The end may be near for one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s most celebrated humanities projects, the half-century-old Dictionary of American Regional English. In a few months, the budget pool will drain to a puddle. Layoff notices have been sent, eulogies composed.
“It’s a damned shame. It’s a shame that this country can no longer support scholarly work of this magnitude,” says Grant Barrett, co-host and co-producer of the public radio show, “A Way With Words.” “It’s one of the great reference works.”
The dictionary, often referred to by its acronym DARE, pulls together regional words from 1,002 communities across the country, drawn from newspapers, novels, maps, menus, diaries, obituaries and, most of all, from long interviews with ordinary Americans willing to plow through a survey of more than 1,800 questions. Planned in 1963 by its first editor Frederic Gomes Cassidy, the project stretched far beyond its first deadline of 1976, and even beyond Cassidy’s death in 2000 at the age of 92.
DARE finally reached the final volume including “Z” in 2012. A digital version was published in December 2013, by which time editors already had begun working to update the early volumes.