Dialect maps have been a standard research tool for linguists and philologists for a long time, but it’s becoming much easier to compile them. Now you can build yourself a nice website and let other people do the work for you. Of course you need some people to visit your site, so it helps if you get the New York Times to write about it. Harvard Linguistics Professor Bert Vaux has built just such a site, loaded with questions that geographically pin you down as a speaker of English in North America, automatically mapping the result. These questions include the venerable Soda vs. pop? and more than a hundred others. It makes for fascinating browsing.
Some of the maps are disappointing because you expect to see a more dramatic demarcation. I expect, for example, waiting in line vs. waiting on line to show a big “waiting on line” region around New York City and New Jersey. It doesn’t.
Some of the maps are very satisfying. I live in the land of the rotary, and if you look at this map you’ll see exactly where that is: rotary vs. traffic circle. I was surprised how often New England was the strongly contrasting region (see the maps for Aunt Mary vs. Ahhnt Mary and sneakers vs. tennis shoes). This suggests that New England doesn’t mix much with the rest of the country.
Finally we come to doughnuts vs. whipping shitties (i.e. driving around in circles). This latter seems to be exclusive to Minnesota and Wisconsin. Can this be real, or is the good professor being hacked? Hmmmm…. you know, where I grew up we referred to flatulence as “looking for Mr. Goodbar” or “chatting with the Vice President.” If you “remember” this too, why don’t you join me in telling Professor Vaux? It could really put us on the map. Or we could just grab a beer and whip some shitties together.
I’ll close with a question of my own: have you ever referred to a wool hat as a toboggan? I did when I was growing up (North Carolina), but people in Massachusetts think this is a hilariously funny indication of mental deficiency.