Anatomy of an Entry


Treatment of DARE Entries

Entry Form or Headword

Most entry forms are single words, but there are also numerous compounds and phrases. All are entered under the standard spellings or under established dialect spellings, with cross-references at variant spellings. Entries for which there was no established spelling—those recorded by phonetic transcription or on disks or audio recordings—have been spelled by analogy with the most similar standard spellings and with due attention to etymology.

Phrases are entered under the word or words that form the stable core, though other parts of the phrase may vary. For example, he wouldn’t know beans from barley may also have other initial pronouns (she, they), other auxiliaries (can’t, doesn’t), other verbs (tell), and especially other contrasters (beans from butter, B from a bull’s foot, and several more). The phrases are entered with the core words first, as beans, not to know and B from (a) bull’s foot, not to know, with appropriate references to other phrases of the same meaning entered elsewhere in the alphabet.

Parts of Speech

The traditional parts of speech are indicated by abbreviations immediately following the entry forms: n noun, pron pronoun, adj adjective, v verb, adv adverb, art article, prep preposition, conj conjunction, intj interjection. Other labels used occasionally in this position are exclam exclamation and phr phrase. A few entries could not be classified with any of these labels. They have morphological status as affixes (prefix, infix, suffix) or inert phonetic units. Examples: a, ker-, -ma-.


Pronunciation is indicated for entries only when DARE has supporting oral data, either in phonetically written form or in recorded audio. No pronunciations inferred from spellings are given. Pronunciations follow the part of speech and are given in broad International Phonetic Association (IPA) characters enclosed in vertical lines. Pronunciation-spellings—those in which writers have sought to suggest actual pronunciation through spelling—are also listed fully. The reader may infer the pronunciation from these, up to a point; but such inferences must not be taken as equivalent to recorded speech.

Pronunciations given phonetically or by various kinds of respelling in the quotations are generally retained. Forms of transcription earlier than IPA are updated to it; otherwise, as with other quotations, they are unchanged. The only variances from IPA characters are č, ǰ, š, ž, used respectively for IPA tʃ, dʒ, ʃ, ʒ according to current widespread American practice. Instead of the IPA shift signs ⊥, ⊤, ⊢, ⊣, DARE uses ˄, ˅, ˃, ˂, following Linguistic Atlas practice, to indicate positions of articulation respectively higher, lower, farther back, and farther forward from the positions of “cardinal” vowels. Narrow IPA transcriptions, when given, are placed in brackets. Occasionally, to avoid misunderstanding, a hyphen is used to indicate that a disyllabic vowel cluster rather than a diphthong is intended, as in carry |ˈkæ-i|.

Variant Spellings

Variant spellings from written sources are recorded in DARE for reasons of both pronunciation and orthography. Up to a point, past pronunciations can be inferred from past spellings; sometimes variant spellings also make it possible to follow the stages through which new or unfamiliar words acquire settled forms.

DARE differentiates among spelling-pronunciations, pronunciation-spellings, and eye-dialect spellings. A spelling-pronunciation is one in which a speaker follows the written form of a word, pronouncing all the letters even though some of them usually have other values or are silent. Pronunciation-spellings are those in which a writer tries to represent the nonstandard pronunciation of a speaker. The word calm, with the regional variants |kɑm|, |kæm|, |kam|, |kɑrm|, |kɑlm|, appears in writing not only in the standard way, but also as cam, ca’m, carm, cyaam. By using such spelling the writer is usually trying to characterize an individual, fictional or not, through his speech. Eye-dialect spellings deliberately suggest that a character’s speech is substandard and that the person is illiterate, even though those spellings correspond to pronunciations that are perfectly standard. Cum, slay, thawt for come, sleigh, thought, for example, are phonetically accurate but suggest that the character has had little schooling.

Though some spelling variants may individually seem trivial, they have value in the aggregate: they may help to show changes in pronunciation, naturalization of loanwords, processes of word formation, and other historical developments in the language.


DARE does not give etymologies for all entries. Those well treated in general dictionaries need not be repeated; compounds or phrases whose components are standard in form and sense need no formal etymology.

Etymologies and explanations of origins are given, when possible, for certain types of entries: words and phrases that most other dictionaries do not treat; foreign words or phrases (which are usually traced only to the proximate source language); entries in which an existing etymology can be improved; and entries in which nonstandard forms or meanings require explanation. When an origin is unknown but DARE’s research has turned up possibly relevant information, this information is guardedly recorded as an aid to future research.

