Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Local Words of the Year for 2009

I saw a whole slew of lists highlighting the words of the year for 2009, and I just had to have one for City Dictionary. A few shout-outs to people and organizations that have already been working on this topic: Nancy Friedman, Wordnik, Merriam-Webster, New Oxford American Dictionary. Most lists include timely words, as in the following criteria taken from the American Dialect Society:
  • new or newly popular in 2009
  • widely or prominently used in 2009
  • indicative or reflective of the national discourse
I tried thinking of a word on City Dictionary that would fit even one of these criteria and only came up with meep, which had been banned during the current school year by Danvers High School. While this was a great word and a timely example of a word with local significance, City Dictionary isn't necessarily about the latest trends in vocabulary. The best words on the website are often the gems that have been around for decades without us, the majority of Americans, even knowing about them. So, for our Local Words of the Year, I simply picked five words of local significance that most Americans probably don't already know, words they will find interesting, and maybe (in the case of a few of them) words that are deserving of more widespread use (which will, of course, be out of my hands). Anyway, our Local Words of the Year are as follows, in no particular order:

polio water
As City Dictionary user QQgreenIZ puts it, polio water is Boston speak for a puddle of water. Another user calls it "stinky water from the gutters that mixes with garbage." Corroborating these definitions, in the book
All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, author Michael Patrick MacDonald writes, "the water in the gutter was called polio water, because it stank so bad from mixing with mud and garbage, and if you ever stepped into it you were branded for a whole day as the one with polio on your sneaker." He follows that definition with a story about someone "spilling more water into the gutter, making floods of polio water at the bottom of the street." The term must have originated from the harsh reality of the first half of the 20th Century when polio had not yet been eradicated. The poliovirus, which was spread through fecal-to-oral contact, was commonly found in sewage water, which suggests that polio water may have originated as a term with a truly literal meaning.

Slugging is a form of hitchhiking that has developed in the Washington, DC area that benefits both the hitchhiker and the driver. The concept is ingenious: 1) Form a line of passengers near the freeway, 2) hitch a ride from a car passing by to make a total of three or more passengers, and 3) take a ride on the freeway in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane and get to work quicker. Slugging in the DC area has become such an institution that there is even a website dedicated to local information on slugging, as well as the history of the term and the ins and outs of slugging etiquette. According to, the word "slug" originated from toll booth attendants who were warned of fake coins from commuters called "slugs". Then, in the 1970s, when people started to form lines to hitchhike and take advantage of the new HOV lanes, buses often stopped to pick these people up. Annoyed by the false bus riders, bus drivers became better at distinguishing between real bus patrons and the fake ones, whom were then deemed "slugs".

neutral ground
Neutral ground has three potential meanings in New Orleans. Most commonly referred to as a street's median in other parts of the country, neutral ground arose in New Orleans when Canal Street formed the barrier between the old French and Spanish parts of town and the newer American part. The median of Canal Street was considered the neutral part of town where people could trade, and was thus dubbed neutral ground. By extension, all street medians in New Orleans have become neutral ground in the everyday language of the locals. The term neutral ground was also used shortly after the Louisiana Purchase when the United States and then-Spanish Texas laid claim to land in Western Louisiana. To arrive at a temporary settlement, the two parties agreed to deem the land "neutral", giving rise to the term "neutral ground". The third meaning is decidedly less linguistic in nature, but stays true to the historical theme of this term. A City Dictionary user informed us that Neutral Ground is the name of New Orleans’ first coffeehouse.

The word "
sconnie" can mean anything relating to Wisconsin, or—when capitalized—"Sconnie" can refer to a person from Wisconsin. While the concept seems rather straightforward, very few people are in agreement as to where the word comes from and who actually uses it. On City Dictionary, people have documented use within Wisconsin and in neighboring states like Michigan and Minnesota, as well as far away places like Colorado and Hawaii. With that said, many naysayers within Wisconsin consider it a term that ought to be relegated to other-state obscurity. City Dictionary user madnick calls sconnie a "bogus term made up to sell t-shirts." He must be referring to Sconnie Nation, the Wisconsin lifestyle business started in a dorm room by two University of Wisconsin-Madison students. Sconnie Nation sells apparel with the Sconnie® brand (which the company has trademarked). The signature Sconnie t-shirt has become so popular at Wisconsin Badger sporting events that the national media has taken notice. During a SportsCenter broadcast in 2009, an ESPN anchor referred to the entire state of Wisconsin as Sconnie. Also, an article on ESPN’s website refers to the "beer-soaked Sconnie faithful" at a Badger game in 2008. This last reference plays right into Sconnie Nation’s message of Sconnie as representative of Wisconsin’s beer-centered culture. While some Wisconsinites resist, the word sconnie has secured its place in the local vernacular. What remains unclear, however, is exactly how widespread the word’s use really is.

