May 26, 2011

Vermawnt slang!

I spent ski season in Vermont this year and picked up some funny lingo. Up here, soft-serve ice cream is a "creemee." A local who does his venison shopping during hunting season is a "woodchuck."

Even stranger: In Vermont, and from upstate New York through Maine, a "camp" isn’t just a collection of tents and lean-tos—it’s a real house. You might not live in it year-round, but it has plumbing and electricity. Most Americans would call one a "cabin," but "camp" is used and understood up here. "Camp" can mean a pretty big place--
"Van Patten Camp, Charlotte,1 1896. William Van Patten built his impressive summer camp on a cliff overlooking Converse Bay on Lake Champlain." Paul A. Bruhn, compiler, Vermont's Historic Architecture: A Second Celebration (1985).
"Camp" in this sense is listed in speech and in casual books for areas from New York to Maine in the Dictionary of American Regional English, and in Louisiana and Georgia too from the middle of the twentieth century.

The “kee-imp,” as Vermonters pronounce it, is on every lakefront. Places that are pleasant and accessible are kind of expensive, so the owner of a lakefront farm can raise a lot of money selling off his lake shore in long, narrow strips. Sometimes a parcel with ten feet of lake frontage will extend 50, 100, 150 feet back to the public road that gives the "camp"-owner access. The "camp" home will be perched right on the water, and much less than a stone’s throw from the neighbors.

Is "camp" slang? I don’t think so—it’s a regional, proper word for what it denotes. It’s used commonly in speech and in books, and it even comes up in court decisions in Vermont,2 although I couldn't locate it in the statutes of any state. ("Camp" appears, in them, only to refer to temporary summer tent camps and hunting camps in their commonly held senses.)

It happens that, in South Africa, a "camp" is "a fenced enclosure for grazing, equiv. of paddock," from the Afrikaans kamp. Jean Branford, A Dictionary of South African English (1991).

1. Charlotte, Vermont, pronounced “shuh-LOT.”

2. For instance: “There is a camp or cottage and outhouses located on the lot in question.” Montgomery v. Branon, 278 A.2d 744 (Vt. 1971); “At the sentencing hearing, defendant used the term ’seasonal dwelling’ to describe the structures at issue in his burglary convictions. On appeal defendant refers to the buildings as ’summer camps.’ In either case, defendant recognizes that the buildings were used as dwellings when seasonally appropriate.” U.S. v. Fredette, 15 F.3d 272 (2d Cir 1994)(reviewing a Vermont case).

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