Another SOS for DARE

« previous post | next post »

Two years ago I sent out an "SOS for DARE," that is, a plea for the indispensable Dictionary of American Regional English, which had run into funding troubles. Though DARE was granted a temporary reprieve, the latest news is more dire than ever.

Marc Johnson laid out the situation in an article for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The end may be near for one of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's most celebrated humanities projects, the half-century-old Dictionary of American Regional English. In a few months, the budget pool will drain to a puddle. Layoff notices have been sent, eulogies composed…

For years, DARE has weathered seemingly endless financial crises, somehow always finding eleventh-hour benefactors. This time, though, the project will begin the fiscal year in July with a little under $100,000 — not even 20% of its usual annual budget. And the university has troubles of its own: a proposed two-year $300 million budget cut from the governor.

John Karl Scholz, dean of the College of Letters and Science, declined to comment on the dictionary's predicament, saying, "The DARE team is best equipped to tell their own story."

Chief editor Joan Houston Hall, who has devoted almost 40 years to the project, recently sent layoff and nonrenewal notices to all five DARE staffers, herself included.

"I've lost many nights of sleep trying to figure out where we're going to get funding, and in recent months I just haven't thought of any place left to go. I recognize that the university is stretched to the limit," she said.

"I believe in this project. It has been an important gift to the nation and there is still work to be done."

If she is unable to find more funding, Hall said she may stay on at 20% of her salary and spend the next year, "trying to figure out what goes in the archives and what goes elsewhere."

(The Journal-Sentinel article was also picked up by the Associated Press.)

University of Wisconsin librarian Anna Lewis has set up a fundraising campaign for DARE on GoFundMe. Please consider donating if you'd like to see the great work of DARE continue. (You can also donate directly on the DARE website.)

Update: Allan Metcalf wrote an appeal for DARE on the Chronicle of Higher Education's Lingua Franca blog. And DARE editor Joan Hall has shared some further information on DARE's current plans:

It's our hope that we can not only continue adding new entries to DARE and improving existing ones, but that we can also complete some ongoing projects:

1) Creating the API for DARE so that developers can make apps utilizing its wide-ranging materials (imagine an app for doctors, defining the thousands of regional and folk names for ailments and diseases; an app for regional foods; one for travelers in each region of the country; one for bird-watchers, with all of our regional and folk names for birds; one for writers who want their characters to use appropriate regional words and phrases; one for makers of word games, etc.).

2) "Bleeping" the personal or confidential information in our collection of 1,843 audio recordings made between 1965 and 1970 so that they can all be posted on the UW-Madison's Digital Collections Center website. (We are more than halfway through the project, which is being done by graduate Project Assistants and undergraduate interns.)

3) Posting short segments of audio recordings from each state in the "English Dialects" segment of this site.

4) Posting results of our Online Survey of Wisconsin English here.


  1. Rubrick said,

    April 1, 2015 @ 4:17 pm

    I apparently didn't yet have quite enough reasons to loathe Scott Walker.

  2. JHH said,

    April 1, 2015 @ 7:26 pm

    The final volume of DARE was published in 2012, right? So this desired budget is for storing the archives? Working on an appendix?

    I like DARE a lot. I had just assumed that the project was now completed…

  3. Keith said,

    April 2, 2015 @ 12:39 am


  4. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 2, 2015 @ 7:32 am

    JHH: DARE's donation page gives some info on their current activities:

    “On to Z!” That was Fred Cassidy’s motto for DARE—a phrase so enduring that it was engraved on his tombstone. But the end of the alphabet (2012) was not the end of the project, and “On Beyond Z!” emerged as the new catchphrase. Volume VI [with supplemental materials] and were completed in 2013, marking the first milestones “beyond Z.” Updating the electronic text, preparing the massive collection of audio recordings for posting online, and analyzing the data from the Online Survey of Wisconsin English are currently underway.

    The Online Survey of Wisconsin English is a pilot study for a new nationwide survey that DARE is planning online. You can read more about it here.

  5. Brendan said,

    April 3, 2015 @ 9:20 am

    It looks like there's a problem with the GoFundMe link here — it seems to point to another campaign.

  6. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 3, 2015 @ 9:53 pm

    Brendan: The title is a bit misleading, but if you read on, you'll see there's a DARE connection to the Wisconsin Badgers basketball team headed to Final Four, thanks to Nigel Hayes' use of the regionalism catawampus.

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    April 8, 2015 @ 9:38 am

    Part of the problem may be that "On to Z" is an easier notion for outside funding sources (both governmental and private donor) to grasp. The trouble with "On Beyond Z" (apart from the Dr. Seuss associations), is that "when do you anticipate the project you're seeking funding for will be completed?" seems like a fair question for prospective donors to ask and "never, as long as we can keep getting funding" is not a sympathetic answer. Maybe what they need to do is a name-change – if it were something like the "Center for American Regional Dialect Research" it wouldn't sound like it ought to have a natural ending point.

RSS feed for comments on this post