It may be just one nation, but the United States has proved once again that it is a wonderfully diverse country, with different states developing their own unique dialects that aren’t understood by the rest of the continent.
The majority of Americans (41%) claim that their state has specific words or slang that they think (or know) people from outside their state wouldn’t understand. We put this to the test and found out they were right!
We asked people from all 52 states if they knew the meaning of the words below, and the results show how different and confusing American slang can be:
- A Ripper Time: When asked what people thought the New Jersey term ‘Ripper’ meant, 44% thought it was used to describe a good time, with only 14% knowing it’s real meaning – a hotdog! A further 9% thought it might be a type of urban music and Californians had never heard of it, not even hazarding a guess.
- Listening to the Hyphy: ‘Hyphy’ actually refers to form of urban music, which was coined in California. When we asked the US public if they had heard of the word, only 21% identified it correctly. 34% thought it was a type of sound system, with some people thought it was slang for a hotdog, or even money
- Battle for the Bubbler: There are many words and phrases that multiple states claim they came up with, which are often hotly disputed between neighbour states, and sometimes even those across the country. For example, Rhode Islanders claim to be the first to have called a water fountain a ‘bubbler’, but this word was also claimed in our survey by Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin! While our research showed that Rhode Island can most likely lay claim to the term, the true battle for ownership will likely continue to rage on for generations.
Language is Awesome!
While our research threw up a few arguments over ownership of obscure words, it also threw the most easily understood US words into sharp relief. It should come as no surprise that ‘Awesome’ is the most easily understood word in America, with the current slang meaning having originated in California. Washington DC, however, used the word the most, with 75% of respondents claiming to use it on a daily basis – this also contributed to Washington’s status as the state using the most positive language.
On the other side of the coin, natives of North Dakota, Vermont and New Hampshire use the word ‘awesome’ little or not at all, contributing to their ranking as some of the most linguistically isolated states in the US. However, the crown for most troubled with their language goes to Kansas, with over 72% of respondents claiming those from other states couldn’t understand them.
In total, natives of Alaska both claimed they could identify, and correctly identified, the most words out of any state. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, considering that 60% of those surveyed had travelled to other states beside their own, giving them a great grounding in other American dialects. Vermont and Rhode Island were joint second place for understood words, and also had the second and third highest travel rates respectively, effectively proving that interstate travel can improve interstate communication like nothing else!
To shine a light on the weirdest words in the American language, PlayNJ have mapped out the best slang from every state in the USA, from ‘pre-funking’ in Washington, to ‘fudgies’ in Michigan. Whether you fancy your chances as a well-travelled linguist, or are just wondering what’s so weird about Kansas, you can also test your slang knowledge for yourself in the accompanying quiz.