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Dictionary covers regional vocabulary from A to Z

Editor Joan Houston Hall holds the final volume of the newly completed Dictionary of American Regional English in her office in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Order a sloppy Joe in North or South Dakota, and the waiter may give you a blank stare. The popular beef-on-a-bun sandwich is known to some there as a slushburger. People from parts of the West and Midwest call theirs a Spanish hamburger. And in northwest Iowa? It's a tavern.

If ordering lunch now seems unexpectedly complicated, you might want to take a look at the recently completed Dictionary of American Regional English, which explains more than 60,000 regional words and phrases.

Known as DARE, the dictionary gives readers a broad history of how the English language is spoken. It traces popular, and not-so-popular, words and phrases to their origins. Then it breaks down how they've been used, with maps showing their geographic range. The final volume of the dictionary, which covers S-Z, is being released this month.

It arrives in time for the 2012 presidential election with words like snollygoster, a Southern term for a self-promoting politician.

Scholars and word fiends say the dictionary is an invaluable resource. The volumes already in release have been referenced in books and articles about racial and political identity, labor history, human sexuality and even cursing. Curtis Miner, chief curator at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, used the dictionary to help create an interactive map showing speech patterns across the state, including where residents stop saying "soda" and start saying "pop."

"DARE is helpful for discerning these cultural fault lines," he said. "It's the only work of its kind that is as comprehensive and exhaustive, because it builds on research that they've been accumulating for decades."