The fluidity of human language is what makes it lively and effective, but it’s also the force that constantly makes words and expressions obsolete. Nowhere is this more obvious than in compilations of local slang, which have a tendency to sound at least half made-up—even when you know the region really, really well.
That may be, in part, because language evolves simultaneously within and outside of set geographic boundaries, making either phenomenon difficult to track. The demise of niche localized slang has long been accelerated by broadcast and publishing technologies that create mass audiences—first radio, then television, then the internet, with slang from different areas emerging and spreading quickly on digital platforms.
Now, one podcasting network is experimenting with whether it can help prompt a reversal—using its reach in an attempt to save rare slang, rather than displacing it. The network, Acast—which hosts podcasts from companies like BuzzFeed, Ikea, Virgin, Financial Times, as well as individual hosts—asked the Dictionary of American Regional English to draw up a list of the 50 most endangered dialectic words and phrases from around the United States.
The list includes terms like to “be on one’s beanwater,” a New England phrase that indicates someone’s in high spirits or feeling frisky. Acast is sharing the list with its clients and partners, and asking podcast hosts to consider reviving regional slang from around the United States by using it in their shows. The effort isn’t meant to be subliminal—listeners won’t just hear casually peppered-in references to “bat hides” (dollar bills, according to Southwestern slang) and “skillpots” (turtles, to folks in Washington, D.C., apparently). Instead, says Karl Rosander, the president of Acast Stories USA, these endangered terms will be contextualized and pronounced correctly in a return to public discourse that just might save them.