You’re From Where?


America is a country separated by a common language.

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As I was growing up my father moved the family around quite a bit due to the nature of his work (he was a pioneer in the systems and computer industry). My grade school years were predominantly spent in the Northeast (Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York), except for a stint in California where we were told on more than one occasion we spoke with a distinct East Coast accent. I didn’t think much of it at first, but I started to keep track of the peculiarities of our language. When we moved to Chicago, again we were told of our East Coast affliction, but when we moved to Cincinnati, the “Gateway to the South,” we were told that we now had a hard Midwest accent. Eventually we moved our business down to Florida which is actually an amalgamation of many accents as people from just about everywhere move here. I suppose I now possess a “Heinz 57 Varieties” of American dialects.

Accents can be both charming and confusing at the same time. Aside from this, there are other expressions we use which distinguishes people from one geographical location to another. For example, the dialect of people from Boston is distinct and well known, but there is one word the computer people there use that I have not seen elsewhere; instead of the word “data” (pronounced “day-tah”) they will say “dater” (“day-ter”) which is a bit baffling and very unique to the area.

In Cincinnati (pronounced “sin-sin-at-ee”) natives are more inclined to say “Cincinnata” (“sin-sin-at-ah”), but the real distinguishable idiosyncrasy of people from the “Queen City” is their constant use of the word “please.” Instead of just using it to request something, it is commonly used when someone doesn’t understand something in a conversation; instead of “I beg your pardon” or “Could you repeat that?” or simply “Huh?” Cincinnatians will say “Please?” I have found this to be very unique to Cincinnati. No other city in Ohio, including nearby Dayton, uses “please” in this manner, making it a very distinct characteristic of Cincinnatians.

I don’t remember any particular expression in Chicago other than they commonly use the expression “Chicagoland” to refer to the general metropolitan area. I know of no other city that does this. You’ll hear “Chicagoland” primarily used in television and radio commercials, as well as print advertisements. As an outsider moving to Chicago, I thought it sounded rather pompous, making Chicago seem like it was a separate country or at least the Ponderosa.

Australia has a distinct accent and the natives are quick to point out the dissimilarities between an Australian accent, and those from the UK and South Africa. Most Americans cannot hear the differences at first, but if you listen carefully there are distinct differences. One word that caught my attention down-under is the use of the word “rubber”; whereas Americans tend to refer to this as a prophylactic, Australians use it to refer to an eraser, such as on a pencil. Note to male Australians visiting corporate offices in the United States: do not ask an American female for a rubber, you might be accused of sexual harassment.

I’ve been to Canada many times and there are several expressions unique to our neighbors in the north, primarily Ontario. “Eh?” is perhaps the most commonly used word in their vernacular and is shorthand for “Don’t you agree?” or “I beg your pardon?” Aside from this, words like “out” and “about” sound more like “ewt” and “a-boot.” If you are a project manager, it is not uncommon to say “shed-ule” and “pro-jecht” as opposed to “Schedule” and “project.”

Here in the South, natives will talk with long drawls, kind of like Huckleberry Hound, but just about everyone says “Y’all” (“You all”) including displaced Yankees who have migrated here (as well as yours truly). “Y’all” is so popular, I’m convinced it’s contagious.

I have only scratched the surface here of local idiosyncrasies. I’m sure you know many more. As I said, some of these expressions can be both charming and confusing. George Bernard Shaw said, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” I would take it further, “America is a country separated by a common language.” Between our regional dialects, expressions, and slang, it is no small wonder that English is the hardest language to learn, particularly for our own people.

Keep the Faith!