Case for Charity


So as listeners may know by now, my year-long challenge was to thoughtfully research and choose some sort of charity to get involved with. I left it a little open-ended but kind of knew in the back of my mind that this mean donating money to something. I feel like life is good and I wanted to be the type of ‘good guy’ that does a little more than buy gift wrap from the kids that come to the door. Support something I believe in, and something that will make some sort of difference.
Sounds like a great goal, and something that’s not that difficult to take some action on. We live in an internet world where it should be super easy for me to find something worth giving to and being able to follow/track etc. But every time I sat down to try and find something worthwhile, I get super overwhelmed. Turns out that there are a LOT of charities out there. Literally, over a million in the united states.

So how about some trivia about giving before we get started for the year 2012 in the US:
What percentage of households gave to charity? 88%
Total amount given by Americans? $316B (about 2% of GDP)
How much of that was from individuals? 72%
Average household contribution? Around $2K
Biggest recipients: Religion 32%, Education 13%, human services 12%, grantmaking foundations 9%

Charitable Index to compare to other countries
So this is a bigger space than I thought, and so when I sat down and googled ‘how to choose a charity to donate to,’ turns out it’s way harder than expected. I mean where else are you trying to choose between 1M plus choices? When deciding on a car or a phone or something, you’ve got at the most a few hundred to choose from.

So I did what all good guys do when they are faced with a problem like this, I procrastinated… And I was unsure of how to proceed, I decided to take a step back and examine my own views of charity and what I wanted to accomplish by giving. My favorite podcast, EconTalk, had a serendipitous podcast where Russ Roberts interviewed Dan Palotta about his book ‘Uncharitable’ and I decided to download and have a read myself. It did a great job of honestly changing how I think about giving and how we think about the charitable institutions in America and that’s what I’d like to talk about today.

The overall thesis of the podcast/book really hit home for me after trying to find a good charity to donate to. When I initially sat down and ceremoniously cracked my knuckles before googling ‘Best charities to donate to’ I was met with a bunch of sites that evaluated how ‘efficient’ charities were. There is a conception that all that matters with a charity is what percentage of donated dollars go directly to the cause. If I’m donating a dollar, I want most of that to go to the cause itself, rather than paying the employees’ salaries, or for fancy advertising spreads. I want my money to actually be put to work. Low overhead, and high efficiency have a huge premium when choosing a charity.

Palotta’s thesis is in direct contradiction with this seemingly well-placed intention. He argues in “Uncharitable,” that if we really want charities to grow to the point that they can enact real global impact and change with some of the world’s toughest problems, we need to let them use the tools and tactics that we know work for building growing organizations that can get big things done. This is deliberately a little vague, but we’ll get more specific with the 5 main things he thinks are a problem with the way charities are run today.

Just for a brief background on Palotta, he is somewhat of a ‘philanthropic entrepreneur.’ His organization basically invented the breast cancer 3-day walks and other events like it. Big events that brought a ton of awareness, and much more importantly, a ton of money to charitable causes. So I’m going to go through the 5 things that he says we have wrong when we think about charity. His book argues that this goes back to our puritan roots in colonial America.

First Error: Constraints on Compensation –
This was what really drew me to the topic and got me to buy the book because it reminded me of the conversation we had a couple years ago about how much we pay teachers. Here are some of the things that we say about compensation of people who work in charitable fields:
– There should be a limited amount of money people can make in charity
– People who want to make money off of charities aren’t doing it for the right reasons, they should do it out of the goodness of their hearts.
– People who donate to charities make a sacrifice, so people who work there should to.

There are a bunch more, but let’s just take these in order to give you a flavor of what Palotta is talking about. #1, that there should be a limited amount someone can make in charity. Limiting the compensation logically places a limit on outcomes. A quote from a charity professional that Palotta cites: “The nonprofit sector is not the for-profit sector… I don’t think we need to pay someone $350,000 to get the best and the brightest” Palotta asks, “Is there one kind of ‘best and brightest’ who is worth $350,000 and should work for the needy, and another kind of ‘best and brightest’ who is worth many times more and should not work for the needy?

Palotta goes on to compare the salaries of the highest paid CEOs of some major health insurance companies to the salaries of the highest paid CEOs of health and human services charity CEOs. (2002 numbers): CEO of Oxford Health Plans $76M. CEO of Stowers Institute: $717K. Could have a whole podcast on this but we don’t have time. It’s the same general argument that we talked about with teachers. If you place some artificial limit on what someone can make in a certain profession, you aren’t going to attract the best and brightest. So by extension, the best and brightest CEOs are naturally going to gravitate to the private sector instead of the non-profit.