meat raffle
Cultural staple of Minnesota, a
meat raffle often takes place in a bar and supports a local charity. Tickets are typically sold for $1 apiece, and the winners get—you guessed it—meat. The meat consists of any number of different cuts from the local butcher. Needless to say, if you are not from Minnesota—or from another Upper Midwestern state—meat raffles are probably far off your radar screen.

Note: Simonk01 on Twitter informed me that meat raffles take place in Britain. Also, after looking at the Wikipedia entry for meat raffle, I noticed that concept is called a meat draw in Northern Britain, and and meat tray in Australia and New Zealand.


If you have any other WOTY lists to share, please mention it in the comments.

Happy New Year!

Thomas from City Dictionary

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

City Dictionary widget can now post to Facebook feeds

The folks at Sharendipity have made their applications available for embedding on Facebook pages. (Go to the blog post that describes the new post-and-play feature.) Now, instead of having to click through to a new website to interact with a widget or game, you can launch it right there in the comfort of your own Facebook environment. The City Dictionary widget (embedded below) can show up in your feed if you simply paste the url for the application ( to any Facebook page.

It works the same way that a YouTube video does within Facebook. You post the url--and not the embed code--into the "link" field. Then, click on the blue play button, just as you would for a video, and the widget will launch.

If you want a url for another zip code (the default zip code is for our home market of Madison, Wisconsin) simply go to the City Dictionary widget on Sharendipity and click on "customize" to enter your own zip code. The new url for your creation will then be ready for Facebook.

Of course, you can still go to and click on the big "C" logo at the bottom of the page to get the customized embed code for any zip code for your blog or website, but this opens up a way for you to share local dictionary entries on Facebook.

Monday, December 21, 2009

We're on TV!

City Dictionary has partnered up with Broadcast Interactive Media and your local TV station website to allow you to view local words, definitions, and more on a local website you know and trust. (Read the press release.) Why make our dictionaries available on other websites? Well, we believe you shouldn't have to come to us to experience local flavor in the form of dictionary-style cultural snippets written by locals like you. Perhaps more importantly, we want to reach out to new audiences who can help enhance the City Dictionary experience by adding more perspectives on local language and culture. That's why we're allowing submissions (both words and definitions) from YouNews users on nearly 80 local TV station websites. Because of partnerships like this, City Dictionary is a growing source of knowledge on American cities and all of their subtle quirks.

Here is just one example of our dictionaries at work elsewhere, as seen on our Madison, WI partner, WKOW:

If one of your city's local news stations has YouNews, a platform for citizen journalism, then it also has the "city dictionary" for that area. If you're still unsure whether there's a City Dictionary partner in your area, feel free to contact us so we can give you the skinny (and a proper link). Rest assured, though, that all of our dictionaries continue to be available through

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mad About Snow

Madison, Wisconsin isn't the only place where it snows, but few cities are as creative or as collaborative with a fresh snowfall. Local youngsters took advantage of this week's blizzard to organize a gigantic snowball fight of over 3,000 frozen combatants. Also, a group of crazy bar-goers rolled a monstrosity of a snowball across the downtown area and left it in the middle of a major street on campus.

Here is footage of the epic snowball fight on the UW's Bascom Hill, courtesy of Emily Mills:

Also, here's the gi-normous snowball:

Did anything fun like this happen in your town? Let us know!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sounds of the Season

It's that time of year. The biggest holidays are coming up soon, and we'd like to give the gift of holiday food pronunciation. When you're at the dinner table for Thanksgiving, how will you ask for piece of pecan pie? We created a pecan polling question equipped with sound to find that out. We came up with five potential pronunciations for the festive nut. We like to think we have all of our bases covered, but feel free to let us know if you pronounce it a different way.

