How Many Words Does it Take to Replace a Light Bulb? by Mae Clair

bigstock-beautiful-girl-4997153I’m a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, Central PA, to be precise.

We don’t have accents (well, unless you venture into Dutch Country), but I’ve come to realize we do use terms and phrases that sometimes leave others scratching their heads.

That was an eye-opener for me. Oh sure, I was familiar with regional accents from different parts of the country and realized that every area has colloquialisms, but I never realized I occasionally spoke in a manner that other people thought unusual. Given my professional career and my love for the written word, I have a strong vocabulary. I’ve frequently been told I express myself well, even in casual conversation. I developed a tendency for certain precise pronunciations that have become second nature. Some examples:

I pronounce this word as I-ther, not E-ther which is common for my area.

I pronounce this go-ing (two distinct syllables) as opposed to goin’ which is the common choice for my region.

No biggies. But when the internet opened a new world of connections, and I began working with critique partners many years ago, I learned something shocking – – some of my word choices are clearly colloquialisms. Take this sentence as an example:

The light bulb needs to be replaced.

It’s how many people would say and write it (or perhaps, “the light bulb should be replaced.”). Imagine my surprise when I realized I commonly say and write: The light bulb needs replaced.

I can’t tell you how many times critique partners have flagged me because I dropped the “to be.” I had no clue I did it, no clue that it wasn’t correct. I will still use it in character dialogue to reflect local color, but I’m on constant alert for it in prose.

Another example: When I wrote a story with a setting I identified as Riverfront, two critique partners said it should be “the riverfront.” They argued it was strange to use it as a proper name. But I grew up in an area with a location commonly referred to as Riverfront. It’s completely natural to me.

And then there is macadam. Apparently, the rest of the country considers this word the equivalent of something from a foreign language. My editor has even called me on it (we changed it to asphalt).

What about you? Are there any regional terms or phrases that occasionally slip into your writing without your awareness? I’d love to hear some examples!

22 thoughts on “How Many Words Does it Take to Replace a Light Bulb? by Mae Clair

  1. Great post! This is one thing I love about words — their regional usage and differences. I think macadam is actually the original term for asphalt, and it’s named for the man who invented it. I also think I know this from Regency research, but I’m not positive. LOL I have some sayings that I use that I have no idea of their source. For example, I say “forty eleven” to mean a LOT, but I don’t know exactly where it came from — I just know I can’t imagine not using it!


    • Forty eleven is a new one on me, Donna, but I love it! Very colorful. I love regional usage too. Once when exchanging emails with a friend in the south she mentioned “putt-putt.” It took me a while (I had to ask for clarification) but I finally figured out she was talking about what I call miniature golf! Oh, and BTW, thanks for the enlightenment on macadam. That is a word I commonly use that always leaves others (outside of my area) scratching their heads!


  2. I have so many overseas friends and I have adopted some of their expressions. People look at me funny when I say stuff because the expressions are not used here in the US. The other day I told my mother that I was chuffed to skinnyribbons and she was like, ‘what???’ It means I was really happy. Try running that one by your editor sometime and see if she lets it pass without comment :p


    • I love that one, Cadence! I have a few friends across the pond and fell in love with the term “chuffed” the first time I heard it, but “chuffed to skinnyribbons” is a new one on me. What a fun expression! Thanks for sharing that 🙂


  3. You made me draw a blank this morning… but then again it is morning… 😉 The one thing that came to mind was experienced by my husband who spent a bit of time in Australia. He met a woman who said she was “knocked up and flat to the boards.” His eyes went to her stomach, but she simply meant she was tired…

    Fun stuff!


  4. Ha, I am from Chambersburg, PA, and the whole “needs replaced” thing made my future hubby think I was a total hick back in the early ’90s. I’ve tried to add the “to be” when I speak but I don’t think it will ever totally go away.


    • Hi, Jill! *jumps up and down and waves* Great to meet another Keystoner, especially someone who understands the “needs replaced” thing. I was appalled when I realized I wasn’t using proper English. Of course, it still slips through now and then. At least around here, it’s common, LOL. Thanks for visiting and commenting!! 🙂


  5. LOL on macadam, Mae. Janet Evanovich uses it, and I like it, but I’ll admit, I had to look it up the first time.

    Yes, those colloquialisms can kill your prose. Good that you’re on the look out for them. Thank goodness for alert CPs!


    • I am constantly on the outlook for missing “to be’s now, Jessi. Macadam still throws me, because I’m always shocked that most people DO have to look it up. Another term we use is “dryvit” which is a stucco-looking like material used on the facade of homes. I’ve been called on that one enough times that I’ve scratched it completely!


  6. Hate to tell you this. We all have accents. When I was a kid we took a holiday in Maine. Another girl and I had a heated argument that almost came to blows as I recall over who had the accent. We both had one of cours. We say “eh” just to take up room in a sentence and the word “out” or “about” is almost like saying “boot” Here the word “ignorant” does not mean just (hope you read my J post by the way) uniformed, it means crude rude etc and it’s how many words does it take to “change” a light bulb 😀


    • We use ignorant the same way, Sue. And I once heard it said that the only people in the country who truly have no accent are native Floridians. Of course, when hubby and I visited years ago they immediately knew we were from the north the moment we opened our mouths. Ahh, so you change light bulbs instead of replacing them? Love it! It’s like my southern friend once told me….northerners go to the shore and southerners go to the beach. Another thing I’d never noticed before!


  7. I’ve never heard of macadam before. You learn something new every day 🙂
    I’m probably extremely guilty of using phrases that have an Irish or British tone. Some of my American characters tend use Britishisms! I’m trying to get better at catching them.


    • You’re not the only one who is unfamiliar with macadam, Emma. And I actually like when I read novels set across the pond that use local phrases. I don’t always understand them but they add fun color. Of course, if they’re set in the U.S., then that’s different. 🙂


  8. I love the title of the post, Mae. For some reason, even coming from a very small town in Idaho, my parents were sticklers for grammar. Over the years, I become less so and it plays havoc with my writing sometimes. Thanks for posting and giving me something to ponder.


  9. Hi, Stanalei. Glad you liked my post title. I had fun coming up with it 🙂 My parents were both extremely well-read and I was raised that way, so we rarely used slang. Of course, when I was older I realized “needs replaced” was slang, LOL!


  10. Hahaha!!! Love this post! Actually Loni and I often find our differences, her being from NC and me from WI. I found out while we were in NY that its not common to end a sentence with “hey?”. I guess we’ve got our own Fargoish dialect here, but it’s very common. Also, “which you” instead of “with you” seems to come out much more naturally. Doesn’t it which you, hey? Lol Fun post!


  11. Ok, I have to admit macadam had me scratchin my head. lol Nice post, Mae. Bein from the south we mostly drop the ‘g’ on ‘ing’ words so it’s natural to me to read it in books. I can’t think of any oddities off hand I might use, but I think I’d have been with you on Riverfront.


    • And yet again I’m amazed that macadam just isn’t used. I feel archaic, LOL. My friend from Alabama and I have often chuckled about the differences between northern and southern expressions, Calisa. She drops her g’s too!


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