“People should work for charities out of the goodness of their hearts.” This implies that making money, and doing something you’re passionate about are mutually exclusive. You can either a. make money, or b. help the needy. Palotta asks the question, ‘So does this mean that upper management of Apple like Steve Jobs isn’t passionate about creating an incredible technology product that touches millions of lives? Or that Bill Gates wasn’t passionate about Microsoft and making the PC a reality?” When you say it like that, it becomes easy to see, that ‘hey, you can be passionate about anything you do AND make money. Self deprivation is not a pre-requisite to do something you’re passionate and care deeply about.

“People who donate to charities sacrifice, so the people that work there should to.” This is where Palotta flexes his economics biceps because he points out that this sentiment is talking about two different markets. One is the labor market, and one is the gift giving market, and a sacrifice means something different in both places. If I’m trying to decide to sacrifice $1000 to donate to a charity, that’s a fundamentally different than someone deciding to choose a career in non-profit which will certainly affect their earning potential for providing for their family.

So that’s the first error in ideology of charity, that we need to have a limit on compensation. And I spent the most time on that one because I feel it’s the most important and was the most jarring to me. Second one is a little more fun, that charities are discouraged from taking risks. Businesses do this all the time. They try off-the-wall products until they hit the jackpot, they try edgy marketing schemes. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions on R&D to develop drugs that may never pan out.

But we want charities to be different. We don’t want to feel like our dollar is going to waste. Palotta gives the example of the charity “Hands Across America” to raise money for hunger and homelessness. They had a goal to raise $50M for the cause. The event and coordination cost $17M to produce, and then they only raised $34M for the cause, so only like $16M went to the cause. They were absolutely torn apart by the media.

Palotta holds this up as an organization that tried something new, didn’t hit their goal, (They still donated $15M to homelessness that wouldn’t have been there before) and were lambasted for it. It’s indicative of a culture that frowns on risk. If I’m a charity and I know that I absolutely need to get a certain rate of return, I’m going to stick to what is safe, and not necessarily think outside the box and go for a huge win.

The third assumption follows nicely from this one, that there is an overall discouragement of long-term vision in the charitable industry. Donors expect their money to be used for current programs, rather than to be put into reserve. The example is given of the September 11th attacks. There was a huge outpouring of donations and the Red Cross wanted to set aside a portion of those for future disasters. Even saying that you kind of bristle because you want your money going to the cause you donated to.
The problem is that that is not how successful organizations work. They don’t simply spend every bit of money they get in. They invest in future programs and initiatives. They have vision statements and goals that last longer than just the current budgetary year.

A really powerful example Palotta brings up is It was founded in 1994 but didn’t post a profit until 2002. 8 years! One early Amazon investor was quoted as saying “What few people understood was that in the first five years, every time there was a trade-off between making more money or growing faster, we grew faster.” Scaling was important to Amazon and preparing for future growth. Palotta imagines how we would feel about a charity that did the following:
– We want to create a huge charity to end hunger in Malawi within 15 years.
– First 5 years; raise tens of millions for the cause. None of these funds will go directly to help the hungry, but will create this community of constituents and then in the next 5 years do a huge $50M advertising campaign to raise serious money. We’re talking ads during the superbowl etc. to raise $2B.
– Then once we have $2B it’s 5 years of investing hundreds of millions per year directly in Malawi fighting the cause.

This scenario sounds awesome, but it means that for those first 10 years, none of the donated funds would actually go to the hungry. The media would tear it apart, and there would be huge public outcry. So to avoid this, charities end up raising a few thousand dollars a year and never get to that huge critical mass where they could actually do something valuable.

Which transitions into assumption number 4 – discouragement of paid advertising. I think by now you know where Palotta is going with this thesis, so I’ll just give a couple stats here. The mini-thesis here is charities are competing for your dollar with everything else. Economics is about trade-offs right? Should I buy the Iphone 6 for $600, or should I get a refurbished Iphone 5 for $400 and donate $200 to charity? I wonder who advertises more and asks me to make that decision?

The 2005 Advertising budget for a few popular charities:
Save the Children: $6.4M
Amnesty International: $40K
American Foundation for Aids Research: $7K
Compared to some popular consumer companies:
GM: $4.3B
AT&T: $2.4B
McDonalds: $1.6B

These numbers speak to the fact again that we want our money going directly to the cause, not to something that might bring in way more money and attention to the cause etc. I don’t want my money going to ad space! But guess what? That’s how you build brand awareness, loyalty, value. These are tools that we, as a society, don’t want the non-profit sector to use!

