A bottle of Sprite sits on my desk. When I show it to my friend visiting from Philly and ask him to describe it, he appears befuddled, then responds “It’s a soda, what else?” Absolutely ridiculous. Having lived in Savannah, Ga., for three years, I know this substance to be coke (with a lower case “c”). But when I ask my office companion, a native Cincinnatian and Xavier grad, to label the liquid, she blithely calls it “pop.” And another desk away, the response comes as “soft drink.”

What gives here? Why, the subtle differences in regional slang, of course, the colloquialisms and catchphrases that define us all and identify to the world where we’ve lived and for how long.

Go to a conference in Denver, for instance, and tell the taxi driver he’s riding too close to the berm. Just look for the confusion in his face.

Webster’s defines “berm” as a noise barrier, but notes that in Ohio and Indiana, residents refer to the shoulder of the highway as the berm. The local catchphrase even weasels itself into the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles official drivers’ handbook. Go figure.

The differences in dialect are everywhere. Is that sandwich that you’re munching called a sub, a submarine, a blimpie, a dagwood, a hero, a grinder, a po’boy or a hoagie? Careful how you answer; it will expose your geographic roots.

Do your office-mates gather at the drinking fountain, the water fountain, or the water cooler? Is the deli across the street kitty-corner or katty-corner from you? Are you planning to wear tennis shoes or sneakers to the gym tonight? Do you commute home on I-275, the circle freeway, the interstate loop or just 275? When you arrive home, will you sit down for supper or dinner? And, after dinner, will you spot fireflies or lightning bugs buzzing around your lawn?

You say tomahto, I say tomayto.

When I moved here in the mid-1980s, one of my initial tasks was to open a bank account. Easily enough done (or so I thought).

But the first time I approached an elderly bank teller to withdraw some money from my brand-new checking account, I was shocked to get an etiquette lesson. The bank was noisy that day, and above the fray, she shouted at me “Please!” Flustered, I again put in the simple request: I would like $60 in twenties. Again, she demanded “Please.”

“All right,” I finally responded in an exasperated voice, “PLEASE, may I have some of MY money.”

Of course, the hapless bank teller wasn’t trying to correct my manners. She was simply employing the definitive Cincy Speak, a collection of expressions and idioms that couldn’t happen anywhere else, dialectic diversions and idiomatic shortcuts unique to the Queen City.

No where is this so true as in the phrase “please?” It’s a unique piece of the local vernacular, a linguistic idiosyncrasy that there’s little explanation for (until you consult a language expert). It boils down to this: Veteran Cincinnatians have this thing for saying “Please?” when they really mean “Pardon?” or “Come again?” They say “Please?” when they didn’t quite hear what the other person was saying or want them to repeat it. This oddity defines them forever from the rest of the nation. So whatever happened to simply saying “Excuse me?” or “Could you repeat that?” You can blame the town’s Germanic heritage for this regional dialect: Longtime Cincinnatians say “Please?” exactly the way the Germans say “Bitte?” — a word that can be translated as both “Please?” and “Excuse me?”

Other examples of aggravated vocabulary abound. Anyplace I’ve ever lived, a pony keg is a metal container holding 7 gallons of beer. Here, it’s slang for a drive-up or drive-in store that sells the brew. Confounding.

Natives are known to call pork “city chicken.” They throw around phrases such as “what not,” and “anyhoo.” They pronounce Cheviot as Chiv-iot, Mariemont as Marymont and Buttermilk Pike as Buttermelk. If they’ve worked in the same restaurant more than 40 years, they call the patrons “honey,” even if they’re total strangers. And, they refer to Coney Island amusement park as “Old Coney,” an unfathomable practice since there is no New Coney. (Vic Nolting, the general manager, explains that, for a time in the ’70s, the park was marketed as Old Coney, so anybody using the term dates themselves to at least that era. That mystery is solved, at least.)

Want all these abuses of the vernacular explained again? Say please.