Another food that makes its way into holiday desserts is caramel. Gooey burnt sugar seems to make everything better. With that said, the pronunciation of caramel can stir up quite the debate at the dinner table. There doesn't seem to be a consensus on which syllables to use, and what number of syllables there ought to be (generally 2 or 3). Give us your take in the caramel poll, and make sure to point at family members and laugh whenever they fail to conform to your pronunciation ;)

If you want to share our vocabulary questions with visitors to your own blog or website, get our City Dictionary poll widget, which is bundles of fun brought to you free of charge :)

Friday, November 13, 2009

And the spooky city is...

Congratulations to ebrenner for winning the City Dictionary "Spooky City" Contest. Her More weight entry exemplified the spookiness that defines Salem, Massachusetts. The poor Giles Corey, accused of being a warlock, refused to enter a plea so he could be tried for his alleged crime. He was subsequently "tortured by the authorities, who laid a heavy board on top of him and placed large stones on the board." Every time his torturers asked for a plea, "more weight" was the only response he would give. He eventually was crushed by the sheer weight of the stones. Pretty spooky, huh?

Of course, Salem is no stranger to spookiness. The Salem Witch Trials (Wikipedia) are an infamous part of US history. Salem is known as the "Witch City", which is also an entry authored by ebrenner.

Again, thanks and congratulations to ebrenner!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"Spooky City" Contest: Will you take home the prize?

One thing that grabbed my attention yesterday was that among the several great new entries we received yesterday, very few of them were about Halloween. Is this a difficult topic to write about? I submit that it is not. If it is, any ideas you do have will be that much more competitive.

Remember that you will be considered for the contest by adding a new entry related to Halloween with an appropriate definition to any city on
City Dictionary. Relevant Halloween entries include, but are not limited to, the following examples:
  • Halloween events of local cultural value
  • Local slang terms involving Halloween
  • Places in town with notorious paranormal activity
  • Noteworthy haunted houses, corn mazes, et al
  • Local Halloween traditions
  • Famous local Halloween pranks
  • Well-known newsworthy stories connected to Halloween
  • Local businesses that contribute to the local Halloween culture
  • Local landmarks that gets people in the Halloween spirit
  • Anything that defines Halloween for your city. Be creative!
I'm sure you can think of several examples of these for your town. You are allowed multiple entries for the contest, so feel free to write on any number of topics to improve your chances.

Go to City Dictionary to get started

Go here for the Official Rules

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The DC Slugs

Today's Word of the Day, Slugging (from Washington, DC), is one of my all-time favorite entries on City Dictionary.

The concept is ingenious: 1) Form a line of passengers near the freeway, 2) hitch a ride from a car passing by to make a total of three or more passengers, and 3) take a ride on the freeway in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane and get to work quicker.

If you do this, you're slugging. What sets it apart from other forms of hitchhiking is that both the driver and the passenger benefit. The drivers may benefit from the slugs just as much as the slugs benefit from the drivers.

While I was searching for the origin of the word "slugging", I came across this great online resource for slugging has an about page that covers the history of the phenomenon. According to this source, the word "slug" originated from toll booth attendants who were warned of fake coins from commuters called "slugs". Then, in the 1970s, when people started to form lines to hitchhike and take advantage of the new HOV lanes, buses often stopped to pick these people up. Annoyed by the false bus riders, bus drivers became better at distinguishing between real bus patrons and the fake ones, then deemed "slugs".

Again, I was delighted to find such a thorough source on this neat term for Washington, DC. Please check out the about slugging page and learn more!

Image Source:

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where does "spuckie" come from?

Today's Word of the Day, Spuckie, has a few competing definitions that contradict one another with respect to the word's origin. As any responsible researcher would do, I googled it. (Wink.) Several online sources confirm that "spuckie" comes from the Italian "spucadella", which is a long Italian roll. My findings appear to lend credence to this definition:
spuckie is a word used to describe a submarine (sub) sandwich. It comes from the Italian word "spucadella" which is an italian sandwich roll. It most likely came from the Italians in the North End and elsewhere... (see full definition)
As for the word's origin in Southie (South Boston), most sources seem to leave that out.

