Did you know that Walmart has packages of frog legs in their freezer case? At least, the one near my house does.
I now live on the line between the Midwest and the South, so there have been a few things that make me scratch my head. Like, frog legs in the grocery store (I didn’t try them; they weren’t cheap enough to entice me). But frog legs pale in comparison to trying to make myself understood.
It’s not an accent-related problem. Most of the time. And I can figure out a lot of the idioms through context. It’s that some words apparently change their meaning as I go from one state to the next. And this isn’t confined to the difference between me and native Missourians. To take an example from a couple of years ago, I, a New Englander, use ‘quarter to six,’ to indicate 5:45. The first time I used that one on my husband, a native Coloradan, he looked at me like I had two heads. To him, that meant 6:15. More recently, I’ve been horse-hunting, and my definition of a ‘broke’ horse is not at all the same as other people’s. Like that horse was trained to respond only to absurdly specific spur cues, and would not move for anything else. It’s not that the horse wasn’t broke to ride; it was just speaking a different language than I was.
I’ve come across weird definitions of dirt, vegetables- apparently zucchini is different from zucchini squash, all kinds of machinery- how many different names can there possibly be for what I know as a weedwhacker?- and all sorts of other new vocabulary. And I consider myself fairly well traveled and used to picking up non-standard variations of English.
What does this have to do with writing? Hell if I know. I guess the point here is, the English-speaking world is vast, and it’s easy to use the same word and mean something very different, depending on where you are.
You will be misunderstood. But if the book is engaging enough, the reader won’t care very much. Do your best, send the book to a variety of beta readers so they’re more likely to catch blatant regionalisms, and try not to worry about it.
You ladies and gents are a well travelled bunch, so tell me in the comments about your experiences with bizarre idioms and words that didn’t mean what you thought they meant. Go!