Lingo is Just as Important as Location in Your Writing


harvard yard lingo

Source: Google Images/spreadshirt.com

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of references for Boston, MA (not unusual since I’m planning to move home soon and it’s always on my mind) and it got me thinking about the lingo (aka slang) in our American English and how it differs depending on where one lives. In a previous post I discussed the importance of weather to set scenes and overall stories; for characters, it’s vital for writers to research the local vernacular where scenes will be set. Just as important is the time period in which the story or scene takes place and research in this area is integral to getting the right feel for both the character dialogue and setting.

For Example…

In Massachusetts, those tiny candy sprinkles you put on cones are not sprinkles, they’re ‘jimmies.’ A ‘packie’ is a liquor store and anything you like is ‘wicked’ (very, really) good. ‘Dungarees’ are blue jeans and I called them that through the 70s. Having lived out here in the western part of the U.S. for so long I have finally replaced ‘grinder’ (pronounced ‘grindah’) with ‘sub’ (which I will stop as soon as I get home). A remote control is a ‘clicker’ (pronounced “click-ah”). But I refuse to refer to soda as ‘pop’ as it’s just plain silly. 

In Chicago, they eat ‘haht dahgs’ not hot dogs; ‘frunchroom’ is the front room or a room used for entertaining. They call soda ‘pop’ and ‘the’ becomes ‘da’ as in ‘Da Bears’ (football). In Texas and other parts of the south, ‘dad gum it’ and ‘ya’ll’ are popular. Smaller towns will have their own slang words, different from bigger cities. When possible, it’s a good idea to travel to these places to meet some of the people who live there to get an idea of what life is like for them.

No Time Like the Present… or Past…

Time periods are representative of language current to that time. In the ‘roaring 20s’ words like ‘copper’ (police), ‘bee’s knees’ (extraordinary person, thing or idea) and ‘behind the eight ball’ are just a few slangs made popular by 20s-era gangs, flappers and prohibitionists. A good international example is Shanghai. At one time, in the early-mid 20th century, Shanghai was so dangerous that the slang ‘shanghai’ meant to kidnap (and still does).

Writing this post helped me realize that the dialogue in my fiction stories is not location-centric. This means I need to research the local lingo based on where my stories are set. Funny how that happens – one minute I have an idea for a blog post and next thing you know I’m thinking about what I missed in my own writing. Sometimes we learn as we go, I guess.

Isn’t that a ‘wicked pissah.’wink #authorsoninstagram #writers #languages #englishlanguage #fictionwriters #mysterywriters #boston #slangwords #writersoninstagram #saturdaystories #amwriting #bookworm #grammarnazi #blogger #creativity #writerslife

2 thoughts on “Lingo is Just as Important as Location in Your Writing

  1. “Writing this post helped me realize that the dialogue in my fiction stories is not location-centric.” Couldn’t agree more! 😀

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