16 August 2019

Where Can I Find a Bubbler?

Speaking American
*How Y'all, Youse, and You Guys Talk.
A Visual Guide
Josh Katz
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
203 pages

This book delves into regional differences in the terms we use in everyday American English, colorfully mapping the variations. And since the book is oversized, 10" x 9.5", it makes for maps that are easily read.

Some differences in terminology are widely known, such as the terms for canvas shoes with rubber soles: Tennis shoes, sneakers, or gym shoes. Apparently where I grew up, Milwaukee, and where I live now, Cincinnati, are both in a tiny minority of gym shoe users. Some I knew about but I didn't know all the options: Italian sandwich, sub, hoagie, grinder, hero, or wedge. Wedge?

The maps are accompanied by discussions about the words, sometimes a history of a term, or other interesting information about how and why we don't all speak alike. In addition there are paragraphs about many individual states with the flavor of "if you say this - then you are from here".

As someone who spent their first 30 years in Wisconsin, the overall summary of its words didn't quite ring true to me, but most of the Milwaukee area's verbal tics seen on the maps seemed spot on. First up, we do pronounce the state as Wi-scon'-sin not Wis-con'-sin.  When I lived in Washington, D.C., someone actually tried to correct how I pronounced "Wisconsin Avenue"! I told them that as a Wisconsinite, I said it correctly by default.

Although most of the US and Wisconsin call the tiny, sugary bits topping cupcakes "sprinkles", those of us from the Milwaukee area lean toward "jimmies" along with a lot of New Englanders. Our most famous word is probably "bubbler". You know, that porcelain fixture where you can get a drink of water? Sure, the rest of you know it as a "water fountain" or a "drinking fountain", but in most of Wisconsin (and a tiny part of Rhode Island) it's a "bubbler".

The most surprising thing for me was that there are different ways to pronounce the word "crayons". It can be krey'-awns, krey'-ahns, krowns, or krans. Turns out our "krans" is mostly found in the Milwaukee area, large swaths of Michigan and Minnesota, and the Buffalo area of New York state. My parents lived in Wisconsin and Michigan, and my mom was from Buffalo. So interesting!

This is a fun and informative read, with more visuals than words. If you are at all curious about words and language, you would enjoy this book.


  1. I read this book some time ago. One that I really enjoyed was lightning bugs vs fire flies! An interesting and thought provoking read.

    1. Yes, I liked that example, too. We didn't call them much of anything, because we didn't have them in my Milwaukee suburb!

  2. My dad was from Louisiana, my mom from Pennsylvania, and I was born in Texas. I think I need this book to settle some arguments!

    1. LOL! I think you would enjoy this book. It's a quick read because of all the full-page colorful maps. And I learned a lot about my vocabulary.