Egg Cream, Hoagie, Po Boy? Now You’re Speaking My Language Research

By James Lovejoy on September 14th 2016

Yet despite any scornful looks it might earn them, New Englanders are generally proud of their hometown lingo. And as it turns out, they are not alone.

In an extensive questioning of over six people at my marketing pod, each respondent reported several terms that were unique to their hometowns.

These terms ranged from the sensible (“bubbler” for “water fountain” – see the explanation below from Emily DePaoli’s blog on how to fit in in New England) to outlandish (“whoopty woo” means “etcetera etcetera”).

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-15-48-19

Eventually, any semblance of the English language was lost. The interviews were stopped after a lengthy struggle to define “jawn.” Surely, nobody actually said that.

But, working at a company that’s essentially based on language analytics, we decided to look into some of these terms ourselves to confirm firstly that they existed, and then find out where they were used, and who was speaking such parseltongue.

Here’s what we found.


The Major Food Groups

Obviously, food names are among the most important language disagreements.

Beginning with dairy based foods, it’s clear that the “Egg Cream,” a mixture of milk, carbonated water, and syrup, is a New York native.

In Vermont, and pretty much only Vermont, soft serve ice cream is playfully dubbed the “Creemee.”

When it comes to ice cream toppings, Massachusettians are liable to request “Jimmies” – what the rest of the English-speaking world knows as “sprinkles.”

Pennsylvanians will not falter to order the “hoagie,” also known as a sub, wedge, hero or grinder.

And of course, the “Po Boy” will always be a Louisiana classic.

Say What?

Yet the diversity of regional foods and food names are far more admissible than many other regional slang terms.

In the golden state of California, “hella” is used in place of “very.” The term may also be catching on in New York.

Of course, Massachusetts prefers “wicked” over “hella.”

Meanwhile, Texas holds a fairly strong monopoly on the verb “fixing to,” which translates to “intending to” or “meaning to.”

“Cattywampus,” used to describe something awry, wasn’t used that often, but when it was used it was likely in Georgia.

And Then There’s Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s local dialect is nothing less than impressive. Their slang is both unique and highly active.

Consider the term “yinz,” which means “you guys” according to Urban Dictionary. It’s not only frequently used, but also highly specific to Pennsylvania, with over 60% of its use coming from the northeastern state.

And of course, to make sure that no word goes un-slanged, Pennsylvania has coined “jawn,” which is essentially a catchall for anything.

Who Says That?

The most significant prerequisite for any of this slang is obviously one’s hometown. Yet we also found some differences across gender.

Namely, Yinz, Jawn and Cattywampus were predominantly male terms, while Creemee, Jimmies and Hella leaned female.

The Language Clash

As it turns out, these words are real. But more importantly, after seeing how they’re used it became clear people cared about these words, as they care about their upbringing.

Indeed, language is an important part of identity. Our slang is the culmination of the culture and environment around us. A classic example of this is Inuit and other northern cultures that have many specific terms for various types of snow.

As people interact, languages and slang spread. Social media is a hotbed for slang transfer – viral events, hashtags and memes spread within hours, creating a language that is almost illegible to those disconnected.

Ongoing analysis of slang may tell us more about our world than we realize. In two years, what other states will be using “jawn?” What states use similar slang and why? The answers to these questions may help us identify shared cultures.

We may never hear someone claim that “yinz jawn is hella cattywampus,” but the migration of local lingo will undoubtedly see some of these terms pop up in new places.

Prescriptivists,  those who adhere to strict language rules and regularly correct your grammar, will scoff, but social media has opened the floodgates to rapid language development. For those studying language, it’s a wicked exciting time.

Have any slang you’d like us to look into? Tweet @brandwatch or write in the comments below and we’ll look into it.

  • Jay J

    Great piece… Love it! As someone who’s lived in different regions, I’m a huge fan of dialects/slang/local linguistic quirks, but I was surprised the soda/coke/pop/tonic never popped up… Might be something for a follow up piece if you guys go that route.