As for the word originating from the Italian "spacato", I must plead ignorance. I don't speak Italian, and I am not familiar enough with Boston English to give a firm ruling on this.

Can anyone help out with this?

Image Source:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day: When Words Collide

Different people often use different words to describe today's holiday. Some celebrate the opening of the New World to European exploration, while others celebrate (or lament) the first interaction between the Spaniards and (Native) Americans, and the civilization that developed as a result.

The name of this day of discovery also changes from one culture to another. Today is Columbus Day in the United States, but did you know that our American neighbors to the south celebrate the same holiday under different names? In Costa Rica, for example, The Day of the Cultures (El Día de las Culturas) paints a rosy picture of multiculturalism. In Mexico, The Day of the Races (El Día de la Raza) alludes to the mixing of Spanish and Indigenous cultures (and phenotypes) that is the foundation of Mexican civilization. In Venezuela, The Day of Indigenous Resistance (El Día de la Resistencia Indígena) glorifies the Pre-Columbian indigenous culture of the New World. (Learn more about Columbus Day.)


Today's Word of the Day, Neutral Ground, also deals with the collision between different societies, and may also mean a number of different things to different people.

I first learned this word as a New Orleans term for the median of city streets. As a former student of history, I loved the word's colonial origin as a meeting place for the French and the Spanish to trade.

Recently City Dictionary Citizens have taught us different meanings. For example, Neutral Ground is also one of the names for a territory in Western Louisiana that was disputed between Texas (then a part of Spain) and the United States, the latter of which recently gained adjacent territory in the Louisiana Purchase. To avoid confrontation, the two parties agreed to keep the strip of land neutral. The Neutral Ground was officially called the Sabine Free State, and has also been known by other names, including Neutral Strip, Neutral Territory, and No Man's Land (according to a Wikipedia article).


While we're talking about words colliding, some might mistakenly label Columbus as the man who proved the Earth was round. This simply isn't true. Eratosthenes, studying at the great library of Alexandria, discovered the roundness of the Earth in 240 BC and measured our planet's circumference with astonishing accuracy.

Here's an article that explains his discovery:

Here's Carl Sagan's story of Eratosthenes' work:

Maybe the average 15-century Spaniard thought the Earth was flat (and maybe even Fernando and Isabel themselves), but the winning argument had already been made available for nearly two millennia before Columbus set off for the Orient. Plus, he would have only proved the Earth was round (something that had already been done before) had he actually found the Orient by sailing west. Of course, we all know he came across something entirely different.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Believe you me...

Say you what? You may or may not have heard of "believe you me", which is today's Milwaukee Word of the Day. I have heard this plenty of times, but maybe that's because I'm from Wisconsin.

Rather than thinking of this bizarre syntax as improper, informal, or simply a regional anomaly, consider its historical origin:

Michael Quinion from World Wide Words, who writes on international English from his own British perspective, traces this verb-subject-object word order back to the 1611 version of the King James Bible. He finds many passages in which a person said something to the tune of "hear ye me" when someone wanted to emphasis a point.

Quinion also notes that the specific phrase of "believe you me" is a rather modern one in America, showing up in writing for the first time in 1919.

What remains unclear is how widespread this usage is currently in the United States. Again, people still use it in Wisconsin to preface an important statement, but where else does this phrase show up? I'm interested to hear your comments...inform you us :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

When brands become generic

Our City Dictionary poll widget contains a few regional vocabulary questions that deal with brand names that are often used as a generic term.

Take "Coke", for example. In parts of the Southern United States, a coke can be
any kind of sweetened carbonated beverage. A soda or pop (or whatever you say), no matter what the actual brand, is considered a coke.

This is a classic example of a brand name becoming generic. Coca-Cola has even sent representatives to restaurants to make sure that when a customer orders a Coke, he isn't given a Pepsi or some other perceived equivalent. This is a negative consequence from Coca-Cola's perspective, but of course such a consequence only arises as a result of dominant position in the product category. Even if the brand could be considered diluted as a generic name for the product itself, the brand recognition is still strengthened and its staying power is solidified for many years to come.

