Word of the Week – doodlebug

Just a few choice words allow linguists to pinpoint where you (and your characters) are from. Take ten minutes for the old New York Times quiz at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/12/20/sunday-review/dialect-quiz-map.html. It’s fun.

But the linguists don’t know everything. The Cambridge Online Survey of World English gives several multiple choice answers for the question, “What do you call the little gray (or black or brown) creature (that looks like an insect but actually is a crustacean) that rolls up into a ball when you touch it?” Everyone in my neighborhood knows that’s a doodlebug, but the experts didn’t give us that choice. They claim that 43% of the U.S. call it a roly poly (or some spelling of those syllables) and another 15% call it a pill bug. Okay. Those are descriptive. But potato bug? Sow bug? No. I like doodlebug, although, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, some people give that name to the larvae of the ant lion.

Do Houstonians have a southern accent? Well, folks here won’t say “youse guys” unless they’re mimicking a gangster movie, and everyone knows the plural of y’all is “all y’all.” Like New Orleans, we call that sandwich a poor boy, not a hoagie. I thought the term crawdad was part of that affiliation with the Big Easy, but apparently, in Louisiana that critter is a crawfish.

Some terms are, however, unmistakable. You’ll  know you’re in the deep, deep south if someone offers a variety of sweetened carbonated drinks with the announcement, “We have four kinds of coke: Pepsi, 7Up, ginger ale and root beer.” Don’t ask if they have any pop.