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On Speaking English: Do You Know American?

Updated on September 16, 2016
RTalloni profile image

Robertatalloni means creativity. Whether in writing or in more typical art forms artistry (and a bit of fun) must be part of the work.

You say that American English is fun?
You say that American English is fun? | Source

There's Enough Variety in American English that it Really is for Everyone!


All languages change over time but many agree, none change on a regular basis more than American English. A look at the changes in the years 1951-1999 shows about the same amount of changes as the years 1901 to 1950

Even with that expectation, who knew that today we would have such a variety of cultures within our own that would develop their unique versions of American English? Each culture incorporates new terms such as those that come from advances in technology, but the casual language about technology may be quite different among those in varying cultures.

Learning other languages adds to our ability to communicate with other people we come in contact with, but when we mix the old with the new, the changes in American English can become a marvelously mysterious maze of connections that keep us on our toes.

The funny thing about “American” is that no matter how you understand it, the language and its idioms are definitely and infinitely interesting. They also last even though new generations may not know the actual roots of the phrases. Love it or hate it, American English is full of intriguing idioms that reach backward as well as into our future.


A Little Detective Work Helps with Deciphering American English:


Not quite everyone will agree with this, but American English is a language to be reckoned with. Where else can a foreigner find so many words that sound alike but are spelled differently?

Only in American can addressing a woman as “child” be considered a complement on one coast and an insult on another! Or where else can a child be taught to say, “Yes, sir and yes, ma’am” in one region, then travel to another and be accused of being a smart aleck for trying to be polite on the other side of the country?

Can't Beat this Accent:

Well, there are some explanations--not that I am going to offer any here, mind you. What I will do, though, is offer you a few resources that could delight and amaze both those who are trying to make sense out of the mysteries of American English and those who have a soft spot in their heart for it.

• You can consider a dictionary of American idioms (perhaps make it first on your Christmas list if you have a loved one who is in love with words). Enjoy learning more about the country's everyday folks.

Idiom Connection is an interactive learning experience that everyone can have fun exploring. Check their pages and see which are the 100 most frequently used idioms.

• if you want to quickly sharpen and exercise your skills on an ongoing basis you can get an idiom for each day at EnglishClub's site.

• From Sheri's Desk you can read about idioms and connect to links filled with information and quizzes.

• Walk the fine line of the world of American English by checking out an example of teaching idioms at In Step With Idioms.

Idioms can be a really fun part of any language if you like to play with words. Careful now, we are absolutely not talking about lying here, but the idioms of American English can offer much entertainment for acquaintances and strangers alike, and provide us with unique responses when used with people from other cultures.


Learning American English can be an enjoyable experience!
Learning American English can be an enjoyable experience! | Source

Enjoy America's English Words!


We’ll wrap things up with some advice for any and everyone traveling throughout this great land. Consider picking up a resource on idioms, especially if you hope to get out and about in small towns and remote areas. A handbook of American idioms could mean the difference in coming to meet and understand new and wonderful people, or not.

Meeting the delightful medley of people who make up the potpourrie of America as you travel along the way can be a lot of fun and you can make some great memories, but you don’t want to go away from the interactions scratching your head, wondering what just happened.

Can you imagine an American seriously assigning a gender to a toothbrush or to a grocery cart? We’ll maybe hear of a wonderful old car called by a “he” or “she” name, but in America all that is based on pure emotion and there are no rules where emotions are concerned.

American English Dialects:

Besides, if there were there would be so many exceptions that the poor thing wouldn’t know what it was anyway. This hub isn’t about the rules and regulations that make little sense to those who speak gender specific languages.

This hub is simply about learning and enjoying American English. If you have a favorite idiom from your region of the country, or the world, let the rest of us know what it is. Leave it in the comments section below so we can all better understand the gray areas of your background.

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Words | Source

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    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 15 months ago from the short journey

      Shyron E Shenko:

      That's great stuff. :) Thanks for the addition to this hub!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 15 months ago from Texas

      I too love idioms, sayings and I love my living language. My mom would say "over yonder" which meant "over there" and "that don't make no never mind" meaning "that doesn't make any difference."

      Also love my Alabama language heritage where a poke was a bag/sack.

