Dept. of Word Lists
Local Words of the Year
Below are the five words chosen by City Dictionary for the year 2009. Each of the words is, according to City Dictionary co-founder Tom Carmona, "in some way representative of the local culture from which it comes and is not (yet) widely known across the country." On the City Dictionary blog you can read more about the selection process, and you can also vote on which of the five words you think should be crowned the overall winner. (The deadline is Tuesday, January 12th.)
The word "sconnie" can mean anything relating to Wisconsin, or — when capitalized — "Sconnie" can refer to a person from Wisconsin. While the concept seems rather straightforward, very few people are in agreement as to where the word comes from and who actually uses it. On City Dictionary, people have documented use within Wisconsin and in neighboring states like Michigan and Minnesota, as well as far away places like Colorado and Hawaii. With that said, many naysayers within Wisconsin consider it a term that ought to be relegated to other-state obscurity. City Dictionary user madnick calls sconnie a "bogus term made up to sell t-shirts." He must be referring to Sconnie Nation, the Wisconsin lifestyle business started in a dorm room by two University of Wisconsin-Madison students. Sconnie Nation sells apparel with the Sconnie® brand (which the company has trademarked). The signature Sconnie t-shirt has become so popular at Wisconsin Badger sporting events that the national media has taken notice. During a SportsCenter broadcast in 2009, an ESPN anchor referred to the entire state of Wisconsin as Sconnie. Also, an article on ESPN's website refers to the "beer-soaked Sconnie faithful" at a Badger game in 2008. This last reference plays right into Sconnie Nation's message of Sconnie as representative of Wisconsin's beer-centered culture. While some Wisconsinites resist, the word sconnie has secured its place in the local vernacular. What remains unclear, however, is exactly how widespread the word's use really is.
- neutral ground
Neutral ground has three potential meanings in New Orleans. Most commonly referred to as a street's median in other parts of the country, neutral ground arose in New Orleans when Canal Street formed the barrier between the old French and Spanish parts of town and the newer American part. The median of Canal Street was considered the neutral part of town where people could trade, and was thus dubbed neutral ground. By extension, all street medians in New Orleans have become neutral ground in the everyday language of the locals. The term neutral ground was also used shortly after the Louisiana Purchase when the United States and then-Spanish Texas laid claim to land in Western Louisiana. To arrive at a temporary settlement, the two parties agreed to deem the land "neutral", giving rise to the term "neutral ground". The third meaning is decidedly less linguistic in nature, but stays true to the historical theme of this term. A City Dictionary user informed us that Neutral Ground is the name of New Orleans' first coffeehouse.
- polio water
As City Dictionary user QQgreenIZ puts it, polio water is Boston speak for a puddle of water. Another user calls it "stinky water from the gutters that mixes with garbage." Corroborating these definitions, in the book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie, author Michael Patrick MacDonald writes, "the water in the gutter was called polio water, because it stank so bad from mixing with mud and garbage, and if you ever stepped into it you were branded for a whole day as the one with polio on your sneaker." He follows that definition with a story about someone "spilling more water into the gutter, making floods of polio water at the bottom of the street." The term must have originated from the harsh reality of the first half of the 20th Century when polio had not yet been eradicated. The poliovirus, which was spread through fecal-to-oral contact, was commonly found in sewage water, which suggests that polio water may have originated as a term with a truly literal meaning.
Slugging is a form of hitchhiking that has developed in the Washington, DC area that benefits both the hitchhiker and the driver. The concept is ingenious: 1) Form a line of passengers near the freeway, 2) hitch a ride from a car passing by to make a total of three or more passengers, and 3) take a ride on the freeway in the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane and get to work quicker. Slugging in the DC area has become such an institution that there is even a website dedicated to local information on slugging, as well as the history of the term and the ins and outs of slugging etiquette. According to Slug-Lines.com, the word "slug" originated from toll booth attendants who were warned of fake coins from commuters called "slugs". Then, in the 1970s, when people started to form lines to hitchhike and take advantage of the new HOV lanes, buses often stopped to pick these people up. Annoyed by the false bus riders, bus drivers became better at distinguishing between real bus patrons and the fake ones, whom were then deemed "slugs".
- meat raffle
Cultural staple of Minnesota, a meat raffle often takes place in a bar and supports a local charity. Tickets are typically sold for $1 apiece, and the winners get — you guessed it — meat. The meat consists of any number of different cuts from the local butcher. Needless to say, if you are not from Minnesota — or from another Upper Midwestern state — meat raffles are probably far off your radar screen.
City Dictionary (www.CityDictionary.com) is a user-generated website that focuses on the unique language and culture of American cities. The website allows users to define a city in their own words. The dictionary entries range from local slang and nicknames to events, restaurants, neighborhoods, food, people and more. Connect with City Dictionary at http://twitter.com/CityDictionary and http://www.facebook.com/CityDictionary.