FAQ: Getting Started

1. How is the Dictionary of American Regional English different from other dictionaries?

DARE is different from other dictionaries in that it does not include words that are commonly used throughout the United States, but rather focuses on the regional aspects of our language, documenting words, phrases, and pronunciations that vary from one place to another. Widely viewed as the American equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary, DARE represents the full panoply of American regional vocabulary—from Adam’s housecat to Zydeco. Contradicting the popular notion that American English has become homogenized, DARE demonstrates that our language still has distinct and delightful local character. Whether we are talking about foods, games, clothing, family members, animals, or almost any other aspect of life, our vocabulary reveals much about who we are. DARE celebrates the color, richness, and evolution of the English language across America.

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2. How is daredictionary.com different from the six DARE volumes in print?

The dictionary entries contain nearly the same text as the books in print, but you can now engage with the text in many new ways and access information behind the scenes. While the entries contain all the original maps from the volumes (look for the map icon)Map Icon, you may also Browse by Region with an interactive map and create your own maps using the DARE survey data. The digital version also enables you to hear clips from over 4,000 audio recordings—wherever the DARE interviews are quoted (look for the audio icon)Audio Icon. State-of-the-art searching enables you to find words in definitions, etymologies, and usage labels, in addition to regional labels.

(Please note that many features require full access to the DARE site; learn more about gaining access below.)

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3. How do I find a particular word or phrase?

You may search for headwords and variants using basic search (on the homepage and in the upper right hand corner of pages) or browse using the word wheel (on the homepage and dictionary entries). Advanced Search allows you to search within the different parts of an entry (such as in the definition, etymology, regional labels, etc.) as well as in the full text of the quotations. Cross-references of all kinds—definitions, synonyms, related words, etc.—are now all linked so that you can quickly access groups of related entries.

(See Search Tips for more information.)

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4. How does a word qualify for inclusion in DARE?

Two principles for inclusion have guided the editors: 1) Any word or phrase whose form or meaning is not used generally throughout the United States but only in part(s) of it, or by a particular social group; 2) Any word or phrase whose form or meaning is distinctively a folk usage, regardless of region. (By “folk usage,” we mean that which is learned from family and friends rather than from books or schooling.)

DARE does not generally treat technical, scientific, or professional words or phrases—or anything that could be considered standard American English, unless it is pronounced differently in different parts of the country. Social varieties include African American Vernacular English (or “Black English”), but DARE also includes Gullah, the only Creole English now surviving in the continental United States, as well as Hawaiian “pidgin” (actually a creole). As a rule, DARE avoids words considered slang.

Because DARE’s purpose is to describe regional and folk language as it exists, there has been no bowdlerizing or expurgation. Vulgarities—including ethnic, racial, gender-related, religious, and political nicknames and epithets—are included or excluded according to the same criteria as any other words or phrases. Quotations must be read in light of their provenance; some express attitudes that are offensive. In each case, DARE quotations are chosen for their linguistic value, not for the opinions their authors may express.

(See more about Inclusions and Exclusions from the Introduction to DARE Volumes in Print.)

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5. How do I find out what region(s) my town is a part of? How do I search for words from my state?

Browse by Region using the interactive map on the homepage to determine what larger linguistic/geographic regions your sub-region is a part of. Every state is broken into sub-regions, and your hometown could be part of more than one of them. For example, if you live in Philadelphia, you live in eastern Pennsylvania, southern Pennsylvania, and southeastern Pennsylvania—so any of these regional labels may apply to you. If you want to widen your search, Pennsylvania is also a part of the Inland North, North Midland, Atlantic, North, Appalachians, Great Lakes, Midland, Central Atlantic, Allegheny Mountains, and Northeast regions (although Philadelphia is in a different part of the state than some of these regions, as selecting them will reveal). If you wanted to discover every word used in your part of the country, you would want to explore each region related to your city and state.

(For more on regional searching and browsing, see Search Tips.)

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6. Why are some words from my region unfamiliar to me? Why are some familar words not included?

Often words aren’t just connected to place, but also to social groups that settled in the area. It may also be that age, class, race, ethnic background, education, or community type have had an impact on the use of the word over time. DARE includes some words that are specific to a certain industry or profession (such as railroading, farming, or lumbering) that might not be familiar to everyone in that area.

Samuel Johnson once wrote, “He that undertakes to compile a Dictionary, undertakes that, which if it comprehends the full extent of his design, he knows himself unable to perform.” Editors of DARE similarly recognize that, despite their best efforts at systematic research, rational treatment, and careful use of evidence, discovering all of the regional variation in American English remains a prize beyond their grasp. The country is too big, the variations too many, the history too diverse, and the evidence too uneven. Yet Dr. Johnson went on with his Dictionary, and work on DARE continues. Though it will never be perfect or exhaustive, in its record of our life, our world, our work, our humor, and even our divisions, DARE tells us about ourselves, about who we were and who we are.

(For more on DARE methodology, consult the Introduction to DARE Volumes in Print.)

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7. What evidence does DARE use for the entries?

The dictionary entry definitions and editorial labels are supported by quotations from a wide variety of published and unpublished sources (listed in the Bibliography), and from the DARE Survey (look for the survey icon)Survey Icon. There are two ways to access the Bibliography: 1) A direct link can be found under Resources, with access to all the DARE sources. 2) The author/title line at every quotation within each entry will link you directly to the Bibliography.

(Learn more About the Bibliography and About the DARE Survey.)

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8. What is the DARE survey and how is it different from the Dictionary?

When you click on the DARE Survey tab, you are accessing the comprehensive set of responses given by DARE informants during the fieldwork done between 1965 and 1970. Not only can you find responses organized by topic and question—you can also see social statistics specific to each response and generate maps of the regional distribution of the responses.

Much of this data is not found in the dictionary text, or in the Data Summary provided in Volume VI. The reason is that many of the responses are standard words. Other responses were not supported by additional evidence and were therefore not accepted for inclusion. All responses are now available to you. (Please note, this is the “raw” data and there will often be spelling variations and other cosmetic discrepancies between these responses and those included in Dictionary entries.)

(See About the DARE Survey for more information.)

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9. How can I hear samples of American dialect speech?

One of the most exciting new features now possible online is the ability to hear the audio recordings for all DARE Tape quotations. Look for the speaker icon Audio Icon that designates an entry containing an audio recording. You may also refine your searches using this criterion.

(See About the DARE Survey for more background on the recordings.)

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10. How can I gain access to the full features and content of DARE?

Please visit How to Subscribe to learn about available subscription options. If you are a student, faculty member, or employee of an institution that currently subscribes to the digital DARE, you can access it by following your institution’s standard login protocol.

“Log In” is required to access the full features of the digital library. If you are accessing the library through your institutional portal, then you might not see the Log In box because your institutional login/password already grants you access.

“Sign In” is an additional option to use My DARE features, which include saving and annotating dictionary entries, survey questions, and searches. Your unique Sign In account is saved even if you change institutions (you will have to log in through a new institutional or individual subscription and then sign in using your old username in order to access your saved content.)

You may also be interested in consulting the DARE volumes in print; these are available from Harvard University Press.

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How can I ask a question or make a suggestion about DARE?

Please Contact Us.

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