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 15 months ago from the short journey

      Robert Sacchi:

      Thanks for adding this on Talk Tips. It will be interesting to look up more information on this bit of language history.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 15 months ago

      In Korean in the mid-'80s Armed Forces Television had something called talk tips where they would tell the troops how to say something in Korean. One night on Armed Forces Radio a soldier for AFR was being shipped back to the states. AFR spoofed Talk Tips by having bits where someone would speak using a regional accent and they would translate the phrase into standard English. The bit ended by telling people to kill the English language with the regional accent of your choice.

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 15 months ago from the short journey

      Robert Sacchi:

      Yes, I've heard the "oil" "all" and blinked twice before I figured it out. I actually thought the person was trying to say "I'll" which only added to my confusion. :)

      Thanks for adding your comment here because it adds to the fun!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 15 months ago

      Yes, American English can be confusing, it is versatile though. Then when a regional accent is thrown in things are really fun. In some places asking someone to explain the difference between "oil" and "all" can be an interesting experience.

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      nifwlseirff:

      It would be so interesting to read about your experiences with Australian idioms. Feel free to post some here, or if you write a hub on the topic be sure to let me know so I can link it here.

      You must have a lot of fun in conversations with people who cannot tell where you are from, and in your teaching, too. :)

      You are probably spot on about why Americans make an odd attempt to assign gender to objects.

      Thank you for stopping in with interesting comments!

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 5 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      Australian idioms can be worse than both American and British, because they like to shorten everything! Also, the idioms and slang used in one part of Australia may not be known in another - just like the east/west coast difference you described above!

      As an Australian, when teaching English in Japan I was always asked to pronounce words the American way. Having a Brit in the family, at school/work in Australia I was always asked if I were British. Now in Germany, no-one can tell where I am from.

      I love doing classes on idioms and slang with my English students!

      If people assign genders to objects in English, it may be passed down from their parents or grandparents, who may have not been native English speakers, and had to use gender in their mother tongue.

      Thanks for a great hub!

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Career-Guide:

      Thank you very much, both for visiting this hub and for your kind comments!

    • Career-Guide profile image

      Career-Guide 6 years ago from Mars

      Hats off!! You have made a difference between a boy and adult in this hub, I respect american culture and its ethos... But have to say i have to do lot of homework and assignments to become a native English speakers.... and you guys are making it simpler for us.... thank you! thank you! thank you!............Thanks allot for been knees.

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks much. So glad you enjoyed it. Appreciate your visit and that you joined in the fun!

    • Bud Gallant profile image

      Bud Gallant 6 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

      This was a very enjoyable read! I find this to be very amusing. You're right about the strange ways that words have different meanings depending on were you are. That's part of what I like about American culture, actually. Although, I'm closest to the northern states, I have a particular love for the south. Thanks for this fascinating hub.

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks kindly for sharing your input.

      The largeness of our country contributes to the uniqueness of our idioms, but other countries have their own. It's a neat study.

      Appreciate your visit very much!

    • BakerRambles profile image

      BakerRambles 6 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Wow great hub, I can attest to what your saying, as I have traveled quite a bit, and it's true that saying ma'am in let's say new york or in San fransisco can be insulting. I grew up in Maryland, so I give great respect towards my elders. Thank you for providing this great article on "American" idioms.

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Hi there!

      Thanks kindly.

      Here in the US we are hearing more of England's English accent. :) Just last night a friend was telling us of how neat it is to hear the accents of co workers who use the old Brit English.

      Our particular area is full of many languages with their accents so I know what you mean about becoming confused, but most of the time it is a fun confusion.

      Appreciate your coming by. :)

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 6 years ago from The English Midlands

      Hi :)

      Very enjoyable hub!

      I am fascinated by language.

      Here in the UK I am finding that people are using American English a lot these days ~ well, my kids are, anyway!

      For a small island, we have very many accents and dialects, so it is very easy to become completely confused.

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      So glad you enjoyed this hub. :) The comments are important to its "completion"!

      Words are fun to play with (as long as we play nice).

      It's been a pleasure to read of the smiles that have come from posting this hub. Feel free to stop back by when you have an idiom or even an adage to share from your area.

    • Aficionada profile image

      Aficionada 6 years ago from Indiana, USA

      This is another fun and great one, and I love the comments too. There's a lot of fodder here for many more Hubs, isn't there? I wonder if thoughtforce will ever check back here; she might be interested to know that some scholars have believed that nincompoop came from Latin "non compos mentis" (= not in someone's right mind), although there's a lot of reasons why that is probably not the correct derivation. But it's always been fun to make a connection there. Thanks for this Hub!

