Survey highlights Idahoans' dialect preferences

Idaho StatesmanDecember 25, 2013 

The New York Times this week invited online readers to take a quiz meant to point out differences in the way people residing in different sections of the United States pronounce certain words or use different words to say the same thing.

The quiz was based on a 2003 survey conducted by researchers at Harvard University studying regional dialects.

One of the questions, for instance asked people whether they refer to carbonated soft drinks as "pop," "soda," "coke" or "soft drink." Of the 82 people surveyed from Idaho, a small sample to be sure, 60 percent reported using "pop," followed by 31 percent who say "soda," 4 percent who use "soft drink" and 3 percent who say "coke," which could refer to a product of the Coca Cola company or another pop.

Boise resident Calvin Chelellakl Marshall said he's used both "pop" and "soda."

"(I) used to call it "pop" as a kid," he wrote on the Statesman's Facebook page. "Now "pop" sounds funny because I got used to calling it "soda."

Dawn Reason Dunn, whose profile does not list a hometown, said the use of "pop" defines people.

"I work in a grocery store, and you can tell who is a local when you ask how many "pops" they have. People who are not from the area have no idea what you're talking about," she wrote.

Fifty-eight percent of the Idaho respondents pronounce caramel with two syllables. Eighteen percent use three syllables, while 20 percent use both interchangeably.

My grandparents worked on a ranch in Ola, north of Emmett, and ate their main meal of the day at noon. They called it dinner. In the early evening, they ate a lighter meal that typically required no cooking, which during the summer kept the house from heating up even more.

In the Harvard survey, 45 percent of the Idaho respondents said they did not refer to any meal as "supper." Thirty-one percent said they used "dinner" and "supper" interchangeably. Only 5 percent still followed the custom of my grandparents, with dinner at noon and supper an evening meal.

"I say dinner, never supper. I even call lunch dinner sometimes if I've made a large meal," wrote Joni Bale.

Forty-one percent of the Idahoans surveyed referred to cranking the wheel hard on a car and turning in a tight circle as spinning "doughnuts." Thirty-eight percent cut "cookies."

Emmett resident Victoria Eades said she's used both terms.

"So I guess it depends on my mood at the moment," she wrote.

Nearly 88 percent of those surveyed refer to something diagonally as being "kitty-corner." Only 5 percent call it "katty-corner. Nearly 4 percent said they didn't have a term for that.

"I grew up in California and never heard 'kitty-corner' until moving to Utah and then also in idaho," wrote Boise resident Jennifer Delahunt Sanders.

When asked what they call the box used to bury a dead person, 72 percent said they called it a coffin. Fourteen percent said they called it a casket and 11 percent said a coffin and casket are different and they knew the difference.

According to the Florida Department of Financial Services, a coffin resembles the shape of a human body and has six or eight sides. A casket, on the other hand, is a rectangle with four sides.

Thirty-six percent of those surveyed prefer "rout" in pronouncing the word "route." Only 22 percent say "root." However, 31 percent say they can pronounce it either way.

One distinct Idaho term wasn't included in the survey: barrow pit. The description of the ditch at the side of the road is most commonly used in Idaho and Utah. In more than 25 years of asking people in western Oregon if they were familiar with that term, only one person said he had heard of it. But he wasn't sure what it meant.

The New York Times survey, found at, creates a map based on your answers showing which part of the country your dialect matches.

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