In advertising and PR classes, we define audiences for our messages, and one way we identify them is by region of the country. You might ask – and we do in class – why WHERE you live makes a difference in HOW you receive and interpret information.
Despite the fact that we’re one, big, happy country and allegedly all speak English, the truth is that we can’t agree on a common, national name for some products or events or activities. So it’s a challenge to create a message that’s right for everyone. (And the wise person doesn’t. S/he writes specifically to the audience, which often means varying copy regionally.)
When you go to the store (grocery/market), do you get a buggy (shopping cart) when you walk in? If you’re thirsty, what kind of coke do you want? (A real Coke? Or Dr Pepper/7-UP/Pepsi)? Or do you ask for a soft drink (pop? soda?) The answer is, it all depends on where you live. Do they “pass a good time” in Iowa? Does anyone “make groceries” in Oregon?
A team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is writing a Dictionary of American Regional English. In this fabulous new resource, “words and phrases used in distinct regions” are listed in their various forms. Do you know what they call poboys in some places? (The answer is submarine sandwiches/heroes/grinders.)
Collecting the 75,000 entries for the dictionary wasn’t easy. It took five years to gather 2.5 million different words and phrases. (According to the AP story I read, some Southerners didn’t take kindly to being asked so many questions and chased the linguists out of town.)
What a help this is going to be for those of us who regularly say “fixing to” when writing copy for folks who might ask, “Is it broken?”