Another example clear example is Kleenex brand tissues. In our Tissue vs. Kleenex poll, 66% of respondents say Kleenex instead of tissue.

Other brand-name-as-generic examples include the following:

Band-Aid as bandage (at least a small, disposable one)
Scotch tape as invisible tape
Walkman as portable music player (although MP3 players have certainly changed this)

There are many more examples that you wouldn't even suspect were ever brand names, such as "dry ice".

Google has even managed to make its brand a verb. As far as I know, this hasn't happened since Xerox became the verb "to photocopy", as well as the noun for "photocopy".

Can you think of any good examples of genericized brands?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

That's what she said!

Today's Word of the Day, Ride the SLUT, reminds me of the Family Guy episodes when they cut to Quagmire, who would yuck it up at the slightest innuendo. Perhaps riding the SLUT isn't so subtle, but the thought nonetheless crossed my mind. I also happened to recall a few other funny entries that make childish crotch-humorist references. Consider the following:

Show and Blow (Madison, WI): If you're at a Badger football game and have an alcohol-related ejection, you are forced to perform a breathalyzer test upon showing your ticket voucher at the gate.

Go in High, Come out Gay (West Chester, PA): Apparently you can go into town on High Street, and out of town on Gay Street.

Cock'n'Balls (Portland, OR): According to the sole definition, the local bakery doesn't leave anything to the imagination with this peculiar pastry.

Dickhater (Decatur, GA): I don't know if there's a compelling story behind this nickname, or if it's simply a cheap, opportunistic play on phonetics.

Shlongfellow (La Crosse, WI): Blaspheming a great American poet, the kids of rival Lincoln Middle School often make a phallic reference to Longfellow Middle School. On a positive note, "Paul Revere's Ride" was a good one. (That's what she said!)

Can you think of any childish references prevalent in your city?
Share them with us :)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Playing nice (and not-so-nice) with city nicknames

When coming across today's Word of the Day, Fort Misery--a nickname for Fort Myers, FL--I started taking mental inventory of all the interesting city nicknames that the City Dictionary community has come up with. Some of them are flattering, some are not, and some are simply weird and funny.

Here's a rundown of the ones that stick out in my mind, labeled as the good, the bad, and the funny:



Wiscompton: Nickname for Wisconsin, popularized on t-shirts sold in Madison

OK, maybe some of the bad ones are also funny, but I can see why people from those places might find the nicknames harsh.

-Tom :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What should be your city's tagline?

At City Dictionary we're all about defining cities. What better way to do so than with a catchy tagline?

For your creative pleasure, we created a wiki tagline for every city on our website. Anyone can login (with a user account or anonymously) and edit the tagline to see the "official" tagline for the city change instantly. The taglines are limited to 140 characters. Let's face it: the wittiest taglines are often quite brief.

Here are a few examples from the many dictionaries on the website:

Some of my personal favorites are ones that are adapted from famous movie taglines, such as the following:

What's neat is that you can click on "history" to see the entire history of the wiki tagline. For example, here is the tagline history for Madison, Wisconsin. Once you create a tagline, it becomes immortalized. If yours is good enough, it might just stick around on the front page for a while.

So, go to City Dictionary, find your city, and share with us your best tagline. They don't have to be official-sounding, or even entirely based on reality. Taglines, just like resumes, should be aspirational (wink).

Go in high, come out gay?

We're feeling kind of childish here at City Dictionary today, so we made Go in High, Come out Gay the Word of the Day.

According to melottwannabe9, you can enter West Chester on High Street, and then exit via Gay Street.

While we're on the topic of childish city references, here are other dictionary entries that I have found either irreverent or unintentionally suggestive:

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

How to ask for a three-way without getting slapped

Answer: Go to Cincinnati!

After selecting "
Please?"--Cincinnati speak for "pardon me," "what?", or "huh?"--as today's Word of the Day, I looked further into the city's local flavor and found an abundance of neat cultural tidbits.

For example, it appears that Cincinnati could be the only place in the country to ask an unsuspecting stranger for a
three-way, four-way, or a five-way without the risk of physical assault.

The way I understand it, a
three-way involves spaghetti, chili, and cheddar cheese all in the same dish. A four-way requires adding another ingredient, either diced onions or red beans. Then, a five-way is a three-way with both red beans and diced onions.

