Making new friends is great. But what happens when you and your new friend disagree over whether to say soda or pop? Regional differences in how people pronounce certain words or what they call certain things are sure markers of where a person calls home. Across a country as large as the United States of America, we’re sure to find many regional accents and pronunciations, but that’s part of what makes English so fascinating.
Below are a few words you might say differently depending on where you call home. For cool map representations of these linguistic differences, take a look at the work by Joshua Katz, a Ph.D student of statistics at North Carolina State University.
Along the East Coast you’ll find people pronouncing this sweet treat with three syllables, “carr-a-mel.” Once you start moving west, you’ll hear people asking for this gooey dessert with two syllables, “car-ml."
The far northern residents of the United States have adopted the Canadian pronunciation of been, with the “e” pronounced like set. Across the rest of the country, we say been with a vowel sound like sit.
Crayon, with the y smack in the middle, leads to interesting pronunciation differences. Mostly on the East Coast you’ll hear crayon with two syllables, “cray-ahn.” On the left side of the country (and in Maine, for some reason), you’re more likely to hear it pronounced “cray-awn,” with the second syllable rhyming with dawn. And you might even get a few outliers in the Midwest who make it a short and sweet “cran.”
The southern accent is especially interesting when it comes to legal advice. Across the southeastern United States you’ll hear folks asking for a “law-yer,” with the first syllable rhyming with saw. Elsewhere, people want to consult a “loy-er,” rhyming with boy.
What do you call a group of people? Clearly in the South, you call out "y’all." (Do you know the plural of y’all? All y’all.) But across the rest of the country it’s "you guys" (even if there are women in the bunch). And if you’re in the southern tip of Florida you’re most likely a northerner at heart and will use "you guys" as well.
The pronunciation of the popular sandwich and salad condiment can’t be agreed upon. In most of the South and along the eastern coast, you’re going to hear it with two syllables, “man-aze.” But out West and especially close to Canada, you’ll hear three syllables, “may-uh-naze.”
Do you go to sleep in “pa-jam-as” or “pa-jah-mas”? If you’re in the West, or around the Great Lakes, you’re going to pronounce it rhyming with jam. Across the South, the vowel sound rhymes with father.
Americans are torn over how to pronounce the nut and delicious pie. In Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, you eat “pick-AHNs.” In the northeast, it’s “PEE-can.” In Wisconsin and Michigan you’ll hear “PEE-kahn.” And the most popular pronunciation is “pee-KAHN.”
The great conundrum. What kind of beverage are you drinking? In the South, if you ask for a Coke, the answer will be “What kind?”. In the Midwest they drink their pop, and the Northeast and West drinks soda.
Does it matter, as long as you make your exit? In the Northeast, drivers are torn between calling them a rotary and a traffic circle. But across most of the East Coast and in Texas they landed on traffic circle. Across Florida, the central United States and the west coast, they are roundabouts.
In a few patches along the Northeast corridor you’ll find folks asking for “sear-up.” However the rest of the country agrees that “sir-up” is the proper way to coat your pancakes.
What do you call a sandwich on a long bun with cold cuts, lettuce, tomato and other condiments? Most of the country agrees that this is a sub, but if you’re in Philly, you’ll want to ask for a hoagie.
This one is pretty clear: the West Coast calls it a drinking fountain, while the East Coast calls it a water fountain. Then there are the outliers in Wisconsin and Rhode Island who drink from a bubbler.
Again, Florida is jumping on the northern train. In South Florida and in the Northeast you wear sneakers. Across the rest of the country you wear tennis shoes, even when you’re not holding a racquet.
Across most of the country you get from Point A to Point B using the highway. Unless you’re in California, then you’re going to drive on the freeway.
Some terms are purely regional. If it’s raining while the sun is shining, spots in Florida and the northeast call this a sunshower. Most of the rest of the country doesn’t have a name for this meteorological phenomena, but if you’re in Alabama or Mississippi, the devil is beating his wife (but we don’t recommend adopting this phrase).