Hello, SeERs. Mae here today to talk about something I never tire of discussing—regional dialect. I love books wherein an author paints their characters with distinctive speech patterns, colloquialisms, and accents. By the same token, a little goes a long way. I recall reading a novel set in Scotland where the constant use of brogue became such a distraction I couldn’t focus on the plot. It’s great to be authentic, but also important not to become so caught up in regional inflections and expressions that they bury the scene.
I’ve lived in south-central Pennsylvania my entire life. Surprisingly—unbeknownst to me—people from my region have an accent. Who knew? Apparently, the well-travelled can recognize a south-central Pennsylvania accent along with many of our favorite colloquialisms.
As an example . . .
We’re famous for tagging “a while” on expressions.
I’m going to ride my bike, awhile.
I’ll feed the cat, awhile.
I’m going to start the car, awhile.
Another word we like is “yet.”
Are you done, yet?
Is she ready to go, yet?
But least you think we’re all about adding words to our phrases, we’re also famous for omitting them.
My shirt needs ironed.
The car needs washed.
The lawn needs mowed.
In our thriftiness, we have completely eliminated the need for “to be” (i.e., My shirt needs to be ironed. The car needs to be washed.)
Then there is the Dutch influence in our vocabulary:
You need to red up your room.
Translation: You need to clean your room.
He’s out ramming around.
Translation: He’s running around.
A few other gems:
If I’m “sweeping the floor,” I’m not using a broom—I’m vacuuming. And then there are the everyday items. We drink sodas (not pop), go to the shore (not beach), eat hoagies (not subs) and drive on roads surfaced with macadam (not asphalt).
Odds are, if you’re not from PA, you’ll also have monumental trouble pronouncing Lancaster correctly (the city known for its Amish population). The correct pronunciation is Lang-kist-er, not Lan-CAST-er.
Finally, my mother would have told you if something was going well and you didn’t want to draw attention to it for fear it might go bad, you shouldn’t “faschnut” it.
Here’s a takeaway: until I started working with critique partners, I never realized the rest of the world added “to be” in sentences like “the laundry needs folded.” That was a real eye-opener for me and something that still makes me grin.
I enjoy adding color to dialogue when I’m writing certain characters, but not all of them require it. What about you? Do you use colloquialisms in your work? Sound off and let me hear some of the expressions you’ve used. I know south-central PA can’t be the only region with distinctive terms and phrases.
Ready, set, go!