In the course of a recent conversation with a lifelong Marylander — which I am not — I asked if she could provide me with directions that would help me avoid a particularly busy intersection on my way home.
“Which way do you usually take to go home?” she asked.
We live in a mostly rural part of the state, so much of our coming-and-going is via small, two-lane Maryland State Highways with official names like MD 355 and MD 27. Locally, we sometimes call them “Frederick Road” or “Ridge Road,” but on a map, they’re MD 355 and MD 27.
“Well,” I said, almost unconsciously drawing a map in the air with my hands like I always do, “I take the 355 to the 27, up past the 124….”
She barely stifled a laugh. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“Come again?” I said.
“What’s with ‘the’?” she said. “THE 355. THE 27…”
And you know, that’s actually not the first time that’s been pointed out to me. I grew up in New Mexico, where the long distances between towns make highways a normal mode of transportation, and we tend to refer to highways as THE 25, or the 40, or the 247. Ask us how to get from Albuquerque to Roswell, and we’ll tell you to take the 40 east to the 41 south, follow it down to the 42 at Willard — which becomes the 247 at Corona — then take the 285 south into Roswell.
Not Marylanders. They’d tell you to take 40 east to 41 south, and so on, completely omitting the article “the.” Is it done in the name of efficiency? Probably not. It’s just the way it’s done — and I had hardly noticed until it was pointed out to me.
And that got me to thinking about other local or regional language choices — they’re not even necessarily colloquialisms or colorful turns of phrase distinct to an area — no “you ‘uns” or aphorisms like “white on rice.” They’re just everyday, informal word choices.
Here’s another one: at the grocery store, how would you ask for carbonated beverages, which might be sold under names like Coca-Cola or Pepsi or 7-Up?
I call it soda. But move a bit further east over on the eastern shore of Maryland, and signs advertise it as “soda pop.” My cousins in Kansas, meanwhile, just call it “pop,” while some of my friends from the south call it “coke” as a generic.
What do you call it? And what other quirky word choices do you hear made in your particular area?
I call it soda. But here in Texas, a lot of people call then “Cokes.” As in:
“Hey, you want a coke?”
“Sure, bring me a Pepsi.”
Up in Massachusetts, older folks still refer to it as “tonic” of all things! I go with “soda” – but when I was living in Western PA (we always pronounce the two initials as “Pee Ay”) it was “pop,” to my annoyance. Out there, they also omitted a lot of infinite forms: “It needs cleaned up,” for example, rather than “It needs to be cleaned up.” Funny how different people can be within the same country!
I call it “soda” or “my medicine.”
I grew up in Albuquerque and never heard highways referred to as “the” whatever until I went to Los Angeles, oddly enough.
Pop is just wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I say “soda.”
And I guess I hadn’t thought about the “THE” until now. But now that you mention it, I didn’t hear that until I moved from MO to Los Angeles, where I took the 10 to work every morning. Now I’m often on the L.I.E. or the Major Deegan if I leave the city.
Jaye: I still hear it ordered that way all across the south. Even 7Up is coke….
Rob: I love the way Massachusettians give directions — not by street names, but by land marks! We were once told to “make a right when you see the broken down police car” and sure enough, there it was. Amazing.
Scott: You mean you don’t tell people you live out on The 313? I had never heard it any other way until I moved east — even my wife, a Phoenix native, always said “the” in front of her highway names.
Wendy: “Pop is just wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.” Amen, sister. For so many reasons.