When I moved from Philadelphia to Buffalo a handful of years ago, I thought I was pretty prepared for the major dialect differences. Pronunciation-wise, I had steeled myself for the Western New York pronunciation of words like car and crab shack, and I knew I wouldn’t be understood if I asked for a glass of water the way I was used to. (Check out the fantastic Super Grip Lock commercials on YouTube for examples of the accent here.) They say garbage where I say trash, pop for my soda, and they’re generally clueless about hoagies—but at least they don’t say tennis shoes or youins.
One I didn’t expect was the Western New York pronunciation of bison, which comes up pretty often here since the minor-league baseball team is called the Bisons. (Most Buffalonians I’ve spoken with are aware of the incorrect pluralization.) Here, they pronounce the animal name like “BAI-zun”, where I and nearly everyone I’ve asked from somewhere else say “BAI-sun”. A funny thing about this one is that the Buffalonians are certain they’re right—they’ll say, “‘BAI-sun’! Pfft, that’s wrong. I’ve never heard anyone say it that way.” In a town like this, that’s probably even true.
I thought I was hip to the language jive. So it caught me by surprise when I was having a conversation with the boyfriend about playground accidents and I mentioned that one time I was standing at the top of the tallest sliding board in the playground when…
He said, “The what?”
I said, “The sliding board. I was standing at the top of the sliding board, about to go down, when…”
He said, “What’s that mean?”
I said, “You know, a sliding board. *quizzical face* You climb up the ladder part, then go down the flat metal part on your backside…”
He said, “Oh, a slide? Wait, you call those sliding boards?”
Whoa. I’d had no idea my term for them might be a regional thing. I Googled it later, and yep: turns out people from at least eastern PA and the surrounding region (and maybe in parts of the UK too) call that thing a sliding board, while everywhere else it’s a slide. I would never even have thought that anyone might not call it a sliding board!
I wondered whether this was some weird old-fashioned thing that I picked up from my dad, like calling a blender an “Osterizer”, or pronouncing “radiator” to rhyme with “gladiator”. So I did what any curious person would do in this situation: I asked my Facebook peeps for their input.
I’m pasting the conversation below for a couple of reasons. First, it makes me smile, and I want to be able to read it in the future. Second, some of my coworkers and friends have recalled the conversation to others who can’t believe that anyone would ever call the thing a sliding board. I’d like to be able to point them to this, and I won’t be able to do that if it only lives in the past on Facebook. Sure, there are lots of comments and it’s long, but too bad! It’s my damn blog, and I’ll post what I want, whether or not people are going to read it. Suck it.
Below is the conversation that took place September 29–30. I added location information and highlighted the mid-Atlantic commenters to help identify the regional usage.
Debbie: I just learned that “sliding board” might be part of my regional dialect. Staci, Scott, Tina, Melanie, Clif, Danielle, and other Philly-area friends: do you call “slides” “sliding boards”? Other people: is “sliding board” weird to you?
Blake (GA): (We call ’em that at the pool – but slide at the playground.) #GenuineSouthernPerson
Jaime (Philly): Definitely “sliding board.” I never realized that there were other variations for that piece of playground equipment.
Jennifer (IN): I have never heard of a “sliding board”
Bruce (Philly area): this is srs bizns
K.o. (Philly area): Hey, it was a sliding board when I was a kid, but now it’s just a slide. I hadn’t noticed that before.
Lyz: It’s a slide in central IL.
Katherine: sliding board in NC
Connor: I’m born and raised WNY. This is the first I’ve heard of the term “sliding board”. It was always just a “slide” for me.
Ashley (SC): What Jen said. WTF is a sliding board. I know diving boards and joggling boards, but no sliding boards.
Andrew (South): Let me just add my vote to “What the hell is a sliding board?”
Eric: Just a ‘slide’ in SD
Debbie: I seriously didn’t know that they weren’t called that everywhere, until two days ago!
Brian: We called them “sliding boards” here in Maryland when I was a kid, but I believe it is now “slide”.
Ashley: If you google sliding board it comes up with something that is definitely not a slide. And here’s a double blind survey that must be accurate: http://community.babycenter.com/post/a29027715/poll_slide_or_sliding_board
POLL: Slide or sliding board? – July 2010 Birth Club, community.babycenter.com
Brian: It’s in the free dictionary (for whatever it’s worth)
Tina (Philly area): We always said sliding board, but slide was more than acceptable. Is there another name for a diving board?
Debbie: @Ashley, the comments like “What the hell is a sliding board?!?!?” cracked me up.
Katherine: well, actually, maybe it’s just a “slide” now, but we def called it a sliding board when i was young, in NC. i dont have kids so i dont know
Roy (CA): Weird
Tina: I’ll ask Jade for you tomorrow!
Melody (KY, VA): I’ve never heard of slide. It’s sliding board.
Cory: Wow. I’ve never heard of a “sliding board” — we in Virginia and Kentucky also call them “slides” — but until i looked up images i was convinced you were talking about these. http://tinyurl.com/66uqhwz
Ryan: Oh, you’re talking about gravity-powered kid-viscofiers. I loved those!
