A bottle of Sprite sits on my desk. When I show it to my friend visiting from Philly and ask him to describe it, he appears befuddled, then responds “It’s a soda, what else?” Absolutely ridiculous. Having lived in Savannah, Ga., for three years, I know this substance to be coke (with a lower case “c”). But when I ask my office companion, a native Cincinnatian and Xavier grad, to label the liquid, she blithely calls it “pop.” And another desk away, the response comes as “soft drink.”

What gives here? Why, the subtle differences in regional slang, of course, the colloquialisms and catchphrases that define us all and identify to the world where we’ve lived and for how long.

Go to a conference in Denver, for instance, and tell the taxi driver he’s riding too close to the berm. Just look for the confusion in his face.

Webster’s defines “berm” as a noise barrier, but notes that in Ohio and Indiana, residents refer to the shoulder of the highway as the berm. The local catchphrase even weasels itself into the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles official drivers’ handbook. Go figure.
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