Dictionary that tracks US regional differences in English usage running low on money

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MADISON, Wisconsin — A Wisconsin project that shows regional differences in how Americans use the English language is running low on money.

The Dictionary of American Regional English, known by the acronym DARE, was founded at the University of Wisconsin-Madison more than a half-century ago. The dictionary pulls together regional words from 1,002 communities across the country, drawn from newspapers, maps, diaries and obituaries as well as from Americans who fill out a survey.

The dictionary has survived previous financial crises. But this time, the project will begin the fiscal year in July with a little under $100,000, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1CmChNj ) reported. That's not even 20 percent of its usual annual budget.

John Karl Scholz, dean of the College of Letters and Science, declined to comment to the newspaper.

Chief editor Joan Houston Hall, who has devoted almost 40 years to the project, recently sent layoff and nonrenewal notices to all five staffers, including herself.

"I've lost many nights of sleep trying to figure out where we're going to get funding, and in recent months I just haven't thought of any place left to go. I recognize that the university is stretched to the limit," she said.

"I believe in this project. It has been an important gift to the nation and there is still work to be done," Hall added.

Grant Barrett, co-host and co-producer of the public radio show, "A Way With Words," called the dictionary's financial woes a shame.

"It's a shame that this country can no longer support scholarly work of this magnitude," Barrett said. "It's one of the great reference works."

Planned in 1963 by its first editor Frederic Gomes Cassidy, the project stretched far beyond its first deadline of 1976, and even beyond Cassidy's death in 2000 at the age of 92.

DARE finally reached the final volume including "Z'' in 2012. A digital version was published in December 2013, by which time editors already had begun working to update the early volumes.

Discovering such words and preserving them has practical applications.

Dr. Douglas Kelling, an internist in Concord, North Carolina, said he became convinced of the value of DARE from hearing unusual expressions used by his patients.

A couple of months ago, Kelling was examining an 80-year-old woman when the patient turned to him and said: "Doc, how's my ticklebox?"

The doctor asked what she meant by "ticklebox."

"Well, my heart, course," the woman answered.

In almost 40 years of practice, the doctor has heard patients use the terms "Smiling Mighty Jesus," for spinal meningitis, "fireballs of the uterus" for fibroids of the uterus and "old-timer's disease" for Alzheimer's disease.

"And that's just a small sample of the phrases I've run into," Kelling said.


Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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