Cincinnati chili culture certainly goes well beyond this cute innuendo.
Cincinnati-style chili appears to be runnier than Texas-style chili, and employs ingredients like cinnamon and cocoa that are certainly strong, but not spicy hot.

One thing about Cincinnati chili that surprised me was the fact that
Skyline Chili is a chain of restaurants that serve chili, and not the name of Cincinnati chili itself. The name "skyline," according to one of our users, came about because the founder of the restaurant could see the Cincinnati skyline from his first restaurant. I guess I was a bit disappointed to learn that Skyline Chili was simply the McDonald's of chili. (I'm assuming some people might take issue with this assertion.)

Anyway, there's plenty more local Cincy flavor to check out, so visit the
Cincinnati Dictionary and learn more about Porkopolis.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Welcome to the People's Republic of...

We just love goofy city nicknames, especially when they're mildly political. Today's Word of the Day is People's Republic of Cambridge, a reference to the city's left-leaning campus crowd. (For those who don't immediately get the reference, the Communist regime in China has given the country the official namesake of "The People's Republic of China".)

Users have also given us the heads-up on similar city monikers:

Santa Monica, California is sometimes called the
People's Republic of Soviet Monica. Gotta love the double-whammy reference to both China and the USSR.

Madison, Wisconsin also has its share of political nicknames, such as the
People's Republic of Madison, as well as 60 square miles surrounded by reality. (The folks at had their own say on this local nomenclature, which is of importance to them because their own name refers to a 77-square-mile measurement of Madison.)

Madison's left-leaning language isn't always a joke, as we learned with the
Ho Chi Minh Trail, which almost became the official name of the city's Bassett Street back in the 1970's in protest of the Vietnam War.

Finally, we have found that the
People's Republic of Boulder has also gained a reputation for its left-leaning populace.

If you can think of any more funny nicknames,
we'd love to know what they are.

Image Source:

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Buffalo Wings? Not in Buffalo

Today's Word of the Day (subscribe), "Wings, NOT Buffalo Wings," highlights what may be obvious to most, that buffalo wings are just wings in Buffalo. It makes total sense, but most people who visit Buffalo often make that mistake. I would like to go to Buffalo to order some "buffalo wings" just to see if I am duly chastised. :)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Wauna-be Unique Town

This was @venerablesteve's reaction to today's Word of the Day, "Only Waunakee in the World." It's true that Waunakee, WI is the only Waunakee around, but apparently not everyone is impressed.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Let them eat cake"

According to today's Word of the Day, "cake eater," residents of Edina don't need a special occasion to enjoy cake. Apparently, they're cake eaters because of their affluence. According to the definition (by epmn) the reference is to Marie Antoinette's legendary phrase of "let them eat cake," which demonstrated her ignorance toward the plight of those without bread. (I remember my history professor once telling me that there's no evidence of her actually saying that.)

Good stuff. :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae?

Today's Word of the Day could spark some controversy between the two rival cities of Ithaca, New York and Two Rivers, Wisconsin. (Say what?) Apparently, both claim to be the birthplace of the ice cream sundae. I am no authority on the matter, so I'll just let our users duke it out to see if they can shine some light on this issue.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights?

According to the author of today's Word of the Day, this message appeared on a billboard decades back to signal a perceived exodus from Seattle after a string of layoffs at Boeing. This seems quite timely, as layoffs are occurring all over the country. Even the tech behemoth Microsoft has recently laid off thousands of employees. I wonder if this expression is becoming more common in the Seattle area as a result.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Word of the Day - Drinking City with a Football Problem

Apparently Buffalo is a drinking city with a football problem. While the sole definition for today's Word of the Day disparages the Buffalo Bills, it's not our official policy at City Dictionary to weigh in on subjective issues in sports. However, we do appreciate the self-deprecating humor and the insight the expression gives us. Not that it says anything definitively, but it might prompt us to delve deeper into Buffalo's unique language and culture. Before City Dictionary users got a hold of the Buffalo Dictionary, I didn't know about the city's Irish and Catholic heritage, or about the multicultural Upper West Side. Oh, and neither did I know that a single name (Tonawanda) could used for so many different adjacent towns, cities, and natural features.

