There was an article in the newspaper one morning this week that got me so excited I almost spilled hot English Breakfast tea on the headline. It wasn’t the latest news about the economy. It wasn’t the news about the huge blizzard that was heading our way. It wasn’t even the story about Montana’s “Petrified Man,” a probable hoax that visitors paid a quarter each to see back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s—though I must admit that one definitely caught my interest.
Nope, this was even more exciting than that. After five decades, the fifth and final volume (“S” to “Z”) of the Dictionary of American Regional English is about to be published. How did I not know about these books? I want a set.
I knew, of course, that there are plenty of regional differences in our speech. I knew that what is called “pop” around here is called “soda” in the eastern part of the United States, because when my stepkids were visiting in New York as teenagers they were teased about it. Their dad, incidentally, always rushed through the halls of Stevens High School when we went for conferences, because he claimed fathers weren’t allowed there. After all, they had signs up: “No Pop in Hallways.”
But I’ve gone for years not knowing that a drinking fountain is known as a “bubbler” in parts of Wisconsin. Or that a potluck supper might be called a “pitch-in” in Indiana or a “scramble” in parts of Illinois. Or that the flat cinnamon roll called a "bearclaw" isn't called that everywhere.
As I was reading the article about the Dictionary of American Regional English with such attention that my tea was getting cool, the realization came. I’m a nerd. A nerd about words, and also about odd stories and interesting bits of trivia. Thank God—or at least God’s legions of computer nerds—for the Internet, because I’m always using it to commit random acts of research.
I suspect at least part of this might be genetic, because I’m not the only one. A person in my family, who shall remain nameless to preserve her privacy—but Natalie, you know who you are—sent out an email this week, complete with photographic proof, about balancing an egg on one end. Supposedly this is something that only works during the spring equinox.
And I have a question. How many of the rest of you who received that email promptly went to the kitchen to get an egg and try it for yourselves? We did, but couldn’t manage to make ours balance. Either we were too far past the equinox, or our countertop isn’t level. Or maybe we just gave up too soon.
Of course, being a nerd, then I had to go look up the whole spring egg balancing thing. I found that, yes, it’s possible to balance an egg on end and no, the spring equinox doesn’t have anything to do with it. All that’s required, apparently, is a lot of patience.
I suppose that could mean spending an hour or more trying to get an egg to balance. But then, what’s time to an egg? Or to a nerd who is trying to find the answer to a completely pointless but fascinating question.