Y’all Going to a Yard Sale to Buy Some Tennis Shoes?

Reebok_NPC_ArgyleOne of the difficulties in learning a second language is the fact that, in most languages, there are different words for the same concept or idea. People in the United States, for example, often use different words to describe the same thing, depending on where they live. Most Americans know the meanings of these different words even if they don’t use them themselves, but these variations can be very confusing for a non-native speaker (someone who didn’t grow up speaking the language).

For example, the photo you see here is a pair of shoes that have rubber soles (bottoms) on them, usually used for athletic events or exercise. What are they called? In most states in the U.S., they are called “tennis shoes,” even though we use them for more than playing the sport of tennis. However, if you live in the northeastern part of the U.S., in a region called New England, they’re called “sneakers.” Oh, and if you live in Chicago  or Cincinnati (both in the Midwest), you would call them “gym shoes” (gym stands for gymnasium, a place indoors (inside a building) where people play sports). Same shoes, three different terms.

Figuring out (discovering) these variations in language use has become much easier with the Internet. Linguists can ask people from different parts of the country what they call various items, and then map these differences and see which words are used in which region or area.

A couple of researchers at Harvard University collected responses (answers) to dozens of questions on language use from more than 350,000 Americans last year. Here are some of the things they found:

  • A large motor vehicle used to carry freight (goods (things to be sold) moved from one place to another) (see photo below) is called either a “semi” or a “semi-truck” in most parts of the U.S. (the “i”of “semi” is long, pronounced like “eye”). But if you live in Louisiana (in the central, southern U.S.), you would call it an “18-wheeler” (the number of wheels that many of these trucks have). And in New England, they’re know as “tractor-trailors.”


  • When you have a sale of old things you want to get rid of at your house, you would call that a “garage sale” in large parts of the U.S., including the central regions of the country (a garage is an enclosed (with walls and a ceiling) area to keep your car). In most eastern states, “yard sale” is the preferred term, except in western Massachusetts and Connecticut, where it is called a “tag sale” (a tag is normally a small piece of paper that has the price of the thing being sold). In the West, both “yard sale” and “garage sale” are used, depending on which city you’re in. Here in Los Angeles, most people would call it a “garage sale,” but in Tucson, Arizona, 500 miles west of here, it’s more commonly called a “yard sale.” “Yard sale” is popular in Salt Lake City (Utah) and Fresno (central California), but “garage sale” is used in San Francisco, Seattle (Washington), and Portland (Oregon).
  • One of the clearest and easiest differences to detect (notice) in American dialects (different ways of speaking the same language) is the term used to address or get the attention of a group of two or more people. In the South (which is actually the southeastern part of the U.S., including Texas), the term is “y’all.” In every other part of the U.S., it is “you guys” (“guys” here meaning both males and females). If you meet someone who says “y’all,” you can be pretty sure he or she is from the South.

Sometimes dialectical differences are found in one small area of the country. In Minnesota, for example, you say “you betcha” to indicate that you agree with the other person, or simply as an informal way of saying “yes.”  In other places in the U.S.,  you would probably say “you bet” or “sure.”

Is all of this very confusing? You betcha!


Photo credits: Athletic Shoe, Woolworth’s Truck

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27 Responses to Y’all Going to a Yard Sale to Buy Some Tennis Shoes?

  1. Dan says:

    That is right! sometimes can be confusing, but with the internet, as you mention in the post,it is much more easier.

    When I am confused, I just look at an app on my mobile. It is the Wordreference

    And, if I want to laugh while learning a new word/term/phrase I use Urban Dictionary

    Of course, there is also the search box just here at ESLpod. website.

    Recently Lucy explained the meaning of Bonehead.

    I have just learned a funnier variation of it: Knucklehead. I do not know how it sounds to a native speaker, but to me it sounds funnier.


  2. Øyvor says:

    WOW!! Another great lesson!! I love this topic, dialects..and of course ..super..I learned about semi trucks!! I drove these big trucks way back, and now,
    when watching them, I still feel butterflies in my stomach..wroooommm!!!..what an exiting experience.. we named them “semitrailer..one word..her in Norway..

    In my tiny village, we have three different ways to say “I”… in the western part they say “e”, in the centra part i” and the eatern part “æ”..=))..
    have to say that my village has one of the most difficult dialect in Norway, according to inhabitants of Oslo=)

    Thanks Dan..I´ll go to Urban Dictionary for more fun=))

  3. Mario says:

    My second language is English.
    I am embarrassed to read this article.
    There are lots of words to remember.
    Anyway, thank you,

  4. Rasoul says:

    Hi Dr Jeff,

    Your text is very good and interesting for me.


