Do you have a nickname? Nicknames are familiar and sometimes funny replacements for the proper names of persons and places.
For example, if your name is Margaret, you might be called by a nickname instead, such as Maggie, Mags or even Peg. These are more familiar forms of the common proper name Margaret. A boy named Robert might similarly be called Bob, Bobby or Rob.
People sometimes give places nicknames, too. New York City is often called The Big Apple, and New Orleans is sometimes referred to as The Big Easy.
Sometimes a nickname is a descriptive term used in a funny or loving way based upon your personality or something you’re good at. For example, if you’re a really fast runner, your friends might call you Speedy instead of using your proper name.
Animals are sometimes called by different names depending upon where you live. These different nicknames can often be funny and quirky, reflecting the particular region where they develop. Many of these have been collected — along with other unique regional terms — in the five-volume Dictionary of American Regional English.
Take the humble skunk, for example. As if it’s not bad enough that the skunk already has to put up with an odor problem, people in some areas of the country choose to use the term polecat instead of skunk.
The polecat is actually a separate animal — a member of the weasel family. People who call skunks polecats probably aren’t calling them weasels, but the use of the term probably came about as a result of the fact that some skunks resemble true polecats.
Likewise, if you’re in the waters off Cape Cod and spot a tadpole, you should know that the locals call them pinkwinks. And when is a porcupine not a porcupine? When you’re in areas of the country that call them quill pigs, of course!
The Dictionary of American Regional English contains more than just interesting animal nicknames. People around the country use unique terms for all sorts of things. Have you ever had a sip of water from a drinking fountain? Those are called bubblers in parts of Wisconsin.
If you want a lottery ticket in Nebraska, you might need to ask for a pickle. If you get caught in a heavy rain, it might be a toad-strangler in the south or a fence-lifter in the Ozarks! And, of course, there’s always the popular question of whether you’re drinking soda or pop…