New words spring up all the time, but American language has become duller in some respects, because of the homogenizing impact of mass culture. The Subway fast-food chain has largely settled the great torpedo vs. hoagie vs. po’ boy vs. grinder vs. hero debate—most people just call a long sandwich a "sub." Yet what makes for better conversation, a cold Texas wind or a "blue norther"? A baby frog on Martha’s Vineyard or a "pinkletink"? The loss of such words almost puts a lump in your goozle.
Simon Winchester recounts the story behind the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), a project started in 1962 whose final installment will be published this month:
The completed dictionary memorializes an American language that is demarcated by geography, topography, heritage, immigration. In that sense it differs significantly from the many slang dictionaries, which display a quite different, but equally informal language, that is denominated largely by craft, by age, by persuasion. The language of thieves and computer geeks, of carnival workers and sportsmen, of drug addicts and prostitutes and the homosexual world is qualitatively different from the dialect words of those who have lived for years in the valleys of West Virginia, say, or the plains of South Dakota. These two kinds of languages may occasionally overlap, but they are by no means cut from the same cloth.