The Decade-Old Dialect Quiz You Should Take


In December 2013, I learned something that I found ridiculous, and it stuck with me. In part of the United States, when it starts raining even though the sun is shining, people say that “the devil is beating his wife.”

I still find it ridiculous — but what do I know? I’m not from that part of the country, and I have plenty of weird dialectical quirks that I don’t think twice about. But that’s not what I wanted to share today. Learning about this weird quirk of language was fun, but how I learned about it was even better: the New York Times’ U.S. Dialect Quiz

The quiz is 25 questions and, using your responses, the Times shows you a heatmap of where people with similar responses live. Here’s my map, below, and I urge you to take the quiz yourself to see yours. (If you’re from outside the United States, sorry; the map doesn’t extend that far. But you’ll see where you match up with people who are in the U.S., which is something, I guess.)

Red areas are where I matched up the best; blue ones are the worst. As long-time readers surely know by now, I live in the New York City area, where I match up best, unsurprisingly. But the map, for me, is incredibly accurate. I’ve only lived in one tiny corner of the world — I’ve never lived south or west of Philadelphia, and I went to college near Boston. It’s eerie how close to perfect this is.

But what I found surprising is how many questions had answers that I had simply never heard of before. Terms like “you ‘uns,” or “goosy night” or “mountain screamer” are all things in parts of the United States. The purpose of language, primarily, is to facilitate communication, and if you’re reading these words, you read English (and probably can speak and write it, too). But even though We’re all speaking the same language, divergent phrases and sayings crop up. 

Anyway, take the quiz, and if you see something surprising, feel free to reply to this email to share. I’d love to read through your discoveries!

The Now I Know Week in Review

Monday: Memorial Day. No newsletter.

Tuesday: Why Europeans Can’t Score in Their Own Basket: I love a good rules loophole. I kind of wish they hadn’t fixed this one.

Wednesday: The Soviet Plan to Make Real Ads for Fake Products: One of the things I meant to share in this piece — the vast majority of the ads created by this firm were lost to time. Apparently, no one thought it was useful to keep archival purposes of advertisements for products that do not exist.

Thursday: Making Money By Singing in Silence: I really love a good money-making loophole. I kind of wish they hadn’t fixed this one.

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend.

1) “Fake Signals and American Insurance: How a Dark Fleet Moves Russian Oil” (New York Times, 14 minutes, May 2023). I really love the interactivity on this one.

2) “Think you can land a plane in an emergency? Pilots explain why you can’t.” (Washington Post, 9 minutes, March 2023). A poll shows that about half of all men and about 20% of women think they could. We probably can’t.

3) “Watching Paint Dry” (Material World, 7 minutes, February 2023). It sounds boring — but it isn’t. The subhead: “The unexpectedly interesting story of car coatings and what they tell us about the modern world.”

Have a great weekend!