Thursday, August 23, 2012


Being a writer, I’m always interested in how words are used. Yesterday, as I was heading for a ‘girlfriend lunch’ with one of my girlfriends, Marie, we discussed this very thing. She was surprised the day before when her three-year-old granddaughter became word confused when shown Grandma’s new pocketbook. She turned to ask Mom what Grandma meant and Mom said ‘purse.’ It made me chuckle. My mother-in-law called her purse a pocketbook and when I first heard it I was confused, too. Especially since she’d left the ‘t’ back in the Bronx from whence she hailed pronouncing it ‘pock –a – book.’ To me a pocketbook was a paperback book with a little kangaroo logo on the spine. To her a purse was the amount of money up for grabs at the race track. Nowadays the trend is to say handbag. Much better.

During our brief stint in New Jersey we loved to order subs from our favorite deli. Sub is short for submarine sandwich and the term makes sense because that’s what they look like. You've seen lots of Navy submarines with lettuce hanging out the sides, haven't you? Anyway, I've subsequently learned what these long sandwiches are called in other parts of the Northeast; torpedoes, hoagies and grinders. I'm told there's something similar out Binghamton way called 'speedies.' Marie told me that. I think it's a po' boy in the South and who knows what they're called in Montana or Florida?

In Northern Minnesota, where I was born, Coke, Pepsi, Orange Crush etc. is called ‘pop.’ When Dad hauled us all out to live in Southern California we carried that term with us and had no problems. However, years later when my husband hauled us back to New York, I learned to call these carbonated beverages ‘soda.’ Once, on a return visit – with husband and kiddies – to Minnesota, I asked our picnic hostess for a soda. She thought I had an upset stomach thinking I meant bicarbonate of soda. Smack on the forehead – “Oh, I mean pop,” I said. She handed me a root beer.

Here are a few other words that sound different but mean the same.

Dungarees – jeans. My husband still calls them dungarees.

Sneakers – tennis shoes, Keds.

Capri’s – cropped pants.

Valise – suitcase or luggage. My father-in-law always carried a valise.

Victrola – i-pod. Okay, I skipped a couple of incarnations here for what we call our music delivery system. Think record player, cassette player, tape player and CD player. They all came first.

It occurs to me that brand names were once used to describe commonly used items like Kleenex and Vaseline. That was long ago and far away, though, and we tend to use generic terms like ‘tissue’ and ‘petroleum jelly’ now that there are gazillions of brands to choose from.

I've barely scratched the surface here but would love to know some other regional names for the things we use in common all over the country. Any come to mind?

Image: John Kasawa                                          Free Digital Photos


  1. I can still remember the first time I heard someone call Pop, Soda. I thought they were insane! We have "speedies" here, Binghamton is just an hour away, and they are little bite sized chunks of spicy marinated chicken on any type of roll but I think of them on a small hoagie or sub, which is the term most people use here. As my mother always loved to tell her children, To each his own (usually with an eye roll!)

    1. Christine, I guess it's technically 'soda pop,' just pick your version, huh? Now that I think about it, my in-laws are the ones who introduced the term 'soda' to me and they brought the term with them to upstate. Thanks for chiming in!

  2. How abour some different terms from England. For starters:
    Popsicle = ice lolly
    Candy = sweets
    Cookies = biscuits

    My sister-in-law smiled and thought "candy" was such a pretty word.

    1. Brolly - umbrella. Bonnet - hood of the car. Boot - trunk of the car. Torch - flashlight. Knickers - um, undies. Cuppa - cup of tea. Gosh, I wonder if I watch too much British programming. LOL Thanks, Marion!

  3. Jennifer Brown BanksAugust 25, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    Interesting topic, Susan. Thanks for sharing. :-)
    My mind is too exhausted to come up with anything...LOL

    1. Jennifer, I know exhausted! I'm getting ready for out of town company, (shopping, cleaning, meal and entertainment planning), a new roof is going on as I speak and I'm trying to think of something brilliant to write. Agh. It can wear you down. So glad you popped in anyway. Hugs.

    2. And I've been caring for kids on and off all week. =0)

  4. Hi, Susan:

    Having lived in a few different states, I was made aware that there are certain terms I heard growing up that don't carry over from state to state. Here they are for your reading enjoyment:

    -Just the word "pies" for pizza pies. When going to the pizzeria to buy an entire pizza pie, you'd order a "pie," not a "pizza pie."
    -"Zeppole" for fried pizza dough
    -"Skeevy" for something gross
    -"Going down the shore" for going to the beach
    -And yes, "pock-a-book" for pocketbook. I can't pronounce the word "pocketbook" with the "t" without feeling like I'm mispronouncing it. ;-)

    Interesting topic. Be well...

  5. Hi Janette, In California we always went to'the beach,' and we took our 'purse.' =0) There's nothinng I love more than finding out how words are loved and used. Thank you so much for your interesting input.