Dialect adventures

Today’s Zippy ranges through the dialects of Dingburg MD, Philadelphia PA, and Pittsburgh PA:

First, the silliness that there are areas of the U.S. where people speak Elizabethan English. Then a reference to the raising and heavy rounding of /ɔ/ for some Philadelphia speakers. And then nebby-nose and chipped ham hoagies in Pittsburgh.

The first three panels revel in an absurd forest of obsolete features (mostly lexical, but some morphological) of English. The “pure Elizabethan English survives in Appalachia” idea just will not die, despite  at least a century’s worth of linguists and dialectologists debunking it. Here’s Sally Thomason in Language Log in 2005:

The myth that pure Elizabethan English, as in Shakespearean English, is spoken in Appalachia lives on: I just heard it from a folklorist on NPR, who reported that isolated English settlers in Appalachia maintained Shakespeare’s English — an example, he claimed, of the nonchanging periphery of the spread of a tale or language variety, vs. its alteration in the place it came from, in this case Merrie Olde (16th-century) England.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. There are said to be features of Shakespeare’s English that are preserved in Appalachian English but not in Standard English; but they would be noticeable only because they have vanished from Standard English. The many features of Shakespeare’s English that remain in Standard English are not noticeable: they’re just ordinary — though they are of course what makes it possible for American high-schoolers to read Shakespeare today.

On to Philadelphia vowels, from Wikipedia:

A feature shared by Philadelphians, New Yorkers, and southern New Englanders is the raising of /ɔ/ [as in water] to [o] or even higher. The raised variants often appear as diphthongs with a centering glide. As a result, Philadelphia is resistant to the cot–caught merger. [William] Labov’s research suggests that this pattern of raising is essentially complete in Philadelphia and seems no longer to be an active change.

Then to Pittsburgh features, two of which are featured in the strip. (For a larger list of features, see my posting on “Picksboiger cartoons”, here.) One — the item neb, nebby, or nebby-nose ‘nosy’ — is strictly linguistic, while the other — chipped chopped ham hoagies, subs, or sandwiches — is a cultural feature of the Pittsburgh area.

You might have thought that nebby had something to do with nebbish. But no, as Evan Morris explains on his Word Detective site:

“nebby” has no apparent connection with “nebbish.” The adjective “nebby” meaning “snoopy” is a classic Pittsburghism (like “jumbo” for bologna) common in Western Pennsylvania but almost unknown in the rest of the US. The form “nibby” and the related noun forms “neb-nose” and “nib-nose” (meaning an inquisitive person) are apparently a bit more widespread within Pennsylvania, but it’s not surprising that someone from Eastern PA wouldn’t have heard the term.

Anyplace that could come up with “jumbo” for bologna is clearly the birthplace of strange slang, so it’s tempting to chalk “nebby” up to the Pittsburgh water supply, but the story of “nebby” and its variants actually predates the European colonization of North America. It turns out that “neb” is a regional term in Northern England, Northern Ireland and Scotland for “beak” or “nose,” derived from an old Germanic root and dating back to Old English. A modified form of the same word is our modern “nib” for the beak-like point of a fountain pen. As a verb meaning “to pry into the affairs of others” (i.e., to be “nosy”), “neb” first appeared in the 19th century. As of now, oddly enough, the only two places on earth where you’re likely to hear “neb,” “nebby” and the like are Pittsburgh and Northern England. I figure it’s a zombie thing.

That is, it’s a relic feature, maintained now in two widely separated areas, while nosy has swamped it elsewhere. Survivals do occur, but feature by feature, not en masse as in the first three panels of the strip.

On to chipped chopped ham, or simply chipped ham — a feature of the food scene in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, especially associated with the Isaly’s company. From their website:

Chipped Chopped Ham
Fresher – Unmatched for freshness
Leaner, with higher-quality ingredients
“Hammier” – loaded with real-ham flavor
Always a better value – because it’s better!

Boston has its Baked Beans. Philly has its Cheesesteaks. Pittsburgh, Ohio, West Virginia and surrounds? We have Isaly’s Original Chipped Chopped Ham.

The ham, in its package and in a bun with Isaly’s barbeque sauce:

Getting an Isaly’s chipped ham hoagie / sub / sandwich is not so easy these days. To see why, consider the Isaly’s story (from Wikipedia):

Isaly’s was a chain of family-owned dairies and restaurants started in Mansfield (Richland County), Ohio with locations throughout the American Midwest from the early 20th century until the 1970s. [There used to be one not far from my Columbus OH house.] It is best known today for its iconic chipped chopped ham The company was founded by William Isaly, son of Swiss immigrants who settled in Monroe County, Ohio in the 19th century. By the early 1960s, the company boasted retail outlets that stretched from Pennsylvania to Iowa.

… In the 1930s, Isaly’s began a commercial building program that employed high style art deco / Art Moderne designed production facilities and retail outlets, most of which were designed by architect Vincent (Shooey) Schoeneman. The Youngstown dairy facility represented the apex of this project, with the streamline building (with exterior by architect Charles F. Owsley) dominated by a five-story glass block tower.

The Youngstown building, now the U-Haul Building, in a vintage postcard:

… Shifting consumer demands, declining sales for home-delivered milk, as well as corporate consolidation led to the closing of Isaly facilities beginning in the 1960s. According to Brian Butko, author of Klondikes, Chipped Ham, & Skyscraper Cones: The Story of Isaly’s, it was the loose company structure – in an era of growing corporate homogeneity – that left Isaly’s unable to compete on the wholesale and retail levels, leading to the closure of its dairies beginning in the mid-1960s.

… Since 1984, the Isaly’s name has enjoyed a comeback of sorts, but one not overseen by members of the Isaly family. Delicatessen Distributing Incorporated of Evans City, Pennsylvania purchased the Isaly trademark name and markets the original quality luncheon meats, cheeses and sauces under the Isaly name in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. The concern also distributes Isaly brand ice cream (except Klondikes) to stores in Western Pennsylvania. The Klondike Bar product line is now owned by Unilever.

The last Isaly’s location in Pittsburgh proper (in West View, on Perry Hwy.) closed this June. Locations in Turtle Creek PA and Washington PA apparently survive, and on its extensive website the company recommends two local places that both sell and ship “Isaly’s Chipped Ham and Original BBQ sauce”: Penn Mac on the Strip (the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. on Penn Ave.) and McGinnis Sisters Specialty Food Stores (at several locations).

There are, of course, plenty of places in or near Pittsburgh to get subs, hoagies, or whatever you call them. Em’s Subs in Johnstown PA, for instance, has a large selection of cold subs, Italian subs, and hot subs (all of which come in three sizes, the 6″ Sailor, the 11″ Grinder, and the 22″ Torpedo); some of them are based on baked ham, but none (so far as I can tell) involve chipped ham.

Predictably, here are places in Pittsburgh that sell ground beef hamburgers under the name hamburghers. You can also find several recipes on the net for chipped ham sandwiches with barbeque sauce on a bun, but no one seems to have taken the step of calling them chipped ham burghers.

A bonus from my searches on the net for chipped ham-related items: Pittsburgh Willy’s Gourmet Hot Dogs And More in Chandler AZ, with a decor that is heavily Steelers and offerings that include the Steel City Slider, “Pittsburgh’s famous “chipped ham” blended with Will’s homemade BBQ sauce”. A little bit of Three Rivers in the desert Southwest.

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