From whistle pigs to toad-stranglers


Several days ago Slate ran an article titled “The United Slang of America.” In it the author presents a variety of words that are more or less exclusive to certain states (or, as the author explains, are staff’s favorite words from each state). The science is questionable given the mobility of American society, but the topic is almost guaranteed to add a few new gems to your vocabulary.

The map is interactive on Slate’s website and a click on any state reveals details about the illustrated word. Or you can just scroll down into the body of the story and read the text.

Some observations:

“toad-strangler,” a particularly hard, heavy rain, is said to be a Florida word. That may be, but Okies have been saying “frog-strangler” since I was a little girl.

In Mississippi, “nabs” are peanut butter crackers. I’m not sure how exclusive that is because if memory serves, “Nabs” is or was an actually brand name for peanut butter crackers.

Arizona claims “snowbirds,” but I’ve always thought of snowbirds as wealthy Northeasterners who flock to Florida for the winter.

I’ve been around prairie dogs all my life without hearing them called “whistle pigs” as they are in Idaho. Appropriate appellation, though. I’ll give them that.

In Iowa, a port-a-potty is a “kybo.” I’ve no idea how that came about unless Kybo is a brand name in that part of the world.

“Chugholes” in Kentucky? Come on. I’ll bet every state in the union has chugholes. Or at least chuckholes. Or maybe potholes.

In Louisiana, a sidewalk is a “banquette.” Must be that French influence or something. Totally new to me.

A “yupper” in Michigan is someone from the Upper Peninsula (U.P.-er). That one may very well be exclusive since no other state has an Upper Peninsula.

I refuse to give Montana an exclusive on “graupel.” Those tiny little ice balls or hail balls occur throughout the Rockies. I encountered the stuff years ago here in Colorado.

Did you know “Cackalacky” is another name for North Carolina? Neither did I.

“Quakenado” may be big in Oklahoma now, with all the earthquakes in recent years caused by fracking’s disposal wells (boo! hiss!), but they were unheard of when I left there ten years ago.

One of my favorites in the list is “whirlygust,” a strong wind in Tennessee. It sounds like something some little country girl would say. Lots of country in Oklahoma, much of it pretty Southern, but I’d never heard whirlygust before. It’s kinda cute.

There are more, of course, but I leave it to you to go read Slate’s article.

23 thoughts on “From whistle pigs to toad-stranglers

  1. So many fun words and definitions!

    Snowbirds – here in Canada, when we think of Snowbirds, it is our Canadian Forces 431 Air Demonstration Squadron that has been performing in airshows since 1971… but also- our many citizens across the country who escape the worst of a Canadian winter by heading to Florida, Arizona and California (primarily). Wealth isn’t necessarily a factor, as can be seen by the number of travel trailer parks that are filled by Canadians and Americans!

    1. Ah, yes, I’d forgotten all about your wonderful Snowbirds squadron! I’m a huge admirer of such pilots, although here in the states we see either the Blue Angels or the Thunderbirds.

      I suppose wealth isn’t that big a factor for all the winter migrants, but I know I couldn’t afford to travel like that twice a year, or maintain two homes, or one and a rental. And I can’t imagine living in a trailer for months at a time.

      1. There are a growing number of people who live full time in their RV’s! I’m not sure my spouse and I could handle being that close to one another and to the neighbours for that long!

        1. My sis and her hubby have an RV and they love it for traveling. But a couple of weeks on the road and they’re always eager to get home and spread out again. I might enjoy have my own “cabin” to take on vacation, but I’d need more space than that for normal living.

  2. How funny. I’m with you on the snowbirds, and frog strangler. I love creative language.
    (Hey are you familiar with the show “Rock the Park”? It’s a show about national parks on Sat. here on CW network (Warner and CBS? NewsFIX is theirs) They were in Yellowstone last.)

