A great project on how Americans speak--make that the great project on how Americans speak--is reaching completion this spring. It only took 50 years.
When Fred Cassidy, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, was named chief editor of a dictionary project to track American dialects in 1962, he had a faster timetable in mind. The Dictionary of American Regional English began in earnest a few years later, when 80 fieldworkers armed with elaborate questionnaires spread out to more than a thousand communities around the country. Some researchers drove green Dodge vans called “Word Wagons,” equipped with clunky reel-to-reel tape recorders--the better to document every uff-da (a Norwegian exclamation in the Upper Midwest) and pitch-in (an Indiana term for a potluck).