The United States is a land of diverse accents and localized vernacular, albeit less so these days. You might not even realize the extent of American linguistic diversity if you spend all of your time on the internet, where language has been homogenizing at a rapid clip. But the country is still full of regional words that you’ll only hear in this neck of the woods versus that one — a testament to the variety of dialects that once colored the American tapestry.
The interesting thing about America’s regional words is that they so often come from other languages — or, in some cases, English dialects that are underrepresented. For instance, at one point in Louisiana, you could have asked someone for a spare “escalin,” or a coin worth twelve and a half cents. This word had a complicated history, likely deriving from Dutch into Spanish into Louisiana French. Traveling over to the Southwest, some English speakers still refer to the stove as an “estufa,” which is what it’s called in Spanish.
To celebrate the rich blend of influences that have contributed to the development of American English, Babbel has teamed up with the Dictionary of American Regional English to come up with a list of endangered regional words we can all learn about, appreciate and work into our everyday speech in order to keep these traditions alive. Many of these words are believed to still be in use by a handful of speakers in the United States. Although you could probably argue that there’s a reason very few people use “escalin” anymore, most of these words have some mileage left in them. Perhaps it really is, after all, up to us to make “fetch” happen.
Below, you’ll find our compilation of endangered American vernacular and our linguistic take on its foreign-language etymology. This list comprises 10 terms from across the nation, representing the varied global influences on American history and language.
America’s Endangered Regional Words And Their Etymologies
Chiefly Western U.S.
An eggshell filled with confetti used as a party decoration, especially during Easter. From the Spanish cascarón, meaning “eggshell,” and cascar, meaning “to crack.”
An ant. From the Old English ǣmete, meaning “ant,” which developed into the Middle English emete.
Twelve and one-half cents, or “bit.” Predominantly used in the expression “six escalins,” meaning “six bits” (75 cents). It is said to trace back to the Dutch schelling, borrowed into Spanish and then adopted into Louisiana French during Spanish rule.
Chiefly Southwestern U.S.
A stove or a room with a stove. From the Spanish estufa, meaning “stove,” which in the Southwest originally referred to a room in a Puebloan dwelling. Probably borrowed from the Ancient Greek τῦφος (tûphos), meaning “smoke” or “steam.”
Paltry, insignificant or foolish, simple-minded. Via Ulster Scots, apparently a variant of 18th-century English foughty, meaning “musty.”
Chiefly Northeastern U.S.
A hoop rolled by children. From the Dutch hoepel, an extended form of earlier Dutch hoep, which is a cognate with the English “hoop.”
Chiefly Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota
One who goes in costume from house to house between Christmas and New Year’s seeking treats of food and drink. From the Norwegian julbocken, meaning “Yule goat,” a popular Scandinavian symbol of Christmas. Likely derives from Pagan worship of the Norse god Thor, whose chariot was drawn by two goats.
A deep-fried doughnut. From the Dutch oliekoek, meaning “oil cake.” These were essentially balls of dough fried in fat, which arrived in Manhattan with Dutch immigrants in the 18th century.
Cute, charming. From 16th-century Scottish Gaelic sonas, meaning “good fortune.”
A tub used to store food. Via Pennsylvania German from the standard German Ständer, meaning a “stand” of various sorts, such as a coat stand, an umbrella stand, a candle holder, etc.