  3. Well I’ll be… I seriously thought “tump” was a word. I’ve tumped over many things in my lifetime. Never looked it up because who in Arkansas doesn’t know what tump means. Turns out some know-it-all wants us to believe instead that a “tump” is a small hill or mound or it can even be a clump of bushes.

    Your from Oklahoma and given its proximity to Arkansas, are you going to deny ever having tumped something over?

    Nevertheless, I will just chalk this up to more of that political correctness crap and continue to tump things over. Who knows, maybe someone will even tump my casket over… you can never be too careful! 😀

  4. Hi PT– This is a fun one. Kansans would more likely claim “jayhawker” or perhaps “post rocks” as theirs, rather than what was listed… I’ve heard that spoken, but not in KS. MO– finished reading & never knew of so much complication (i use the short i rather than the schwa)… For MO, i would’ve submitted “baldknobber” from the Ozarks history. Will check the RMNP site later, but isn’t our buddy the marmot known as a whistle pig? Of the rest, I kinda liked hella and dingnation 😉

      1. The stone fence posts since there were few if any trees out through the state once the open ranges were parceled out. From about Russell west a ways along 70, and along 36 from roughly Phillipsburg west. Lots of the post rocks are still in use holding up multi-strand barbed wire fences. Think it is a yellowy- beige sandstone given how they weather.

        1. I haven’t driven that part of I-70 since I moved up here ten years ago. Not sure I remember stone fence posts, although I’ve had years on that road to notice everything.

          1. Wooo, you’ve stumped an acronym user… HP… guessing Highest Point? That would be Mt Sunflower, lots farther west. Highway Patrol?– they’re headquartered in Topeka. Hewlett Packard in Kansas? (a Kansan may disagree, but i think Russell is known for Oil Wells and Bob Dole) (think i remember a Trivial Pursuit answer that KS highest point is only a few miles from CO lowest point?) Those fences are sort of wonders… someone had to chisel, chop, or blast the supply rock and then shape each post; they are heavy- so sleds and wagons pulled by oxen or horses for who knows how many miles– remembering 20 miles was a good day’s travel; and all that digging by hand just to set one post when fields could’ve had literally miles of fences. (mine aren’t pretty, but i can set a steel post by myself when necessary.) Not to mention stretching and securing all that barbed wire!

          2. Smokies still works, just fewer cb radios these days! (Do you still remember your handle? No clue on mine.) Think Salina & Hays are their regional offices, but imagine Russell is well covered. Hope you’re not planning any “quick trips” to look at post rocks, even if they are pretty neat to see 😉

          3. I never had a CB radio or a handle. But it was great knowing all those truckers out there did. Don’t worry; I know my reflexes are slower these days so I drive accordingly. It’s one reason I haven’t been back to Okla. That drive tested me back in the day. I’ve no desire to try it now (although at least there are a lot more places to stop than there used to be).

  5. Good one, PT.

    I grew up in Kansas and I never heard of “shucky darn” in my life. But then, the Republicans are in charge there now so maybe it’s they who started it. I understand that’s what Gov. Brownback said when he cut taxes to shreds and half the teachers in the state left.

    I live in Missouri but having spent 26 years of my adult life in the USN, my slang is homogenized. I say Mi-zur-ee because that’s what it looks like to me. I understand they say Mi-zur-ah in St. Louis, why I don’t know. In the winter it’s often Misery.

    We lived in Hawaii for three years. The aloha thing makes perfect sense there! (Funny!) In Hawaii they also have one of the most useful word I have ever encountered: puka (pronounced POO-kah). It means “hole” or “opening” or “cavity” or “recess”. Or even “cubicle”, I suppose.

    1. I was born in KC and my parents always said Mi-zur-ee so I did too. I think I once read that that’s the common pronunciation in the western half of the state, and Mi-zur-uh is preferred in the east. Of course, more often than not back then the topic was football, in which case it was just plain ol’ Mizzou.

      Hawaii has so many delightful words and customs. I envy your chance to experience them.

... and that's my two cents