Language grows and changes, often with some sort of epicenter. This week’s post takes a look at several words born in very specific spots.
In Maine in the 1830s, the word sumptuous gave birth to the word scrumptious, meaning splendidly stylish. Within fifty years scrumptious spread across the country and came to mean tasty & delicious.
Another Maine-born word that arrived in the 1870s is the regional term moxie, which was originally written with a capital letter, as it was the brand of a bitter beverage & patented medicine said to “build up the nerve”. It appears to have its roots in the Abenaki language, in which moxie meant dark water. These days moxie means both courage & intelligence.
The term jarheads arrived in English in 1979, & refers to US Marines. It's generally associated with the classic Marine haircut. Jarhead came to English in the state of Georgia in the 1920s, meaning mule. Connection?
Another word born in Georgia & its environs is juke. Today, juke generally appears as half of a compound word or paired words (jukebox, juke joint, jook organ). Originally, juke was considered so derogatory and inappropriate it was not used in polite society. It meant wicked, disorderly, nasty, & showed up in English in the 1930s. When juke was first associated with coin operated phonographs, the industry fought the association, fearing the negative image would hurt business. In time, though, the negative connotation was eclipsed by the magic of choosing one’s tunes at the diner.
Tump is used in the American South and means to turn over or knock down. Though nobody knows its etymological roots, it was first written down in England in 1589.
And those wild folk of Connecticut have the word bundling, which means to share a bed for the night with someone of the opposite sex, fully dressed. The term has been used since the 1780s & many stalwart, upstanding Connecticuters (yes, I looked it up) have defended the moral nature of the practice.
So good readers, what regional usages are you aware of in this wacky language?
Big thanks to this week’s sources:, Wordnik, Etymonline, Merriam Webster, & the OED.
Thanks to a phone call from Dennis Rogers of Pflugerville, Texas, I’ve been reminded of my interest in regional language use. This week’s brief post includes some examples I hope this taste will get you sorting through your memories for regional usage you can send my way for a future post.
Dinkum entered English n 1888, meaning hard work. Hailing from Australia, dinkum added the meaning honest & genuine by 1894. Though it may have its roots in Lincolnshire, nobody’s really sure where dinkum came from.
The Old English word for ant was æmete, which explains why in some parts of England ants are called emmets, Interestingly,holiday tourists in & around Cornwall are also known as emmets.
Swivet appears to have come from the Kentucky environs in at late 1800s and nobody’s sure about its roots. A swivet is a fluster, a confusion. A related idiom is “Don’t get your knickers in a swivet.”
May your week find you avoiding emmets & swivets of all kinds, enjoying good company (most likely virtual) and good food (hopefully not virtual), & getting a restful respite from dinkum (first meaning).
In the meantime, please send any regional words, idioms or turns of phrase my way.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Suko’s Notebook, Wordnik, Etymonline & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.