Melody: @Cory: I grew up in Kentucky and Virginia and we called them sliding boards.
Thomas (Philly): I’ve always been calling it a sliding board
Cory: @Melody, where were you? I was in Bowling Green, KY, and Tazewell County, VA.
Melody: Owensboro, KY and Northern VA.
Cory: I stake no claim to NoVa but Owensboro isn’t far . . . i’ll have to ask my dad about that.
Jeffery (MD): Melody, wasn’t it actually a slahdin’ boahd, then?
Luis: I’d never heard of a sliding board until now. I could blame my Oklahoma upbringing.
Cory: @Melody, my dad doesn’t remember anyone in Bowling Green calling it anything other than a slide. Could this be the Mason-Dixon line for slides/sliding boards?
Melody: Jeffery, yes that’s what it was called in KY, but not Northern VA.
Tina: Debbie this is fascinating
Debbie: @Tina, right? I want to do a survey and map it!
Melody: In the park, it’s a sliding board. In the water park, it’s called a water slide.
Willa: I have never ever ever ever heard of a “sliding board” until 30 seconds ago and am absolutely stunned and freaked out! Growing up in California, it’s always been a “slide” to me. I learned something today! =D
Danielle (Philly): Sliding board for sure when I was little – Slide now with Sammy
Mark (Ontario): Sliding board? Really? It’s a slide!
Dean: We called them sliders in West Michigan. Then again, we had no White Castles in West Michigan.
Melody: Slide is just lazy. It’s sliding board!
Mark: I’ll have a pop and think about this…
Melody: Slide is what you do down the sliding board. “Let’s go slide on the sliding board!”
Tina: I just asked Jeremy, he spent most of his youth living in New Hampshire; he said slide.
Jeffery: No, Melody, it’s just a slide – sliding board has too many syllables. Like a bike is just a bike, not a “bicycling contraption.”
Melody: Do you also have a different name for teeter totter? I find this very disturbing.
Carrie (ND/MN): what the heck is a sliding board?
Victoria (PA): I used sliding board too and had never considered it might be a regional thing. That’s a really interesting survey!
Jeremy: Have you ever tried to slide down a board. That just doesn’t make sense. You’ll just end up with splinters in your bottom side. They’re “sliding sheet-metals”
Cory: @Melody, holyshitholyshit, i have this very vague memory of someone saying just that — “Let’s go down the sliding board!”. For all i know i’m injecting old memories with your quote, but i might have had friends (i know, right?) who said that.
Jeffery: Melody, a teeter totter is a see saw.
Scott Goddard (Philly): Sliding board was definitely the name, but then again my dad was born in the thirties.
Casimir: Slide (and the lubricated water slide version) for me, from Detroit. Sliding board sounds like some messed up new way of waterboarding.
Richard: This is the first time I’ve heard the expression “sliding board”
Scott J. (Philly area): Sliding Board is where it’s at. I’m not sure what other bashmephers say.
Richard: Wonder if it’s “swing” or “pendulous seat swing” …
Tina: See-saw. Not teeter-totter. Who ever said such a silly thing? Or is this a whole new conversation?
Tina: Or, as we say it in Philly, a whole ‘nother?
Jonathan (MD): It’s a sliding board. Anyone who says otherwise is a deviant who I want kept away from my children.
Susan: I grew up in Conn. in the 50s, and it was always called a slide. When I moved to Florida and taught elementary school in Miami’s inner city (African-American kids) in 1966, the kids called it a “sliding board.” I had never heard that before and just assumed it was regional thing. Surprised to learn after all these years that it wasn’t!
Joseph: Canada here, see-saw, teeter-totter, and slide. Boards are made of wood, not good to slide on…
Jim (Philly area): I use both terms, but sliding board is more frequent.
Andy (Philly): I prefer sliding board whistles myself
Eric H. (Philly): It was always sliding board when I was growing up. Maybe it’s not a regional but an ethnic thing. Most of my peers were African-American. William Labov might know.
Eric H.: They used to be called the Physicists’ Commission on Horizontal Translation, but now it’s just The Sliding Board 🙂
Chris: Kansas = slide. But often with descriptives, such as “curly q slide” or “double-sided slide”. Besides ours were all metal calling it a board would just be silly.
Clif (Philly area): You know, I think I used to hear/say sliding board a lot more as a kid (granted, when slides were much more a thing in my life) but it petered out at some point.
Clif: I think when slides on playgrounds started becoming plastic tubes is when the ‘board’ part wasn’t so important.
Kai: Colorado weighing in: Never heard of “sliding board” before now. It sounds really bizarre.
Tom: I grew up in Erie PA, culturally closer to Cleveland than anywhere in PA, and they were sliding boards.
Christine: OMFSM – 73 comments that this Canadian does not want to read through to figure out, WTF is a sliding board?
Clif: A slide.
Christine: Thank you, Clif! Then in response to DebGod’s question, yes, “sliding board” is weird to me. Prior to being thus enlightened, were I to venture a guess about its meaning, I would have thought it was something used to toboggan.