Think You Speak American English? Check Out These 15 Dialectical Variations That Can Trip Up Travelers (Even Americans!)

Take a trip across the United States and you’ll notice how differently people talk from one place to the next. From the East Coast to the West and everywhere in between, the accents, pronunciation, and word usage can change drastically, and that’s only part of it.

If you’re struggling to keep up with it, even as a native English speaker, a user from a recent online forum shares the same sentiment about how crazy these variations can get. Here are 15 of the most common dialectical differences across the country that can leave travelers scratching their heads.

1. To Be or Not To Be

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If you live in or visit Pennsylvania, you’ll hear the dialectical differences there, as one commenter discovered when they traveled from the eastern to the western part of the state. They recall how the words “to be” are dropped from sentences. So instead of saying, “My room needs to be cleaned,” western Pennsylvanians will say, “My room needs cleaned.”

2. Soda, Coke, and Pop

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Depending on what part of the U.S. you’re in, the words soda, coke, and pop mean the same thing. In parts of the American South, it’s common to refer to soda as pop, and to call any carbonated beverage coke, even when it’s Pepsi.

3. Where Are You From?

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When someone asks where you’re from, the usual response is to name the city or state you were born in or currently live in. Somebody in the forum observes, “Unless you live in Louisville, Lexington, Frankfurt, Bowling Green, or Richmond, you identify with your county. If someone asks where you’re from, the reply is, ‘Oh, I’m from X County,’ instead of saying your city.”

4. What’s in a Name?

District of Columbia
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Highways in the U.S. have a name and a number. For example, the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, PA, is also known as Interstate 76. However, Californians refer to their highways as “The 10, The 101, The 5,” notes another person.

5. On Line or In Line

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A native New Yorker remembers confusing their out-of-state friends when they said they were “waiting on line” instead of “waiting in line.” The friends thought they were waiting online, as in using internet service.

6. Sneakers Defined

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New Jersey inhabitants use the term sneakers for any athletic shoe with a rubber sole, regardless of which sport the shoe is for. A contributor to the thread recounts moving to Missouri and finding out tennis shoes was the universal term for athletic shoes.

7. Baskets and Baskets

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When a Florida to New Mexico transplant goes grocery shopping, they still find it confusing to hear people use baskets to describe shopping carts and shopping baskets.

8. Mashing Isn’t Only for Potatoes

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Instead of saying, “to turn a button on and off,” or “to turn a light switch on and off,” in North and South Carolina, they say, “to mash the light or to mash the button.

9. Run the Sweeper

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For many people sweeping the floor is something you do with a broom. In the upper Midwest, running the sweeper is another way of saying you’re using a vacuum cleaner, a user on the discussion board writes.

10. Toboggans

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Many people hear the word toboggan and associate it with a type of winter sled. A person who moved to North Carolina describes how toboggan means a knit winter cap or beanie.

11. From Here or From Away

Aerial view of Bar Harbor, Maine. Bar Harbor is a town on Mount Desert Island in Hancock County, Maine and a popular tourist destination.
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Two types of people live in Maine: anyone born in the state is “from here,” while anyone born outside of Maine is considered “from away.”

12. Where Are You From Again?

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According to a responder on the forum, Michiganders have unique phrases to label people and which region of the state they’re from. For example, “Yoopers are people who live in the Upper Peninsula.
Trolls are people who live in the Lower Peninsula. Mackinac is the region around and between the peninsulas. Up North is everything north of Saginaw/Lansing/Grand Rapids but south of Mackinac.”

13. Dressing and Stuffing

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A tourist in Alabama denoted finding out that dressing was another word for stuffing, and it wasn’t the kind of dressing that goes on a salad.

14. Remote Control

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For many people, remote controls are handheld devices to change the television channel. A west coast native comments their Massachusetts relatives call them clickers.

15. Long Bread Sandwiches

Longbread Sandwiches
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Depending on what part of the U.S. you’re from, they’re called a sub, hero, or hoagie. Do you have any fun things to add to this list?

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