  5. elcomandant says:

    Definitely you are right. It’s very confusing for us, people who aren’t native speaker English, however, I think, and this is only my opinion, is not very important for improving our second language. Anyway, it is something interesting to comment in a post as a curious thing. This things are learned as time goes by.

    It happens the same thing in every language. Nowadays I have a new member in my family who is from the North of US. She is my youngest son’s girlfriend and she is northern, from New Jersey. She came to Spain with a scholarship from de American government to teach English. She stayed here for two years and then she came back US some months ago because she got a good job as a Spanish teacher. I mention that because her Spanish is very good as well as her knowlege of Spanish grammar. It’s so good that she is working teaching Spanish in the US.

    Well, despite her good Spanish she had the same “problem” that you comment.

    Would you like to know the inmediate future of this nice couple?. Mi son is working as a movie director assitant in Madrid. He’ll finish his actual TV serie next march . Then he will fly to U.S. because she is waiting for him for starting a new life together. Maybe we can see my son in Hollivood some day.

    I wish to this couple a happy life forever. They deserve it.

    Greetings. 😀

  6. Tania says:

    Hi! Talking about “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett, his signature song…
    I left my heart too, but I don’t know where… just a joke.

    ” My love waits in San Francisco
    Above the blue and windy sea
    When I come home to you, San Francisco
    Your golden sun will shine for me.”

  7. Tania says:

    Hi! Seeing the title of the song, I thought it was about another hit released in 1967, “San Francisco”.
    Song lyrics and singer is Scott McKenzie.
    I can sing the song.

    “If you’re going to San Francisco
    Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
    If you’re going to San Francisco
    You’re gonna meet some gentle people there.”

    I like very much the poetical vision “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”…

  8. Tania says:

    Hi! I like and other songs by Tony Bennett.

    Because of You

    “Because of you there’s a song in my heart
    Because of you my romance had its start
    Because of you the sun will shine.”

    Because of you…

  9. Tania says:

    Hi! The same “Rags to Riches”.

    “I know I’d go from rags to riches
    If you would only say you care
    And though my pocket may be empty
    I’d be a millionaire.”

    “Rags to riches” is one of the first phrases I have learnt from you beeing just a beginner at ESLPodcast.

  10. Dan says:

    Hey guys,

    Today on the news is all about yesterday’s President Obama State of the Union address.

    All the pundits explaining what he did say did not say ans so forth.

    Hey Oyvor, still today it is unusual to see a woman driving those things. You must have been on of the first in Europe!
    Tell us something more about that experience.

    Did you work in Norway or all around Europe? Did you have a nickname as a truck driver?

    Hey Elcomandant, congratulations to your son and his fiancèe. In today’s gloom and doom job market as it is reported by the media
    it is encouraging/uplifting getting to know about a young couple doing well.
    I wish them all the best, and looking forward to seeing one of your son movies.


  11. Parviz says:

    Dear Jeff,
    Your post is genius. You touched a very important topic today.
    Beside, there are many similar words that are used in different situations.
    We only learn their use just by hearing from native speakers over the time.
    Because there is no rules about when/where to use them. It depends on where you live.
    That is a problem that Reading grammar Books can’t lift.

    Thank you,

  12. emiliano says:

    elcomandant, congratulations to your son, his girl friend, your wife and you, It is nice
    that you boy get a job in Usa, but it is better to go there by LOVE reasons.
    Love moves mountains, your son goes to USA, but me remained here but the same
    reason. Love, ….all you need is LOVE, LOVE is all you need, as the Beatles said a
    long time ago.

    I wish him and her couple all the best.

    Thank you elcomadant, it is grateful to read this news in the Blog.


  13. emiliano says:

    Betty, Lilian, I miss you both.

    Where are you?, since a long time I didn´t see you
    here, is it going WELL?

    Thanks and sorry, but I miss you.


  14. Betty says:

    Thanks Emiliano for your concern.

    Yes I should have written to at least let my friends know that I’m well.

    I have been helping a relative sort out things because he has become ill.

    It is a relieve for me to know that he is on the way to recovery. I saved his life by urging him and accompanying him to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of the hospital. The doctors had to perform life saving treatment on him straight away.

