September 9, 2016

Got any suppawn? I’ve already eaten the last button on Gabe’s coat and I’m out of emptins for the bread.

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51FXCzb0PHL._AC_UL320_SR236,320_And for dessert, maybe some larbo? Or just loan me a bat hide to buy a dropped eggI vum I’ll pay you back. So hungry I’d eat a whistle pig with a glass of bonnyclabber.

Discerning readers will, by this point, have observed that I’m speaking gibberish. Or, to be more exact, that I’m on my beanwater to make use of a list of American regionalisms presently teetering “on the cusp of extinction,” recently published by the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). The list, which Alison Flood reproduces and discusses in a recent article at the Guardian, comes with a challenge from DARE to the producers of Acast, a Stockholm-based podcasting platform, to pick one endangered term each, and help stave off the inevitable by using it on their show. It’s a project that would doubtless have had H.L. Mencken rolling up the sleeves of his wamus and feeling work brittle. (Thomas Daly has been the first to take up the challenge, using the phrase “spin street yarn”—a New Englandism for “gossip”—on Episode 20 of his podcast American Biography, about former US Chief Justice John Marshall.)

Speaking last month to the Wall Street Journal’s Matthias Verbergt, one of DARE’s editors, George Goebel, explained, “Through podcasts, we want to get people interested again in how language varies.”

Not to fleech the guy, but I can’t help picturing Goebel as a contemporary incarnation of Professor Bertram Potts, the slang-besotted lexicographer played by Gary Cooper in Howard Hawks and Billy Wilder’s 1941 comedy Ball of Fire, which is easily one of the best movies ever made. Here he is learning the word “boogie” from the sublime Barbara Stanwyck and Gene Krupa (watch for the barn burner solo at 3:27), a duo who prove that sometimes the best way to educate yourself is to bag school for the day:

Wow! Stanwyck’s character, the unforgettably-named Sugarpuss O’Shea, dances like a real supple-sawney.

(And by the way, Gentle Reader, your author is, in fact, a vegetarian, so fear not: your whistle pigs are safe from my panini press, and seitan skillpot soup is the only kind on which I dine tonightLarbo, on the other hand, sounds dee-damn-licious, especially for washing down some popskull with.)

DARE, a fifty-year-old project to document slang terms from the various regions of the US, is published by Harvard University Press. It was recently nearly forced to close, but has survived on funding from the University of Wisconsin and sonsy readers like you.

 

 

Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.

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