The completion through letter Z of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) is a long-awaited event, anticipated for more than six decades, at least since Frederic G. Cassidy, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his student, Audrey R. Duckert, first conducted field work in the late 1940s that laid the foundation for the project. The fifth volume was released in print in early 2012, including entries from slab through zydeco. With more than 60,000 main entries, covering the manifestations of the American dialect through much of its history, DARE represents, in the opinion of this reviewer, the greatest achievement in American lexicography in the past 50 years.
Normally, a review introduces a recently published work to the reading public. In the case of DARE, however, a great proportion of the readership has already used and enjoyed, or at least sampled, this dictionary for many years. Volume I appeared in 1985, launched with some fanfare at the meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America that year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. One has only to read the reviewer and user comments cited on the dictionary's home page, dare.wisc.edu, to understand that since that time, DARE has become a favorite of journalists, dialect coaches, novelists, forensic linguists, teachers, and scholars of language. In essence DARE has been "reviewed" for more than 25 years now by many thousands of users. The nearly universal acclaim it has enjoyed is clear testimony to its immense quality and value. Now that DARE is available A to Z, it seems unnecessary to delve into fine details of what DARE is, how to use it, and whether it is a welcome addition to the dictionary world. So this review speaks instead to how well the DARE team did its job of taking on the task of recording the range of regional English in America.
Some have compared the DARE project to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Both dictionaries have a historical purpose and a potentially limitless extent within the realm of English that each one documents. In that sense, neither project will ever truly reach an end.
Yet there the similarity ends. The OED's mission is of much wider scope, recording English in its many manifestations through virtually all of its history; in contrast, it may be said that DARE puts a special focus on [End Page 245] a detailed subset of English.
While the OED looks in detail at the overall record of English through its history, in all nations where it is spoken, it does not cover all manifestations of the language. James Murray, the first Chief Editor of the OED, indicated in his Introduction that various dialect forms and other more narrowly used words in the lexicon would not, and could not, be part of the OED's mission. That would be an impossible task, one to swamp the desks, files, and storage devices of any dictionary team. It is just "too much information" to track and record, especially given the global span of centuries of English.
So certain classes of English, such as slang, highly technical and scientific vocabulary, and regional dialects must be the mission of specialized dictionaries, whether broadly historical in approach, such as the OED, or limited to a certain span of time or region. The staff on the DARE project, which was pioneered and led for many years by Cassidy (1907-2000), worked according to a plan entitled A Method for Collecting Dialect, which he wrote with the close collaboration of Duckert and which was based on their early field work. The plan appeared in its earliest published form in 1953, as Publication 20 of the American Dialect Society. It laid out in exacting detail how the raw material for DARE would be collected.
A dictionary of American dialect was a principal goal of the American Dialect Society (ADS) from its founding in 1889. Scholars began to...