When I was researching the regionalism “needs washed,” Bill Bevington recommended that I look into “spendy,” which means “expensive” or “extravagant.” Here’s the resulting map:
A blue pin represents one person who had heard or used “spendy” in the region. A red pin represents one person who has never heard “spendy” in the region. A purple pin represents someone who has heard “spendy,” but only rarely or only from a transplant from another region. n=430+ (Go to the interactive map.) Not shown on the map: one person from the UK, one from Dublin, one from the Philippines, and four from Australia who reported that they don’t hear “spendy” where they live. Apparently “exxy” is used like “spendy” in Australia.
“Spendy” Is Most Common in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest
Clearly, “spendy” is common in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Since those regions are not contiguous, I first investigated whether there was some reason a lot of people would migrate from one region to the other. That was a dead end, but I did discover that both regions were centers of immigration for Norwegians starting in the mid-1800s. According to Wikipedia,”today “55% of Norwegian Americans live in the Midwest, although a large number (21%) live in the Pacific States of Washington, Oregon, and California.”
This is what scientists call correlation and not causation. That the states with a lot of Norwegian immigrants roughly matches the states in which people say “spendy,” doesn’t prove that “spendy” is of Norwegian origin. It’s just a correlation—a hint—but certainly not an answer.
“Spendy” Originated in 1911
The Oxford English Dictionary dates “spendy” back to 1911 and says it originated in the United States, so it seems unlikely its use would be driven by historical immigration trends. On the other hand, it could be that those historical immigration trends mean there are still a lot of people of Norwegian descent in Minnesota and Wisconsin with relatives and friends in Washington and Oregon and vice versa, and “spendy” usage could have spread through these communities.
A Little Help?
I’m mostly guessing to come up with a reason that “spendy” would be distributed as it is. Do any linguists out there want to give me a little help with a comment?
“Spendy” Could Be Spreading
In regions outside the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, a few people mentioned that they had just recently started hearing “spendy” or that teens or hipsters were the only ones saying “spendy.” It was only 5 to 10 people, but that is more than have said such things for other words I’ve investigated, so it seemed worth mentioning.
Note: When I make the maps at Google Maps, I can see all the pins (which is what you see in the screenshot above); but once I save the map and go back, the entries are split over three screens and I can only see the pins for the results showing on the current screen. If anyone knows how to fix the problem so that visitors to the interactive Google Map can see the complete map, please let me know.
Mignon Fogarty is the author of Grammar Girl’s 101 Words Every High School Graduate Needs to Know.