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Language can be great fun. :) Would love to hear your conversations!

      My husband often pronounces CH sounds with a g sound...orgestra rather than orchestra...but I don't know where he gets it from for he "knows" better. :)

      Thanks much for adding your "specialties" to this hub's dialogue!

    • JLClose profile image

      JLClose 6 years ago from OreGONE

      Great info! I am going to check out some of the links you suggested.

      I personally love the fact that each part of America has its' own little quirks where language is concerned. I'm a California girl and my husband is from Arkansas, so we have some interesting conversations sometimes. It took me YEARS to convince him that "greasy" was pronounced with a soft "s" and not "greaZy." And his father, who is from Missouri, says "boosh" for bush and "feesh" for fish. I love it!!!

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Mixing word definitions between languages can definitely put a twist on the whole business of examining words so I googled "cold turkey" to check it out. Referring to something done in a blunt or quick way for a variety of reasons, it seems that it also comes from a tradition that holiday alcohol consumption ends when all of the holiday turkey has been consumed. Now I'm wondering about the "why" behind all the recipes for extending the holiday turkey...

      So glad you stopped in and enjoyed the hub. Thanks! :)

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      Very interesting hub and I will try your links too! As a Swede I wonder over the expression; "cold turkey" when it is used with quit smoking? Translated to Swedish this means a cold Turkish!! What ever that is?:) I know that it means to quit smoking total at once but I can’t figure out why!

      Another word is "nincompoop" which means that you are a bit stupid I think. But if I translate it to Swedish it will be; nin?kom-skit which isn’t a word but there is word in it anyway; nin- come-shit! In Sweden we call it dumhuvud, which translated back to English will be stupidhead!

      In Sweden we also have words that become very akward when they are translated to English;

      Strawberry; we say jordgubbe, which translated would be eart-old-man! Totally strange I can imagine!

      Sandwich; we say smörgås, which translated is butter-goose!

      I could go on with this but I will stop now:) Language is funny! Great hub, i so enjoyed reading this! Bookmarked and up!

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thank you kindly. Words are fun in any language, aren't they?! Appreciate your comments very much!

    • DTR0005 profile image

      DTR0005 6 years ago from Midwest

      I enjoyed your article. And each language does have its own very particular and sometimes peculiar set of idoms. One that comes to mind is the French idiom for "seeing stars" - in French they say, "seeing the 36 candles..."

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Not exactly an idiom, but in the South we often call each other by first and middle names, sometimes including nicknames. I had an uncle who always knew who I was when I called him because I used his full first name, instead of the nickname. Evidently, everyone else in the family called him by just his nickname, but as a child I somehow picked up his first name. Maybe it struck me because it was a bit unusual but his nickname was quite common. The funny thing is, no matter what name I or others called him, we all knew who we were talking about. I found that to be true across the board. My mother is called only by her first name by some, then others only call her by her middle name, and that is true even if her name is preceded by "aunt." Not sure I'm explaining this right but it's all a little different than the matter of calling someone by a nickname. And very funny when someone marries and a newbie is confused for about a year and a half. :)

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      That is toooo cute! I can just hear it! That's great...thanks for sharing it. Keep them coming! :) Language can be a fun study!

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      I have a brother in law from California and when I call he always knows it's me by the way I say his name. He says I put an extra syllable in. Teum = Tim.

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      These are great! Reminds me of being made fun of as a child in Florida for saying "aiags" for eggs. :)

      Thanks much for stopping by and contributing!

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      I'm in Oklahoma and we "warsh" our dishes and say "fixin' to". We say "eyetalian" instead of Italian.

      The Lord willin' and the crick don't rise.

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      ...to foreigners? :) So glad you enjoyed it!

      I think part of the reason I wrote it is that we all need to learn to laugh at ourselves and appreciate each other rather than stereotyping each other. My southern accent sounds foreign to people in other parts of my own country, but they don't always realize that their own regional accent sounds foreign to my ears.

      Thanks much for stopping by and commenting.

    • Marklar1 profile image

      Marklar1 6 years ago

      Great hub, yes English is a funny language and especially the way most Americans speak it is very foreign...

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks much for stopping by.

      It would be fun to hear about Australian idioms sometime.

    • Fertile Forest profile image

      Fertile Forest 6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      As an Australian this is all new information to me. Great Hub about a very interesting topic.