If a headword has been found to be a trademark, this fact is stated in the etymology or in a note. DARE’s entries reflect actual observed usage and make no judgments as to the legal status of the word.

Geographical Labels

Because regions within the United States such as North or Midwest are popularly understood in different ways, the Editors of DARE devised a list of geographical divisions for use in the entries. These geographic labels are often qualified with esp (for especially) or the somewhat stronger chiefly. In quoted matter, of course, the authors’ labels have been respected. (Browse by Region for more information.)

Usage Labels

DARE Editors have sought to keep usage labels and notes factual and objective, never to say how a term should be used or to express the Editors’ opinions about usage. (Other people’s opinions, frequently expressed in the quotations, often throw light on changes of attitude over the years.) Emotionally loaded labels such as illiterate, vulgar, provincial have not been used.

DARE’s usage labels are often based on the age, sex, race, level of education, and community type of the informants who use a particular word. When these correlate in some notable way, varying from the norm for a given question, a label is called for. For example, in Qu. H35, for dropped egg, 83 percent of the responses were from old informants. Yet such informants made up only 70 percent of those answering. Dropped egg is therefore labeled somewhat old-fash. In Qu. U27, for beau dollar, 79 percent of the responses were from Black informants, while only 27 percent of those answering the question were Black. DARE’s label is esp freq among Black speakers.


Like other historical dictionaries, DARE uses dated quotations to support the definitions. In choosing which examples to use, the Editors have preferred “defining” quotations to those in which the word or phrase being illustrated is merely mentioned or used in passing. Original sources have been preferred to derivative ones. As to the choice and number of quotations, the Editors have sought to give the earliest example found in American use, others illustrating the broad history of the word, and a late or recent one. Quotations should also illustrate and justify the geographical label or note. In the science entries, more quotations are sometimes used to show variety within a defined identity. Quotations are placed in brackets (as in the OED) when they do not exactly illustrate the entry because of differences in form, sense, or location.

An important feature of the documentation is the use of oral sources, many of which have been recorded in the journals Dialect Notes, PADS (Publication of the American Dialect Society), and American Speech. These sources have been quoted liberally. The Linguistic Atlas materials (including unpublished workbook notes taken by the fieldworkers) have also been used copiously, as have the Hanley recordings and the DARE audiotapes. But of course the most valuable part of the entire corpus is the data from the DARE Questionnaires. These oral sources are examples of unedited, genuine American usage by native speakers throughout the nation, whose regional and social characteristics are known.

Next in value are such written materials as diaries, personal letters, unedited accounts of travel, adventure, and daily life; these are as close to actual usage as any written materials can be. Next comes regional literature written by authors who knew their regions thoroughly and did not romanticize or stereotype their characters. DARE Editors have tried to avoid those writers who have accepted stereotypes and clichés, have exaggerated or overdone the regional speech, or have misrepresented it entirely.

Because early volumes of DARE predate the extensive growth and use of the Internet, their sources are those that were known and physically accessible to the Editors at the time. Among the first priorities of the digital version of DARE is the systematic updating of those volumes, using newly accessible materials. Online sources will allow antedatings, postdatings, expansion, and general improvement of early entries.

The Bibliography lists every source quoted in DARE, giving the reader all the facts necessary to track a quotation back to its origin. To save space, short-titles are used in the DARE entries.

Dating of Quotations

DARE uses five standard forms for indicating dates:

1. date: The date of the earliest edition in which the quotation appeared.

2. date (date): The date of the first edition of a work plus that of the later edition from which the DARE quote was taken. For Internet sources, the second date may indicate a new transcription. This form is also used for diary entries or for a posthumous edition of undated material, using ante with the author’s date of death.

3. date in date: Matter quoted in a later publication. The first date is that of the quoted matter, the second that of the work in which it is quoted.

4. date Author Title [for/of date]: A work in which the title contains a date other than the date of publication (as with almanacs published for the forthcoming year or annual reports of the preceding year). The first date is the date of publication.

5. date (acc): Internet material from large sites that are likely to change. The “(acc)” indicates our date of access.

Definitions and Sense Divisions

The intention in DARE definitions is to use standard but simple words, to avoid the technical or obscure. Definitions may be preceded by grammatical notes, contextual delimiters, or semantic or stylistic indicators.

The division of senses is a necessity of presentation. The sequence is ideally historical and logical, but many terms exist in use long before their first known appearance in writing. Senses may also develop simultaneously in more than one direction. When dated evidence is lacking and more than one sequence of development seems logical, clear presentation is more important than exact filiation of senses.