What the heck is a jojo?

20 Jan 2017

I asked the students in my introductory linguistics class to participate in a small naming survey. They were shown a picture of a food and simply asked to type in what they would call that item if they were ordering it in a restaurant. For the 26 students who self-identified as Washingtonians, these were the numbers:

The first two don’t show any clear regional effects, although there was some consternation about the difference between the three options. I myself didn’t have as principled a distinction between “burger” and “hamburger” as some of the students did. For mussels and fries, students either never encountered that as a dish before (“other”), or couldn’t decide if they were clams or mussels.

The last two were really the object of study. My roommate, a native Washingtonian, has named quite a few things that were surprising to me (“Honey Bucket” for portapotty??) but none stood out quite as much as “jojos”. I wanted to see for sure whether it was a Washington thing or not, and it seems like it is. An informal survey of my friends and family back in Los Angeles definitely confirms my suspicion – no one there calls these thick potato wedges “jojos”, and no one could guess what they were.

Lastly, the popular drink characterized by tapioca balls and a thick straw – what’s it called? I really want to do a larger-scale study of this exact item. Lots of sources have told me that Southern California is the odd one out here – only there is the drink uniformly called “boba”. It seems this survey supports that, with most of the Washington students preferring to call it “bubble tea”.