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Hope you can share with us some of the Minnesota idioms that you are coming across!

      In one sense you are right about revisions as languages change, but some of these adages have long histories in their regions.

      Learning the idioms, adages, proverbs and cliches of different regions can leave us wondering...but they can also be a lot of fun. Learning them from other languages can be even more interesting...and fun, if we let ourselves enjoy the learning experiences. :)

    • Tamarajo profile image

      Tamarajo 6 years ago

      Just learning a few of our own language abnormalities from Minnesota. I haven't traveled much until recently so I was not aware we had any until now.

      These books will have to be under constant revision considering how quickly the language and word association changes.

      This would be very confusing for someone trying to learn the language

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Your input was perfect! :) Backwoods is okay in its setting, I guess, but it should definitely stay thar! ;)

      The variants of "southernese," as well as "othereses" are amazing to me, but folks is folks everywhere!

      Thanks much for stopping by and commenting. :)

    • onegoodwoman profile image

      onegoodwoman 6 years ago from A small southern town

      Is it a 'bag' or a 'sack'?

      Is it 'yawl', 'you guys' or 'youse guys'?

      I really think that if you covered my head,

      I could identify what part of the US, I was in

      by the local speak.

      Being from the south, I do have a

      heavy accent, but I too, detest the

      way some butcher the language.

      It is a tire...not a tar

      It is a battery...not a battry

      A creek....not the crik

      Love it!

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

      Oh! That is a good one! And your interpretation is excellent--a reminder to parents that we need to be building good character in our children rather than going along with what will ultimately harm them because they want it or because it is easier at the moment. You came away with the knowledge that your father loved you and wanted what was best for you, if I am reading your situation right?

    • crazybeanrider profile image

      Boo McCourt 6 years ago from Washington MI

      Very cool hub, I love learning, and reading this hub opened my eyes to something I didn't pay much attention to. Something my dad use to say when we were kids when we got in trouble- "you got a long row to hoe" meaning we had to find a way into his good graces again. Great hub!

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      Hmmm...I'll try to figure out the problem. Will copy/send as requested. Thanks much!

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Hello again,

      I am having a hard time linking your hub to mine (could be the punctuation?!) I have tried a few times and still can't do it; any ideas? Thank you for linking my hub to yours and if you can send me an e-mail with a link that I can copy and paste would be great.

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      I guess a large country needs a large language! Idioms in any language would be interesting but "American" seems to have a special share of them. :)

      Maybe yuk is better than yikes!!! :)

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing with us!

    • TheListLady profile image

      TheListLady 7 years ago from New York City

      You know, teaching English in S. Korea was so difficult because there were so many different ways to speak "American" - and I spent a lot of time explaining how in Boston the 'r' may disappear, as in 'pahk the cah.' And how we have so many different names for the same item - garbage, trash, refuse. Then there is there, their, and they're to explain - and on and on. And then slang is all pervasive.

      How about this as a nice way to say the fat on the side of a man's stomach - 'love handles' - yikes!

      To teach idioms - I had everyone act them out - that worked well!

      Ah language. Such an interesting topic! Great hub! Rated up - yay!

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      Ah Petra, you are "too much" :) Sometimes I can almost hear your wonderful accent! We appreciate our friends with foreign accents for the richness they bring to our lives and we love their accents too.

      Glad you enjoyed the hub. I'll have to link your 'The never ending challenge of English' to this one. I remember it well :) now that you mention it.

      Thanks much for the "heads up" on the broken link. I'll check it now.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      P.S. the "the self-study idiom quizzes" link appears to be broken, the rest are terrific; thank you again

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Foreigners need a lot of imagination and all God’s help to figure out English idiomatic expressions. I am always interested to learn more of them because they make the language more colorful if you can “wrap your head around them”, so before I “hit the road”, let me tell you some of my favorite: you have “pulled wool over my eyes” for too long while “pulling my leg” so I think you are a “nut” and please “get a life” before I “shoot you now”, you “good for nothing”, “son of a gun”.

