Dictionary of American Regional English

My academic editing work has led me to develop a great fascination with English language usage, particularly the ways that words and phrases can differ regionally. For example, many years ago, I noticed that friends of mine from Idaho and Montana commonly used the word anymore in a positive construction, such as: Anymore, I only eat organic vegetables. This use of the word (as a synonym for currently) always sounded strange to my ears, as I grew up on the West Coast and heard the word anymore used only in its standard, negative context, as in the sentence: We do not eat red meat anymore. Over the past few years, I have noticed the word anymore pop up more frequently in print and in dialogue in its positive sense. In fact, researching this, I read that the positive use of the word is also common in Ireland and throughout the Midwest as well as in Idaho and Montana.  

 I thought of this today when I came across a review by Michael Adams on the Humanities website about the Dictionary of American Regional English (or DARE). The fifth volume of DARE will be released in the fall of this year, and the entire set is a fascinating, comprehensive (60,000 words and phrases) record of American language as it differs across regions and even across towns. In the mid-1960s, 80 fieldworkers set out in vans (or “word wagons”) to interview residents of 1,000 carefully selected American communities. They asked each subject to respond to an exhaustive questionnaire that contained over 1,600 questions about the words that people used in their daily lives. I imagine that I could find out a great deal more about the word anymore if I had that dictionary in hand.

 I am impressed by the extent of research that went into the project, which has now spanned over 50 years. I am a dictionary junkie (yes, I do have a favorite, my Chambers Scots Dictionary), and now I have another set of books to add to my wish list.


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