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A survey of 350,000 Americans was used to map out terms and pronunciations unique to certain areas.

Elisabeth Sherman
July 20, 2017

If you’ve traveled around the United States, or met just about anyone from a different state, you’ve probably noticed that not everyone in this great country of ours speaks the same language. There are many different so-called regionalisms for the same object, different pronunciations (pecan comes to mind), and different ways of addressing other people. The most obvious example is of course the familiar Southern phrase, “ya’ll” used to address a group of people, whereas the rest of the country sticks the contraction's expanded version, “you guys.”

Some of your fellow Americans call athletic footwear tennis shoes while others, refer to them as sneakers. Did you think trash can was a universal phrase? Not really: Many people call this object, appropriately, the garbage can. And there are also plenty of these regionalisms that are related to food.

The Josh Katz surveyed 350,000 Americans for his book Speaking American to determine who speaks what version of English across the country, and published some of the results in Reader’s Digest.

Here are three food-related “Americanisms” Katz discovered.

Carbonated Drinks:

On the West Coast and in New England, people are more likely to say "soda," whereas in some parts of the South, people say "Coke" or "Coca-Cola" to refer to any type of carbonated beverage. You’ll likely hear "pop" in states like North Dakota and Minnesota.

Where the public can get a drink of water:

The Southwest and the entire West Coast calls these objects "drinking fountains." The rest of the world calls it a "water fountain," but there some very small pockets of New England and Wisconsin that refer to a drinking station by the charming little term, “bubbler.”

The pronunciation of caramel:

The vast majority of the United States pronounces caramel with two syllables (kar-mel), but in the upper reaches of New England and in the Southern United States, it’s pronounced with three (care-uh-mel).