      I will check all the suggested links so I can learn some more "crazy talk". Thank you RT for a great hub and I should link it to my "The never ending challenge of English" if that's not "asking for the moon"

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      BkCreative: What nice memories. I haven't heard "scarce as hen's teeth" in a looong time. :) Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing! You've made remember something about a book I hubbed a review on, Of Whom The World Was Not Worthy. There is a section near the beginning in which she describes how their people would begin a conversation and work their way into it. Language is an interesting study!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Love this hub! It was in my 20s that we would pack the children in the car and take off to visit other states. This is when I found out that they are called 'pancakes' here in NY - but as we traveled elsewhere, they became 'hotcakes' and 'flapjacks.' Such fun. And definitely in the South we heard children saying 'Sir" and 'Ma'am' - well I liked that. And an adult was never called by her first name in the South - a Miss would be added to the first name.

      Anyway, many Southerners came to NYC years ago which is how I managed to be born here - but the wonderful colorful sayings came with them. When I begged for money to go out for icecream, my mother (born in NC) would give it to me but she'd remind me that her money was 'as scarce as hen's teeth' - now that you wrote this hub, I wish we would engage in more colorful language. Makes us sound thoughtful and intelligent!

      Fun hub and comments. Rated up. Yay!

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      I hope these keep coming in! Thanks! :)

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 7 years ago from North Texas

      If my father was exasperated with someone, he called them a "peckerwood". I don't get what was up with switching up "woodpecker." Also, it was not uncommon to hear that a lady whose husband had died was a "widow woman."

      Everyone's favorite Texas expression: I'm fixin' to go to the mall (instead of I'm about to go to the mall).

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      Those are very funny...I was at night, but it wasn't last night.

      I should have put one of my very favorites in the hub... He was so mad he could've chewed up nails and spit out barbed wire.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      I fell off the turnip truck, but it wasn't yesterday

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks much! So glad you dropped by and left a comment. Hope you can leave an idiom one day! :)

    • atienza profile image

      atienza 7 years ago from Northern California

      Very cute and interesting. I'm sure I know an idiom but my mind is stumped right now. Thanks for something light and fun to think on :)

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      :) It's very cool that you took some of that region home with you.

      Reminds me of how our speech can change if we spend time with teens. Hmmm, good thought, I think I will ask some if they want to come with sometime soon!

      Thanks much for coming by and leaving your "come with."

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      I'm Californian by birth - but during my time in the Midwest somehow I picked up 'come with' - whatever we're doing, do ya want to come with? I never talked like that in my life - and even though I only lived there a couple of years and have been back on the West Coast for decades, everyone remarks about my 'midwestern' accent. It goes to show - we can change our language up at any given time!

    • RTalloni profile image
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      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      That's a good one that I haven't heard before, but will have to remember for just the right moment. :) Right up there with, "He's one bulb short of a pack."

      Thanks much for stopping in and leaving your idiom. When a new one comes your way, leave it here for us to learn!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      I love idioms and I enjoyed this Hub very much, too. Let's see . . . I've always liked "You've got the right string but the wrong yo-yo." :D

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      For most of my life I lived in what I thought was the "deep south"--central Florida. After moving to "the north" (Carolina) I had two things to deal with. Cold weather for all but 3 months of the year and a new language. I have held up check-out lines 10-deep with people who couldn't understand why I couldn't understand the check-out girl. Truly, I began to understand how foreigners must feel when they come to our country! Still, I have a soft spot for "American." :)

      Thanks much for checking out this hub and for commenting. Feel free to leave another note if in your travels you hear a new idiom. We do have a fun language!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      In most of the country the paper container you put your groceries in when leaving the store is a "bag", but in others, it's a "sack". A carbonated drink is "soda" most commonly, but in those same places where "sack" is the rule, it is "pop".

      The American language is not nearly as homogeneous as some think. We're thought of as one culture, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Where there are differences in culture, differences in language follow.

      Thanks for getting my head spinning today! Voted up and useful (wish there was a "stimulating", because that's what I'd choose).

    • RTalloni profile image
      Author

      RTalloni 7 years ago from the short journey

      gracenotes: That's great stuff you have shared! Love it! I always loved to hear President Bush say "America" with his Texas accent. If any more come to you, drop them off here! Thanks much for stopping in to chat a while! :)

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 7 years ago from North Texas

      All Texan. From my late grandma, "Happy as a dead pig in the sunshine." From my late father, "Is it any count?" (which is an expression for "is it worth anything?")

      From East Texas: "Where is that bottled picante sauce that your mother liked so good?" Also, they pronounce Shreveport, Louisiana as "Shreesport".

      From my late Father: "turrible" instead of "terrible", and "warsh" instead of "wash". Though he was a Texan, there's some Arkansas in there somewhere!