American English is rich with idiom and slang. But as new words enter the lexicon, many old expressions fall into disuse.
Earlier this month the Dictionary of American Regional English, a project to capture the ebb and flow of the country’s regional vocabulary, released a list of 50 “endangered” words and phrases to try and keep them in use.
Harvard University Press published the first volume of the dictionary in 1985, based primarily off nearly 3,000 interviews conducted around the country between 1965 to 1970.
The list of 50 selected from the six print volumes of the dictionary represents the phrases with very few recent quotations. “I’ve had responses from people who say they still use some of these words, but they are all people over 60 now, and I doubt that their children or grandchildren use (or even recognize) the words,” says Joan Hall, the dictionary’s former chief editor.
See a selection of 30 of the words from our list below. Or get up on your beanwater and read all 50.
New England and the northeast
Daddock: rotten wood, a rotten log
Dish wiper: a dish towel
Dozy (of wood): decaying (especially Maine)
Dropped egg: a poached egg
Barn burner: a wooden match that can be struck on any surface (Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Maryland)
To bag school: to play hooky (Pennsylvania, New Jersey)
Be on one’s beanwater: to be in high spirits, feel frisky
Emptins: homemade yeast used as starter (upstate New York)
Pot cheese: cottage cheese (New York, New Jersey, northern Pennsylvania, Connecticut)
Fogo: An offensive smell
I vum: I swear, I declare
Nasty-neat: overly tidy
Spin street yarn: to gossip
Tacker: a child, especially a little boy (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania)
Southwest, Gulf coast, southern Appalachians
Bat hide: a dollar bill (southwest)
Racket store: a variety store (especially Texas)
Cup towel: a dish towel (especially Texas)
Ear screw: an earring
Fleech: to coax, wheedle, flatter
Popskull: cheap or illegal whiskey (southern Appalachians)
Sewing needle: a dragonfly (especially Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts)
Trash mover: a heavy rain
Shat: a pine needle (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia)
Work brittle: eager to work (especially Indiana)
Frog strangler: a heavy rain
Zephyr: a light scarf
Spouty (of ground): soggy, spongy
Sonsy: cute, charming, lively
Cuddy: a small room, closet, or cupboard
Tumbleset: a somersault (southeast, Gulf states, northeast)