This is all great stuff.

Related to today's Word of the Day: A quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem

Monday, May 18, 2009

Word of the Day - Annual Strike: New York, New York

Today's Word of the Day features a cultural phenomenon that appears to be quite common in New York: strike. OK, it's not just New Yorkers who strike, but only in a city of New York's size and economic importance are the implications of shutting down public services so grave.

Apparently, the strikes in New York are so frequent that they are considered annual.

Most people outside of New York can remember fights between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and Transport Workers Union, but apparently the strikes are not limited to the New York subway system. According to the author of today's Word of the Day, waste disposal services also shut down on a regular annual basis. The best time to do it: the middle of the summer when the politicians and the laypeople get to know the true value of their services. Yuck...

All this talk about New York reminds me of one of my favorite entries for the New York Dictionary. Apparently, there is a high positive correlation between the price of a slice of pizza and the price of a subway ticket in New York. I can't verify the merits of this "pizza-subway price correlation," but it sounds like a fascinating concept.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Word of the Day - Ho Chi Minh Trail: Madison, WI

Today's Word of the Day hits close to home, literally. I'm not from Vietnam, but I don't live too far from Bassett Street in Madison. I asked around today, and it's true: Bassett Street was nearly changed to "Ho Chi Minh Trail" in the 1970's in protest of the Vietnam War. This is yet another case that lends credibility to Madison's nickname of "The People's Republic of Madison" or "60 square miles surrounded by reality".

Of course, the folks at the Cap Times were quick to point out that their 77square blog boasts a more accurate reading of Madison's square mileage.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Word of the Day - Crick: Pittsburgh, PA

The crick pronunciation might be used in Pittsburgh, but it certainly isn't unique to the Steel City. Growing up in La Crosse, WI, I noticed older residents saying "crick" instead of "creek". It would be interesting to figure out where people say "crick" vs. "creek". That will have to be our next project.

Until tomorrow,

Tom from City Dictionary

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Word of the Day - Parish: New Orleans, LA

This is an interesting geographic tidbit from the state of Louisiana. "Parish" is the Louisianan term for "county". As the top definition points out, the Orleans Parish limits are the same as the New Orleans city limits:

"A parish is actually Louisiana speak for 'county'. The Orleans Parish shares the same boundaries as the New Orleans city limits, but other parishes within the state contain different cities and towns, just as counties do in other states."

Great stuff!

Speaking Wisconsin

This is perhaps one of the most hotly contested debates within the American English lexicon:

What do you call a carbonated beverage sweetened with either high fructose corn syrup or an artificial equivalent?

It's even difficult to ask the question without leading. We all have our own biases, and I would normally ask "what do you call soda?" or "what do you call soft drink?" But that's just because I find soft drink to be a pretty culture-neutral term and happen to say soda myself...or pop.

As a Madison-resident who grew up in La Crosse, a town on the far west end of Wisconsin, I have reason to be confused. I grew up using the term 'pop', which predominates on the west side of the state. However, after moving to Madison I realized that there's some disagreement within the state. People I met from the east side of the state, most of whom were from Milwaukee and the surrounding areas, would say soda. Also, people who were from outside the state (mostly from the coasts) tended to say 'soda'. After causing a raucous by merely uttering the word 'pop', I quickly learned to say soda to facilitate unfettered communication.

On the other hand, many people in Madison still say pop. Since many Madisonians are originally from the west side of the state--or from places in Illinois where pop is used--Madison is essentially split between 'soda' and 'pop'.

In order to settle this debate, we launched our new polling feature on the homepage with this question. We ask, "what is this?" alongside a can of Diet Cherry Pepsi, a can of 7up, and a can of Coca-Cola. The answer options are as follows:

  • Soda
  • Pop
  • Coke
  • Tonic
  • Soft Drink

I have my own ideas about which ones will predominate in each region of the US, but it's difficult to know for sure unless people vote. That's why we have our respondents input their zip code. After voting you can generate a state-by-state representation of current votes. We'll take a running tab of all votes. Over time we should have a good representation on this question, as well as other ones we're doing parallel to it.

So, check out the homepage and make your vote count!

Tom from City Dictionary