Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

A Smidget of Regional Terms

By Mark Peters

There are some things I love to an unhealthy degree, such as The Shield, Russian imperial stouts, George Carlin’s comedy, mint chocolate chip ice cream, and Evil Dead 2. My heart beats equally fast for the Dictionary of American Regional English, which recently published its long-awaited final volume.

I wrote about euphemisms from DARE — which documents terms from every nook and cranny of the US — in my Evasive Maneuvers column for Visual Thesaurus, but I didn’t come close to plumbing the depths. Here are a few more terms I find useful, amusing, or just flat-out wonderful. They are as American as apple pie and Richard Nixon, but better for your health. Use them in your tweets, toasts, and testimony as needed.

Like smidge, this southern word always means a tiny amount of something, often food. Citations show people discussing smidgets of corn, cake, cream, trouble, and other delicacies.

When delving deep into regional terms, slang, or dialects, it’s interesting how many obscure terms are close relatives of common words. For example, you probably know the expression “Blown to smithereens!” but you may not know a smither is also an itsy-bitsy fragment. I’m no mathematician, but I’d wager a smither is even smaller than a smithereen. Another related term is splintereens.

smell one’s piss
Here’s an idiom with a biological basis. If you can smell your piss, you’re going through puberty and aware of it, not necessarily with the most personality-enhancing results. This southern term is used in a 2002 Internet example that demonstrates its meaning well: “If you notice they all revert to personal insults when they have no answer for an intelligent comment. My guess is the kid is about 12 years old, smelling his piss for the first time, and thinking he’s 10ft tall and bulletproof.”

This is a term for anyone who talks too much or too loudly, an epidemic in the cell-phone age. Meanwhile, splutterment is some type of fuss or brouhaha.

whoopity scoot
If you can’t do something lickety-split, maybe you can do it whoopity scoot, which also means fast.

soap stick
This has an unsurprising, literal meaning as a type of stick used to make soap, but it’s also an insult, as seen here in 1858: “The poor miserable soapsticks — gulled and deceived, or bribed and perjured fools and rascals — whichever they may prefer to call themselves — voted for the English bill.”

squirrel load
If you don’t have much of a tolerance for booze, order a squirrel load: an itsy-bitsy amount of liquor.

This is a mudhole. However, a sloosh is a more numerical concept, though no less muddy, since it lacks exactness. Citations for this southern term mention “a plumb sloosh of snakes,” “a big sloosh of chickens,” and “a plumb sloosh of notables.” In other words, a sloosh is made up of many smidgets, along with a few smithers and squirrel loads.

sleep dust
A far more elegant term than eye boogers.

where the goose bit one
This is a very creative southern term for the navel. It has cousins such as where the chicken pecked one and where the Indian shot one.

DARE contains terms for many imaginary creatures, like the swamp gaboon, but I like the squonk, mainly for its name. DARE also features imaginary objects, such as whim-wham for a goose’s bridle. The use is demonstrated in this 1944 quote: “When I was a child and we asked our mother what anything was, any gadget, or a part of a sewing machine or such-like, she always answered: ‘Oh, that’s a whimwham for a goose’s bridle and a waylay for meddlers!’” In other words: Buzz off, sloosh-hole!

Mark Peters is a lexicographer, humorist, rabid tweeter, language columnist for Visual Thesaurus, and the blogger behind The Rosa Parks of Blogs and The Pancake Proverbs.

Subscribe to the OUPblog via email or RSS.
Subscribe to only dictionary, lexicography, language, etymology, and word articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.