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Not from around here

What do you call it?

I love noticing the things that make a new-to-me region unique. Sometimes it’s as simple as the labels on a map.

For example, when I moved to Virginia, there were suddenly street names like Yates Ford Road and Buschwood Mews.

Apparently, a ford is a shallow spot in a river that makes for easy crossing. Apparently, they got named (after the guy who owned the land?). Presumably so you’d know which crossing to take.

And mews? They’re not just cat noises, they’re rows of houses or apartments converted from stables. Oh, well, of course. Though the homes on that road hardly fit the bill.

And this being part of the South—and the site of several key Civil War battles—every other road is named after Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, or both. Thank goodness for GPS.

Around here, a stream can’t just be a stream or a creek, or even a brook. No, no, no. It’s a “run”. We have Rocky Run, Bull Run—not to be confused with the running of the bulls, see Civil War battles above—-Cub Run, See Jane Run…

Quite a switch from the “washes” of my youth, those dry riverbeds—except during monsoon season, then watch out!—that criss-cross the Sonoran Desert. Pantano Wash, Tanque Verde Wash. Gonna-go-drinking-down-at-the wash.

In Arizona and California many of the streets and towns had Spanish names. Arroyo this, Casa that, Camino something or other, Del who, what Vista. Can you tell I took German?

One of the reasons I’m so scared to set a book in a place I’ve never lived is because of these differences. Not the easy stuff I can find on a map or in a guide book, but the way the locals use words to describe the geography of the place they live.

Do you call it I-5? The Five? Five? Is it A3 or Northwest Expressway? Centreville Road or 28? Is it the metro, the T, the El, the subway, BART? Do you go into The City? Into The District? Downtown?

What makes your city/region different, or what have you noticed when you’ve visited or moved to other places?

Photo credit: ROCKY STREAM © Gigapixel | Dreamstime.com


21 Responses

  1. I don’t know if I haven’t traveled widely enough, or what, but I never noticed more than superficial differences.

    Off the top of my head: Tennessee businesses only take cash, Ohio people say “pop” instead of soda, there are “southern” accents in very non-southern places. 🙂

    • Natalie: The pop/soda thing first got me in Ohio too. Don’t even get me started on regional speech differences and word usage. I remember in OK when one of my coworkers asked me if I was feeling puny. I thought, “Gee, I know I’m short, but…” Yeah, she meant ill. 🙂

  2. great observation. Never thought about it. Having only lived in the south, it may be hard for me to pick out words that are only heard around here since I might not be aware that those words aren’t used everywhere. Make sense?

    But I didn’t know what a “mews” was.

    Natalie – what are you talking about with TN businesses only taking cash? Having lived in Memphis, TN for 17 years, I’m not following you.

    • Thanks, Cyndi! One that I noticed in Ohio was that all the major roads are hyphenated names of the two towns they connect. At least it felt that way in Dayton.

      Apparently mews is “chiefly British”, but then VA is a weird mix of British and Civil War legacy.

    • It’s probably just the Gatlinburg area. It wasn’t EVERY SINGLE business, of course. Just 90% of the ones we wanted to buy something in. I figure they were preying on tourists, making us use the ATMs that charged $4, conveniently positioned just inside their doors.

  3. […] my day over at Everybody Needs a Little Romance where I’m talking about how different regions refer to their geography. Do you know what mews […]

  4. Oh, do I hear you Gwen. Through my usual convoluted methods I’ve ended up writing a book set in the Texas Panhandle, and I’ve been there, but didn’t spend enough time to get the lingo down. I will be tagging someone from down that direction to read it at some point to give it a final ‘we don’t say that here’ screening.

    And around here: coulees. Never have been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation of why it’s a coulee and not a ravine or a valley or a draw.

  5. I’ve never thought a lot about that stuff either. The other side to pop/soda is coke. Everything is a “coke” whether it’s an acutal coke or another type of softdrink.

    I love the picture of the stream, it was beautiful.

  6. haha:) i grew up in chicago saying pop. i moved to new hampshire to learn i was a flatlander. by brother lived in north carolina and picked up the expression ‘fixing’ to do something. i moved to southern california and learned that a good wave is a barrel.
    i’ve been a newspaper reporter in all three places in the us, and it’s a major challenge to get up to speed on local terms. i was constantly asking other reporters who were natives or calling native friends. if you’re not from the area, it’s easy to sound like a transplant by getting something wrong. and i have sounded like one more than i care to admit:)

    • Exactly, Ed! Luckily I never tried to be a reporter in any of the places we’ve moved to.

      I heard a lot of “fixin'” in Oklahoma, along with “might could” and “might oughtta”. Never heard of a “flatlander” though. Thanks for sharing your experiences! 🙂

  7. I’ve lived in the same area for all of my adult life… Moreno Valley is not moreno valley, it’s called Mo Val… When naming off the freeways around, we just say the number (Ex: 10, 60, 215) and if needed add the direction. lol It’s small, but getting bigging all the time. =D

    • Emily: That reminds me of living near San Luis Obispo. Locals called it SLO (say “slow”), but out-of-towners often spelled out the letters or called the town San Louie. *shudder* 😉

  8. I don’t travel much, but I did have a friend from Ohio who always made me laugh when she said she needed to go home and run the sweeper. She was talking about the vacuum. LOL Still makes me laugh today! 🙂

    • The sweeper, huh? That makes me think of a broom. What makes me laugh is the idea of “having” to go clean. If I use that excuse, I’m either having company, or I don’t want to hang out with you. 😉

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