Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Spendy Language

Does "spendy" mean anything to you? What do you keep on your "tree lawn"? If you're interested tracking dialects, try this site and add your own voice to the findings. (Click on the English dialect survey button at the top left.) Vaux, a professor of linguistics in the Department of Foreign Languages and Linguistics at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, developed the survey while at Harvard. And yes, Vaux's picture blinks on his web site.

Some time back, a discussion about regionalisms broke out on the ACES discussion board. One of the people weighing in was John Russial , an associate professor at the school of journalism and communication at the University of Oregon.

Here's what John, said back in 2002:
It's always fun to look at specific regionalisms. In Pennsylvania, for example, I remember hearing "soda" east of the Appalachians and "pop" west of the ridges. It's a supermarket "bag" in Philadelphia and "sack" in Pittsburgh. On the more general issue, Is it best to follow local option in usage, or should papers throughout the country strive for more common ground? Does it depend on the situation?

Many reporters and editors in Oregon, for example, think nothing of using the "word" spendy as a synonym for expensive. It even appears in headlines. It makes me cringe. When I point out to my students that, according to the dictionary, "spendy" is at best a regionalism and that it would never make it through a copy desk in the Northeast, they can't believe it. They've used it all their lives.

This isn't an earthshaking matter, but it is a potentially bigger issue these days, when news Web sites are available nation- and worldwide and when locally written stories find their way through news services into faraway places. I've noticed a related issue on small-market TV news shows, when reporters who have come from someplace else use regionalisms that are not local to a market. There may even be a bit of a credibility issue involved. If you use words uncommon to a region, does it call your credibility into question a little bit? If you freely use regionalisms, does it show that you're a part of your community? Or could it limit your audience in some way? Does it depend on the context of the writing--a local column, say, vs. a straight news story, a story of only regional interest vs. one that might live elsewhere? There's a great deal of local option, and local color, in language throughout the country. Should local media preserve that color?

When I looked up "spendy" at, I got this:
No entry found for spendy.
Did you mean spend?

And, of course, there's the great soda vs. pop debate.

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