[Ads-l] Media inquiry: "bubbler" (water fountain)

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Fri Feb 3 06:23:39 UTC 2023

I've personally heard drinking fountains called 'bubblers' in Wisconsin, 
Minnesota, Iowa, Oregon and Washington. FWIW. The OED entry is 
misleading, I think; "Originally Australian" is at least contestable. 
The 1985 DARE documents use in the North, and North Midland regions, 
"esp[ecially] freq[uent] in WI":


(free account needed to log in and borrow). See page xxxiii (37 as 
paginated for the online display) for a map of the regions.

The earliest use I found may be more descriptive than appellative:

1901  Theta Delta Chi & Zeta Psi Fraternity *The Loss of the College 
Pump* _The Tuftonian_ 27(1) 28  The veteran yields to the new 
generation; the day of the sedate wooden pump succumbs to the modernity 
of a “bubbler” fountain, and they uproot from the very campus a first 
source of association and tradition.


That "bubbler", more commonly "sanitary bubbler" was originally a brand 
name for Kohler seems unlikely in light of this Rhode Island connection:

c1909  The H.F. Jenks Co., Pawtucket, R.I. *Drinking fountains: for 
horses: for people.* _Advertising. Eight pages, with three photographs._ 
Our own patented bubbler is used and cannot be made to squirt water.

Notes: Date uncertain. Flyer claims “Hundreds of our fountains have been 
in continuous use for over thirty years and are good for as many more.” 
Amusing photographs.


As to "how often and why a brand name becomes a slang word" in a 
particular region and what makes it stick, I don't know: historical 
accident? childish whimsy? ease of pronunciation in a given regional 
accent? Ditto for "why do we love our regional dialects and slang".

On 2/2/23 11:03, Joe Salmons wrote:
> The Kohler Company produced a valve with the relevant name. Brief discussion here: https://wep.csumc.wisc.edu/english/ under ‘Words’ and scrolling down to ‘bubbler’ for an old ad.
> The story is that the term is used where the valve was widely sold, including bits of New England, (mostly eastern) Wisconsin and Melbourne, Australia.
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Date: Thursday, February 2, 2023 at 12:55 PM
> Subject: Re: Media inquiry: "bubbler" (water fountain)
> Ditto. During the four years I spent in Madison I confirmed that "bubbler"
> was familiar to my students who were indigenous to the state and not so
> much to outlanders.  But I'm not surprised at Herb's observations re
> Michigan, or if similar ones hold for Minnesota or Iowa.
> LH
> On Thu, Feb 2, 2023 at 1:48 PM Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I know "bubbler" is used in Wisconsin because I went to high school and
>> junior college in Milwaukee, and that's the term we used.  However, I grew
>> up in Waltz, MI, a dinky village about 25 miles south of Detroit, and we
>> used the term there.  My brother-in-law grew up in Clio, about 10 miles
>> north of Flint, MI, and he also used it.
>> On February 2, 2023, at 1:26 PM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at duke.edu>
>> wrote:
>> The River Falls {Wisconsin] Journal, Feb. 24, 1910 5/1
>> The "sanitary bubblers" drinking fountains, ordered by the local school
>> board, have arrived...
>> Library of Congress newspapers
>> https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033255/1910-02-24/ed-1/seq-5/
>> [
>> https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033255/1910-02-24/ed-1/seq-5/thumbnail.jpg
>> ]<
>> https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033255/1910-02-24/ed-1/seq-5/><https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033255/1910-02-24/ed-1/seq-5/%3e>
>> River Falls journal. [volume] (River Falls, Pierce County, Wis.)
>> 1872-2019, February 24, 1910, Image 5<
>> https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033255/1910-02-24/ed-1/seq-5/><https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85033255/1910-02-24/ed-1/seq-5/%3e>
>> River Falls journal. [volume] (River Falls, Pierce County, Wis.)
>> 1872-2019, February 24, 1910, Image 5, brought to you by Wisconsin
>> Historical Society, and the National Digital Newspaper Program.
>> chroniclingamerica.loc.gov
>> ________________________________
>> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of
>> Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at MST.EDU>
>> Sent: Thursday, February 2, 2023 1:15 PM
>> Subject: Media inquiry: "bubbler" (water fountain)
>> Dear ads-l members,
>> Today I received a media inquiry concerning dialectal English "bubbler"
>> (water fountain).  The reporter aks several questions, and any
>> insight/information/guidance would be very gratefully received.
>> Gerald Cohen
>> P.S. Of course, DARE would be a logical first step, and here is what
>> OED3 has:
>>   4. Originally Australian. A drinking fountain which spouts bubbling
>> water. More fully bubbler fountain.Not used in British English.
>> 1913   World's News (Sydney) 8 June 11/3   One fountain manufacturer has
>> designed a bubbler which may be raised to the lips while the user is in a
>> standing position.
>> 1926   Sanitary & Heating Engin. July 582   Every Test, Century Bubblers
>> are Sanitary and Attractive.
>> 1930   Cumberland Argus & Fruitgrowers' Advocate (Parramatta, New S.
>> Wales) 15 Feb. 3/2   New bubbler. Liverpool Council last week decided to
>> place a bubbler fountain in front of P. Wych's shop at Moorebank.
>> 1983   Canberra Times 4 Mar. 1/4   Children were unable to drink from the
>> school bubbler.
>> 2006   Chicago Tribune (Midwest ed.) 3 Sept. viii. 4/5   There's a faucet
>> on either side... A third side has a drinking fountain—a ‘bubbler’, as we
>> say.
>> ________________________________
>> From: Landeck, Katie <KLandeck at gannett.com>
>> Sent: Thursday, February 2, 2023 10:20 AM
>> To: Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at mst.edu>
>> Subject: Media inquiry: A question about the word "bubbler"
>> Hello,
>> My name is Katie, and I am reporter with The Providence Journal in Rhode
>> Island. I was reading your topics of expertise on the American Dialect
>> Society website, and I'm hoping you would be able to help me with an
>> article on one of our favorite local slang words — bubbler.
>> The term is so regional that when I moved in 6th grade from a town on the
>> Rhode Island border one hour away to Western Mass, my classmates stopped
>> knowing what I was talking about so I switched from bubbler to water
>> fountain. My understanding - and correct me if I'm wrong - is that bubbler
>> was a brand name for Kohler and for some reason it stuck in the Rhode
>> Island area and parts of Wisconsin.
>> My article is just trying to answer why this happened. If you know
>> anything about the term bubbler in specific, I would love your insight on
>> it. But also, I'm wondering if you could tell me how often and why a brand
>> name becomes a slang word for a region? What makes it stick? My other
>> question is, why do we love our regional dialects and slang so much?
>> Hope to hear from you,
>> Katie
>> Engagement Reporter
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James Eric Lawson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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