Ponzetto says

    Montgomery (2006) From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English has an entry for it.

    flannel adj Of a baked good: rough in outer texture. In Ulster flannel bread is made of maize (American corn); in the U.S. flannel cake (a type of pancake) is made of flour. [variant of flannen, possibly from Welsh gwlán ‘wool’; OED flannel n 6 suggesting the object’s rough texture; cf SND flannen bannock, flannen biscuit; DARE flannel cake n ‘a pancake’ chiefly Appalachians]

  10. Couldn’t ask for a better explanation; thanks!

  11. Thanks for the reminder, Hat. I just submitted a bunch of Irishisms.

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