Some Very Ohio Phrases I Use That You Probably Don't (Unless You're From Here, Too)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Longtime readers of this blog may remember the days, not actually so long ago, when I resided in the states of New Hampshire & New Jersey for about a year & a half apiece. I like to joke that not everyone at the Shore spoke like Snooki, but that in the Boston area really did sound like extras in The Departed.

I've long been fascinated by both regional accents & lexicons - the things we say & the way we sound when we say them. Everyone in Northeast Ohio grew up hearing that national newscasters are taught to speak like they're from here because we have neutral accents - but after more than half a decade spent outside the Buckeye State, I've been brought down a few pegs. People think I talk funny, & I do not like it.

People from Northern Ohio, including Cleveland, Akron, & Toledo, speak a dialect that experts call "inland north," which the Columbus Dispatch describes as "a dialect in which vowels often are 'shifted.' For example, the word 'trap' can sound a little like 'tree-ap.'" This looks ridiculous on paper, but when I whispered this sentence aloud... yeah, that's how I say it. In college, when I moved from Northeast Ohio to Southern Ohio, my Columbus friends regularly teased me for the way I pronounced words like "mom," "class," & "crockpot." We call it the Akron A.

I'm equally fascinated by regional dialect - words & phrases that are completely different depending on where you live. I started calling pop "soda" when I moved to D.C. so I wouldn't get funny looks, & now that I'm home, it's tough to switch back. I play sports in tennis shoes, I get water out of a drinking fountain, & I put my groceries in a shopping cart - all terms that are different across the country.

Here are a few phrasings that are particular to this area, or at least ones I've gotten flack for saying outside of Ohio. I'd be curious to hear: Do you use any of these? What do you say instead?

1. "Parking deck"

A conversation with one of my best friends, a native of Canada/D.C./LA, made me feel like a total crazy person awhile back when he was looking for a place to park his car & I said I was sure there was a deck nearby. He was like, "What is that?" & I was so confused by his confusion that I couldn't even figure out what he was asking me about. Like... a parking deck, duh? Right? No? Apparently that's not a widespread term.

Wikipedia (the best source ever, obvs) says this term is most widely used in the South, but a Google search tells me that "parking deck" must be pretty commonly used in Akron. Yesterday, as I was leaving a restaurant in my hometown & walking to my car, I realized that the parking structure even had a big sign on it: "PARKING DECK." The Internet tells me that "parking garage" is a more common term, & I do use that, but I always considered a deck to be, like, a smaller-scale parking garage.

2. "The ___ needs ___ed"

One of my more embarrassing moments was when I sent an email to coworkers with the subject line "This document needs edited!" At lunch that day, one of them commented on how ironic it was that my email about editing contained such an egregious grammatical error itself. I... had no idea what she was talking about. "You're joking, right?" she asked, "You're better at grammar than anyone I know."

My coworkers made fun of me pretty hard for it, & I was mortified. Apparently the correct phrasing is, for example, "This document needs editing" or "The document needs to be edited" but I, a communications professional with a journalism degree, had no idea I was I'd been saying it wrong my whole life: The lawn needs mowed, the house needs painted, the dishes need washed... I can't find much, officially, about why we do this, but Internet forums confirm that it's a thing (see these threads on Reddit & Yelp). I even saw it on job descriptions back when I was applying for communications jobs back in 2010!

3. "Calling hours"

I first learned that this wasn't an everywhere-term during a text conversation with a friend who's born & bred in New York City. "Is it appropriate to wear a sleeveless blouse to calling hours?" I asked in the middle of summer, & she responded, "I could answer this better if I knew what calling hours were."

Calling hours happen in the day or two before a funeral, a time when people can "call" upon the family of the person who's died. They take place at the funeral home, like an open house for condolences. I guess that in other places, this is known as a "viewing," but that seems really... body-centric, & most of the calling hours I've been to do not have the body of the deceased on display - just, like, photos & flowers. Others seem to call it a "wake," but that seems like a really religious term, no?

I don't know. It's always been calling hours to me. And unfortunately, I've been to a lot of them. And no, I didn't wear the sleeveless blouse. And yes, I was the sweatiest.

4. "Devil strip"

You probably don't have a name for this. You probably call it "That piece of grass between the sidewalk & the curb," though apparently some places refer to it as a "planting strip," "parking strip," "nature strip." Most of Ohio actually calls it a "tree lawn," but in the Akron area, in particular, we call it the "Devil strip." Where does the term come from? There's lots of debate, but seemingly no agreement. There's even a local arts & culture paper called The Devil Strip, a term so hyperlocal that it didn't even make it into the New York Times dialect quiz.

In writing this post, I came across this 2003 Dialect Survey from Harvard, the results of which are available by state. It was pretty fascinating to read through it & find that my answers match almost entirely with the Ohio results - & that some of the options chosen by others are terms I've never even heard of. For example, when it's snowy out & you spin your car in a parking lot for fun? We call that "doing donuts," but apparently somewhere else, it's referred to as "whipping shitties" - one of the funniest terms I've ever heard.

And now that I'm writing it down, doing donuts seems like a pretty Midwestern activity, anyway...

So tell me: What do you call these things? Are there any phrases that you say that other don't, or phrases that other people say that amuse you? I love this stuff!

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