    I urge you guys to pay more attention to your body’s condition. Check your blood pressure everyday can help prevent unnecessary loss of life.

    I nearly had to say the same goodbye as depicted in Warren’s article last week.

    I must go now. Still too much to do. It is Chinese New Year of the Horse tomorrow. Everyone is very busy getting ready. I need to go to the bank to get some brand new bank notes. It is a new trend in Hong Kong to put brand new bank notes in red packets which is a kind of Chinese New Year gift to almost everyone you happen to meet during the Chinese New Year period.

    I found it interesting that ‘old money’ (as Jeff and Lucy taught us) is good because it means money that has been in the family for a long long time – very wealthy family for many generations. Now at this time of the Chinese calendar, everyone is worry that they can’t get enough ‘new money’ from the bank.

    Happy and Healthy Chinese New Year to anyone in the world who wants to hear this!

    Best Wishes to you all.

    Betty 🙂 🙂 🙂

  15. emiliano says:

    Thank you Betty, Happy and Healthy New Year also to you dear, here in Madrid will be
    a feast among all the Chinese people who are living with us.

    My best wishes to you and all your family by the New Year of the Hose, what it means
    Betty, the Horse?.


  16. Tania says:

    Happy and Healthy Chinese New Year to you and to your family, dear Betty!

    Happy Chinese New Year to all our Chinese blog friends!

    All my consideration,


  17. Tania says:

    Listening to the ESLPodcast 967 about the “I Am Woman” song, I have started to laugh.
    I have remebered of the New York ex-mayor.
    Years ago, at a party he appeared with a woman wig and dressed with a nice woman evening dress
    hoping to be funny.
    It was cool , indeed.

  18. Tania says:

    Hi! I have never heard of this song “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy, the anthem for the women’s liberation movement.
    It was a number one hit in 1972.

    “You can bend but never break me
    ‘Cause it only serves to make me
    More determined to achieve my final goal
    And I come back even stronger
    Not a novice any longer
    ‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul.

    I am woman
    I am invincible
    I am strong
    I am woman.”

    Yes, we have to be strong!

  19. Tania says:

    Hi! Many, many, new and interesting phrases in every new lesson.
    I know the phrase “a piece of cake”, very easy to do something. We say “a flower at your ear”.
    New to me: cakewalk, to be a wallflower, to pitch, signature song…
    Very interesting phrases:
    – I have two left feet.
    – down the line
    – before long
    – put on your game face
    – Have it your way!
    – It’s a cat costume.
    – Take your time!
    – Take a load off!
    – Yeah, right.
    – You’ve reached the voice of…
    – This is what I came up with.

  20. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for the explanation regarding The City by the Bay, San Francisco, which has the steep streets.
    When I see a movie with the location in San Francisco, I believe that all action takes place on the same street.

  21. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for the explanation of the phrase “half way”.
    They are climbing half way to the stars, to a very high point.
    I know just that “half way” means the half of the way.

  22. Tania says:

    Hi! Interesting and the phrase “bypass”.

    You can bypass the downtown by following a secondary road.

    We use the same term “by-pass” in cardiac surgery, or in technology.

  23. Dan says:

    Thank you Betty.

    And thank you for saving/helping that person, you are awesome! as always.

    Super Betty 🙂


  24. Tania says:

    Hi! I now realize that in the most movies it is used the phone number beginning with 555 -…
    Recently I saw a movie where a policeman found out a John Doe.
    And someone said “You bet”.

    Thank you for these useful information.

  25. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you and for this phrase , new to me, ” to catch some z’s”.
    Yes, I’m going to catch some z’s.
    Z, z,z,z…
    Whee, whee…

  26. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Emiliano, we both have written about the same song “San Francisco” by Scott McKenzie, in the same time.
    Yes, I’d like to wear some flowers in my hair every day…

  27. emiliano says:

    Yes Tania, I love the song, years ago dating Cuca I gave the vinilo to her like a gift
    and we have listened to the song for years.
    Last year I wanted to go to San lFrancisco, with flowers in my hands or without, but I
    wanted to see the city.
    It was not possible and I went London instead, I liked London absolutely.

    Thanks dear, just tomorrow I am going to post another post of cuca/emiliano story
    living the moments described in the son of Scott Mckenzie, I was a hippy then, ja,ja,
    a Spanish hippy.

    My best dear friend. emiliano

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