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!