How Where You're From Influences What You Say

3 min read

When the server comes to your table, do you ask for a soda or a pop? Based on your answer, we can tell what part of the country you're from (unless you ask for a Coke). Regional differences in how people pronounce certain words, or what they call certain things, are markers of where a person calls home.

Here are a few words you might pronounce differently, depending on your roots. For a map representation of these linguistic differences, take a look at the work by Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student of statistics at North Carolina State University.

Caramel

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."

Been

Residents of the far northern United States have adopted the Canadian pronunciation of "been," with the “e” pronounced like in "set." Across the rest of the country, we say "been" with a vowel sound like in "sit."

Crayon

"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.”

Lawyer

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."

Y’all

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.

Mayonnaise

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 in the West and especially close to Canada, you’ll hear three syllables, “may-uh-naze.”

Pajamas

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 probably pronounce it rhyming with "jam." Across the South, the vowel sound rhymes with "father."

Pecan

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.”

Pop vs. Soda

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 pop, and the Northeast and West drink soda.

Traffic Circle

Does it matter, as long as you make your exit? In the Northeast, drivers are torn between calling this a rotary and a traffic circle. But across most of the East Coast and in Texas, it's a traffic circle. Across Florida, the central United States, and the West Coast, they are roundabouts.

Syrup

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.

Sandwiches

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.

Water or Drinking Fountain

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.

Shoes

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.

Highway

Across most of the country, you get from Point A to Point B using the highway. But if you’re in California, you’re going to drive on the freeway.

Rain

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 turn of phrase).

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