Friday, July 24, 2009

"On to Z!"

Celeste Headlee on the pleasures of the Dictionary of American Regional English (via Bookforum):
[W]hen this reporter tested out some words from the DARE at a Starbucks in suburban Detroit, none of the patrons seemed familiar with a "monkey's wedding" (a chaotic, messy situation in Maine); "cockroach killers" (pointy shoes in New Jersey) or "mumble squibbles" (noogies, North Carolina-style).

While it's fun to learn about colloquial language, Hall says, there are serious practical uses for the DARE as well. Forensic linguists once used it when a little girl was kidnapped and police had only a ransom note to go on.

"In this ransom note, the writer said, 'Put $10,000 cash in a trash can on the devil's strip,' " Hall says.

The key phrase in the note was "devil's strip," a term used only in a tiny section of Ohio to refer to the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street. As it happened, one of the suspects on the police list was a man from Akron. After being confronted with the evidence, linguistic and otherwise, the man ultimately confessed.

Doctors also use the DARE to understand patients who use colorful language to describe their illnesses. A patient complaining of "the groundage" or "pipjennies" likely has a rash on the feet or pimples.

1 comment:

  1. Using it as a relatedness measure amongst groups, I see.

    Clearly, "On to Z" recapitulates phylogeny.