Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

Midway through John Steinbeck’s epic novel “TheGrapes ofWrath” young Ivy observes, “Ever’body says words different. Arkansas folks says ’em different, and Oklahomy folks says ’em different. And we seen a lady from Massachusetts, an’ she said ’em differentest of all. Couldn’t hardly make out what she was sayin’.”

One aspect of American rugged individualism is that not all of us say the same word in the same way. Sometimes we don’t even use the same name for the same object.

I was born and grew up in Philadelphia a coon’s age, a blue moon and a month of Sundays ago— when Hector was a pup. Phillufia , orPhilly , which is what we kids called the city, was where the epicurean delight made with cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions stuffed into a long, hardcrusted Italian bread loaf sliced lengthwise was invented.

The creation of that sandwich took place in the Italian pushcart section of the city, known as Hog Island. Some linguists contend that it was but a short leap from Hog Island to hoagie, while others claim that the label

hoagie arose because only a hog had the appetite or the technique to eat one properly.

Asa young adult I moved to northern New England ( N’Hampsha , to be specific), where the same sandwich designed to be a meal in itself is called a grinder— because you need a good set of grinders to chew them. But my travels around the United States have revealed that the hoagie or grinder is called at least a dozen other names — a bomber, Garibaldi (after the Italian liberator), hero, Italian sandwich, rocket, sub, submarine (which is what we call it here in California), torpedo, wedge, wedgie, zep and, in the deep South, a poor-boy (usually pronounced poh-boy).

In Phillufia, we washed our hoagies down with soda. In New England we did it with tonic, and by that word I don’t mean medicine. Soda and tonic in other parts are known as pop, soda pop, a soft drink, Coke and quinine.

In northern New England, they take the term milk shake quite literally. To many residing in that little corner of the country, a milk shake consists of milk mixed with flavored syrup— and nothing more — shaken up until foamy. If you live in Rhode Island or in southern Massachusetts and you want ice cream in your milk drink, you ask for a cabinet(named after the square wooden cabinet in which the mixer was encased). If you live farther north, you order a velvet or a frappe (from the French frapper , “to ice”).

Clear— or is it clean?— or is it plumb?— across the nation, Americans sure do talk “different.”

What do you call those flat, doughy things you often eat for breakfast— battercakes, flannel cakes, flapjacks, fritters, griddle cakes or pancakes?

Is that simple strip of grass between the street and the sidewalk a berm, boulevard, boulevard strip, city strip, devil strip, green belt, the parking, the parking strip, parkway, sidewalk plot, strip, swale, tree bank or tree lawn?

Is the part of the highway that separates the northbound lanes from the southbound lanes the centerline, center strip, mall, medial strip, median strip, medium strip or neutral ground?

Is it a cock horse, dandle, hicky horse, horse, horse tilt, ridy horse, seesaw, teeter, teeterboard, teetering board, teetering horse, teeter-totter, tilt, tilting board, tinter, tinter board or tippity bounce?

Do fisherpersons employ an angledog, angleworm, baitworm, earthworm, eaceworm, fishworm, mudworm, rainworm or redworm? Is a larger worm a dew worm, night crawler, nightwalker or town worm?

Is it a crabfish, clawfish, craw, crawdab, crawdad, crawdaddy, crawfish, crawler, crayfish, creekcrab, crowfish, freshwater lobster, ghost shrimp, mudbug, spiny lobster or yabby?

Depends where you live and who or whom it is you’re talking to.

I figger, figure, guess, imagine, opine, reckon and suspect that my being bullheaded, contrary, headstrong, muley, mulish, ornery, otsny, pigheaded, set, sot, stubborn or utsy about this whole matter of dialects makes you sick to, in or at your stomach.

But I assure you that, when it comes to American dialects, I’m not speaking fahdoodle, flumaddiddle, flummydiddle or flurriddiddle; translation: nonsense. I’m no all-thumbs-and-nofingers, all-knees-and-elbows, all-leftfeet, antigoddling, bumfuzzled, discombobulated, flusterated or foozled bumpkin, clodhopper, country jake, hayseed, hick, hillbilly, hoosier, jackpine savage, mossback, mountainboomer, pumpkin-husker, rail-splitter, rube, sodbuster, stump farmer, swamp angel, yahoo or yokel.