English may be the official language of the United States, but each of its 50 states prides itself on having its own colloquialisms. So, where did all these variations in American English originate? With its melting pot heritage, America boasts a multiplicity of languages and cultures. That cultural mix has resulted in some interesting twists on everyday words. Traveling through the continental states anytime soon? Here are seven slang words you should know about before you head out.
Where you'll hear it: Mostly in Maine, but you may encounter it throughout the Northeastern United States.
What it means: "Ayuh" is a way of saying "yes" or indicating your agreement to a statement, according to Visit Maine. Maine author Stephen King helped popularize this bit of regional slang. King set many of his stories in fictional Maine towns. He even gave his characters real Maine accents. His books helped introduce readers to Maine expressions like "ayuh" and "cah" (car).
Where you'll hear it: Wisconsin
What it means: If you're thirsty, you'll head for the bubbler. That's a drinking fountain or water fountain in Wisconsin.
Accordingly, Wisconsin's NPR station, WUMW, investigated the origins of the term. However, it turns out that no one really knows where the word came from. There was a theory that the word came from the Kohler company, but that's been largely debunked. The story goes that one Harlan Huckleby created the bubbler in 1888, and his employer, Kohler Water Works (now Kohler Company), patented his invention.
However, there's no record of an employee at Kohler by that name. Additionally, the company doesn't hold a patent for the invention of the bubbler.
The best theory going about the word's origin involves the water jugs used in one-room schoolhouses. Those jugs resembled modern-day water dispensers; schoolchildren called them "bubblers" at the time. The name may have carried over to modern use. Ironically, Kohler does make bubblers today. They're just called drinking fountains.
Where you'll hear it: All throughout the Southern United States.
What it means: If someone tells you your tie looks a bit cattywampus, you'll need to straighten it up. "Cattywampus" is a Southern term meaning "off" or "askew."
You may also see the word spelled as "caddywampus," although there's no consensus as to which is the right spelling. That's probably because the origins of the word are pretty much unknown. According to The Etymology Nerd, it may have come from the Scottish word "wampish," which roughly translates to "twist." The "catty" part may have been derived from the term "catty corner" (diagonally across). However, no one really knows the truth, despite the word being around for more than 200 years.
Where you'll hear it: New Jersey primarily, although you can sometimes hear it in New York, as well.
What it means: You'll want to know the meaning of this one if you're feeling hungry in New Jersey. That's because "gabagool" is what some New Jersey residents call Italian capicola, a smoked pork shoulder cut. You'll find capicola on the menu when you order deli sandwiches in New York City. Capicola sandwiches are often paired with mozzarella or provolone cheese.
So, how did "capicola" become "gabagool"? According to Esquire, it's largely through the process of handing down spoken language from one generation to the next. "Gabagool" can be termed a language anachronism. It's basically what first-generation American kids heard when their Italian elders ordered capicola. Today, the term "gabagool" is cemented in Italian-American culture and can be heard on shows such as The Sopranos.
Where you'll hear it: In and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What it means: You can throw the word "jawn" in for about any noun and be perfectly understood in Philadelphia. That's because "jawn" is a catch-all slang term for a person, place, or thing.
The AV Club notes that the loose meaning of the word may be confusing to visitors. By all indications, however, the word likely originated from New York City, not Philadelphia. "Jawn" probably comes from the slang term "joint." The latter is an informal term to describe a dining establishment, as in, "That's a good burger joint." When the word "joint" came to Philly, it became "jawn," where it became a part of local speech.
Where you'll hear it: Massachusetts mainly, although it's common throughout New England.
What it means: If someone tells you they are running to the packie, it's likely to cause confusion if you aren't a New England native. However, go ahead and put in your beer order, because packie is what New Englanders (and those from Massachusetts) call the liquor store.
You may also see this one spelled "packy," but it means the same thing. According to the Daily Meal, it's a shortened form of the phrase "package store." Residents called liquor stores "package stores," thanks to laws passed after Prohibition. Buyers had to wrap everything purchased in liquor stores; they couldn't display their purchases publicly. Officials later lifted the package laws, but the shortened term stuck around.
Where you'll hear it: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
What it means: Yinz is a version of the more well-known slang term "y'all." Basically, "yinz" is a Pittsburgh resident's way of saying "you ones" or "you all." According to the Steel City News, there's some debate about whether this slang word is "yinz" or "yunz." It can be either, depending upon whom you ask.
The slang term likely originated from the Irish settlers who came to the area in the 19th century. According to popular belief, they used the term "you ones" to indicate a group of people. That eventually shortened to "yinz."