You say tomato, I say toboggan …

Since we are well into January now, I thought I would post about something winter- and book-related.

In both the Elemental Assassin and the Mythos Academy series (and in the Bigtime series too), I refer to characters wearing toboggans, or knit/winter hats. A while back, a reader wrote to me asking if maybe I meant toque (also a winter hat) instead because toboggan can also mean a sled. Honestly, I had never heard of the word toque before, and it never occurred to me to use another word for toboggan.

I think this just might be a regional difference. I’m from the South and in my neck of the woods, a toboggan is a winter hat, and a sled is a sled. If I tell my mom that I’m wearing my toboggan, she knows that I’m wearing a hat. I would never say that I’m going to slide down a hill on my toboggan; I would slide down a hill on my sled.

Since both the Elemental Assassin and the Mythos Academy series are set in the South, I didn’t think anything about using the word toboggan. But I’ve had a couple of folks e-mail me about this now, and I’m wondering what other words/phrases I use that might mean something else or might be interpreted differently in different parts of the country and world.

And it’s not just words — it’s food too. I know when Wheezley and I travel to other places, especially when we go up north, we always wonder if the restaurants will have sweet tea or not. For those of you who don’t know, sweet tea is just what it sounds like — tea that already has sugar in it (usually a lot of sugar). In the South, practically every restaurant (even the fast food joints) will offer you a choice between sweet or unsweet tea. But when we went to Texas a few years back, they only had unsweet tea in one of the restaurants we ate at.

But it works both ways too. For example, I don’t eat grits, which are another Southern staple. In fact, I’d never really even heard of grits until I visited some of my cousins who live in another Southern state where they are more popular. So I guess it all just depends on where you grow up and what you hear and eat along the way.

What about you guys? What regional words or food items have you noticed in books, if any?

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24 Responses to “You say tomato, I say toboggan …”

  1. Alaina says:

    well not really in books, but here in sask a hoodie (sweatshirt with a hood) is called a BunnyHug..
    your toboggan is one i came across..theyre toques here in canada too.. lol..

  2. Deborah Rebisz says:

    Reading about “dinner” being eaten near sunset in a book gives me pause. My family in Mississippi calls the meal eaten at mid-day “dinner.” The meal eaten at sunset, to them, is called, “supper.” Being from NJ, I inherited my MS family through marriage. BTW, in NJ, a toboggan is most definitely a type of sled. However, my MS family swears it’s something worn on the head.

  3. Alexia561 says:

    Oh, I love sweet tea, but they don’t have that up north. The main differences I’ve noticed is soda vs pop, and those long sandwiches that are called submarine sandwiches (subs), heroes, or grinders depending on where you’re from.
    I can’t believe I never noticed you calling a hat a toboggan! That’s a sled where I’m from!

    • Jennifer Estep says:

      I sometimes say pop instead of soda. I think that’s another Southern thing. That’s a good point about the sandwiches too. I’ve heard them all called that. Not sure if there is any actual difference between them though.

  4. Erin says:

    Having lived in both the north and south, I didn’t notice anything that caught me off guard, but I will read back now and keep and eye out for any phrases or words used that could be taken differently from on region than the other.

    I was in for that same kind of culture shock when I moved from Minnesota to Florida (and back after 7 years.) In Florida Pop-machines were called soda-machines. Suckers were called lollipops, and pronto-pups were called corn dogs. I was called a towhead for the first time and thought she was trying to insult me, only to learn she was commenting on my light blond hair .. (my now husband’s mother called me that before she even said hi to me during our first meet…talk about an awkward first impression!)

    I now live near the Wisconsin border, and they call drinking water fountains, bubblers there. Toboggans are known as sleds in Minnesota as well, winter hats are just hats or sometimes skull caps (if you wear that style.)

    It’s fascinating to hear learn new terms for the something you though only had one name before isn’t it?

    • Jennifer Estep says:

      It is interesting. Someone on Twitter mentioned the word bubblers to me too. I would have never guessed that pronto-pups would be another word for corn dogs, though. Although now I want one of those to eat. LOL.

  5. jenn says:

    People make careers out of studying regional variation. (I’m trying to be one of them!) There’s so much out there — in word choice, in accents, in sentence structures — and I love that you’ve taken the time to mention dialect on your blog. (Almost as much as I love your books!)

    As a side note, I had never had sweet tea until I met folks from North Carolina and now I’m hooked. I have them bring me tea bags whenever they come visit. =)

    • Jennifer Estep says:

      Glad you liked the post (and that you are enjoying my books). I think all the regional word, accent, and food differences are really interesting.

      Oh, I think the emphasis in sweet tea is the sugar. At least, that’s how my mom makes it. LOL.

  6. Barbara Elness says:

    Being from California, I’d never heard of sweet tea until my son married a girl from South Carolina. Then I moved to Central Florida and have run across a lot of different foods and ways to say things. The one that really strikes me is people say “I stay in Orlando,” rather than “I live in Orlando.” I always feel like that sounds so temporary. Here grits are a breakfast staple that I’d never heard of, as well as macaroni and cheese for holiday dinners and black-eyed peas at New Years. Of course in California, tamales are a holiday staple that I can’t find in Florida.

    • Jennifer Estep says:

      That’s interesting that some folks say “stay” versus “live”. Yep, my grandma makes black-eyed peas for New Year’s too, along with cabbage and cornbread. All three are supposedly for good luck and money in the coming year.

  7. Louise says:

    Hmmm. I’d never heard of a hat being called a toboggan until I read the last Frost book either. I’m used to weirdness with words though as I’m a Brit now in California with a husband from PA. Our kids seem to not blink an eye at different accents, spellings, or word meanings and pronunciations. πŸ™‚ Good thing too!

    McDonald’s started selling sweet tea a year or two ago out here in Cali (near San Francisco), that was the first I’d heard of it other than in books about the South. I love to read books by British authors, especially paranormal as it is “foreign” to me as I live and breathe paranormal fiction from U.S. authors. However, it does feel like coming home to read words with extra “u’s”. πŸ˜‰ That’s what 20 years in each country will do to ya!

    • Jennifer Estep says:

      Interesting. I didn’t know they had sweet tea in California. Sometimes when I read books by British (or other overseas authors), I will have to stop a second and try to figure out what a particular word means.

  8. Maghon Thomas says:

    hmmm, I never knew the “hat” world could get so serious…. you know, I just usually read the word, know it means hat, and move on… maybe I am not observant enough lol & yes, sweet tea is definately A SOUTH THING! Everyone serves it here, or lemonade, or homeade root beer or just beer… or maybe that is just a south Louisiana thing LOL we usually gotta have something on the side of our spice πŸ™‚

  9. Jennifer @ The Book Nympho says:

    I also live in the South (Arkansas) and use the toboggan. Same with tea vs sweet tea.

    Even though I live in the South I do not eat most of the Southern foods like sweet (or any other) tea, grits, cornbread and many others. People kid me and same I should have been born in the North.

  10. Maria says:

    I was struggling (giggling) with the image of everyone wearing toboggans on their heads. In Canada that would be a sled. Very funny.

    Also sweet tea is iced tea here, a real shock when you ask for iced tea down south and it has no sugar. Lol.

    • Jennifer+Estep says:

      LOL. It’s just one of those words that’s different in different parts of the world.

      Oh, yeah. If you want tea with sugar, you definitely need to ask for “sweet tea” in the South. Although I went to Texas a few years back, and they only had unsweetened tea. I would have thought that they would have had “sweet tea” too.

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