wash cloth to worsh rag

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIO.EDU
Sat Nov 30 15:35:25 UTC 2002

Same here in southeastern Ohio--but I've always considered British 'hot' to
have not the full open /o/ (which I as a Minnesotan of a certain age still
have in 'caught') but instead the "inverted script a" you describe.  In
fact, 'cot' and 'caught' do merge here in SE Ohio (as they do in western
PA), but at that intermediate inverted script a point.  In central Ohio
they merge at low back unrounded /a/ (I can't do the script /a/ on the

BTW, in Minnesota in my youth, and perhaps elsewhere as well, "wash rag"
was the commoners' term (and in my home), while "wash cloth" was city
folks' term.

At 09:05 PM 11/29/2002 -0500, you wrote:
>One possible explanation of "worsh" for "wash" is articulatory.  In parts of
>the country that distinguish "cot" and "caught", which includes Eastern Ky,
>the vowel of "caught" is sometimes not open /o/, as in Br. Eng. "hot", but
>the low back rounded vowel represented by IPA lower case inverted script a.
>This vowel, which I also have, coming from SE Michigan, involves a slightly
>constricted pharynx (throat cavity).  If you constrict the pharynx even
>more, the effect is very much like that of retroflexion, as in Midwestern
>/r/.  The perception of a vowel spelled <ar> or <or> for "warsh/worsh" as
>r-colored results from the pharyngeal constriction.  I suspect that that
>perception might also lead speakers to emphasize such an r-coloring so that
>they have a phonemic /r/ in such words.
>Herb Stahlke
>   -----Original Message-----
>   From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf Of
>christen stevens
>   Sent: Friday, November 29, 2002 8:36 PM
>   Subject: wash cloth to worsh rag
>   My mother has always referred to a small towel or face cloth as a wash
>cloth.  However, all of my family raised in Eastern Ky refers to it as a
>"worsh cloth".  Does anyone know where this term originated or how "wash"
>was changed to "worsh" in that part of the country?
>   christen stevens
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