13 Ways of Looking at a Sandwich and Other Regionalisms in the Dictionary of American Regional English

The Godmother sandwich at Bay Cities
The Godmother sandwich at Bay Cities
T. Nguyen

Depending on where you live in this great big country, a submarine sandwich might be known as a Dagwood (Colorado), a wedge (parts of New York) or a poor boy (in the Gulf States, where, we once discovered, a banh mi sandwich is known as a "Vietnamese poor boy"). This is but one of the fascinating entries in D.A.R.E. -- no, not the attempt to war on drugs, but the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Dictionary of American Regional English, a multivolume dictionary that shows that there are many, many ways of looking at a sandwich, among other foods. The fifth volume, from Sl to Z, was just published last month.

The dictionary was compiled based on exhaustive interviews conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison scholars between 1965 and 1970. According to The Wall Street Journal, chief editor Frederic Gomes Cassidy compiled more than 1,800 survey questions covering 40 topics, from the weather to tobacco to foods; researchers in "word wagons" then were dispatched to interview 2,777 people in more than 1,000 communities across the country. After the 2.3 million responses were collected, editors had the daunting task of analyzing and organizing the data into something manageable and meaningful.

Sixty thousand entries and five decades of work later, the editors finally reached the end of the alphabet last month with the fifth volume. In addition to regional synonyms for sandwiches, you'll also find region-specific history and terminology for words such as poached eggs ("dropped eggs" in some parts of the U.S.), cottage cheese ("curd" in the Gulf States, "smearcase" in Pennsylvania and Maryland) and potluck meals ("carry-ins" mostly in Illinois and Ohio, "pitch-in dinners" mostly in Indiana).

Though the alphabet is complete, the project itself marches on. A sixth volume of the dictionary will include more than 1,300 maps illustrating the distribution of different words and, according to The Wall Street Journal review, lists of synonyms such as "364 words for being 'thoroughly drunk.'" Thankfully, for those of us who don't have $550 handy to buy the entire set, an online version of the dictionary also is in the works, and should be ready next year.


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