Finally, there is an implicit prohibition of investment returns on charity. This one I think is the most out there with Palotta’s thesis, but is a little bit fun to talk through. Basically he says that currently charities are forced to rely on pure altruism in their fundraising. People donate expecting -100% return on their donation. This is great for altruistic people, but is not great for high net worth individuals and institutions. What if, as in the scenario we laid out for the model of a charity, I offered an investor shares of the charity for their INVESTMENT (not donation). If I believe that their marketing campaign will work (just like I believed that the model would work), I may be apt to invest some of my retirement portfolio in the organization.

This sounds a bit like a Ponzi scheme to me in which future donor dollars will be used to pay off initial investors, but the overall gist of the argument still rings true, and brings me back to the original claim that Palotta’s trying to make; that we philosophically don’t let charities use the same tools as the for-profit sector, and this is a big reason why this sector doesn’t grow and innovate like the private sector does.

So I’m not sure where that technically leaves me in my challenge. But I certainly am looking at the whole non-profit sector in a new light. I’m not going to be distracted by overhead and efficiency ratios from these online tools, but more focused on charities that have a cool vision and maybe even some proven results.

Tesla Motors



If you have already heard of Tesla Motors, you definitely know how cool this concept is. Although electric vehicles have been around for a very long time (since before the gas powered car), economic and political realities have suppressed their full potential. Elon Musk (founder – Paypal, SpaceX) is out to change that with Tesla Motors.

Tesla Motors produces fully electric cars capable of traveling between 230 and 300 miles on a single charge! That is almost double what other competitors have been able to produce to date. The innovation of the design of this car, as well as the tech specs of the batteries and superchargers makes this a great conversation piece. Many think it will fail, many think it’s the future. Have a listen and let us know what you think!

Here is the interview with the founder I mentioned. If you have an hour, I highly recommend it!

Personality Disorders



Dr. Boeree does a great job of breaking down the individual personality disorders on this page.  Check it out to read up on some of the nitty gritty details and to start diagnosing yourself and your friends!  Actually, be a little careful with that…


Below you’ll find some pretty good examples of the various personality disorders as played by characters in movies and film.  Enjoy!


Cluster A (Weird)







Cluster B (Wild)




This one was particularly hard to find a good example for.  The whole movie, “Girl, Interrupted” is about a girl diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, so check it out if you’re interested.  None of the clips I found really do it justice.






Cluster C (Worried)


Avoidant (Lucy’s got her own issues in this one…)




Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder

You want me to donate my what?


Huge shout out to our listener Fiachra. He’s from Ireland and wrote me a great email about his change of majors from public policy to economics, and has been reading a lot about ‘behavioral economics.’ If you are a die hard GG2K fan, you may have heard our very first episode ever from a few years ago on the efficient market hypothesis. Just as a reminder, the EMF essentially says that all market information is immediately absorbed and reflected by prices. The big assumption that we make in that framework is that people and by extension, markets, are efficient. This assumption is where behavioral economics tries to wedge itself in to explain some of the anomalies that happen in markets.

So we’ve talked about economics as being a study of decisions. When we talked about utility and opportunity cost, we found out that we are constantly making trade-offs about how we spend our resources; money, free-time, etc. Behavioral economics explores the social, cognitive, and emotional factors of these decisions. And the more I read about it, it’s not necessarily about having its own methodology, but it gives examples of where the traditional model breaks down. So rather than talk about theory for the whole podcast, Fiachra sent me several studies that illustrate what we are talking about. I’m going to use two from him and one that I found on my own.


So will start with the one that I ran across when researching behavioral economics. The study was published in 1997 by Colin Camerer of Caltech and looks at how New York Taxi drivers structure their day. The cool part about looking at taxi cab drivers is that we had a bunch of drivers that all get to make the same decisions about how many hours they work each day. Their wages are ‘elastic’ in that their effective hourly wage fluctuates from day to day, depending on how many fares they get compared to how many hours they spend driving around looking for fares.

If we took the traditional view of rational decision making, in order to make the most money overall, the rational thing to do would be to work more hours on the days that were busy and they didn’t spend a lot of time looking for fares. Then on days that were slow, the rational decision would be to quit early and gain back some leisure time for themselves because it wouldn’t be worth it to sit and grind it out.

As you may have guessed, the exact opposite happens. The study found that drivers worked longer hours on the slow days and quit early on the good days. The study writers had some theories about this, but decided to ask the fleet managers, ‘Which sentence best describes how many hours cab drivers drive each day?

–          Drive until they make a certain amount of money – 6

–          Drive a fixed amount of hours – 5

–          Drive a lot when doing well, quit early on a bad day – 1

So this appears to fly right in the face of traditional economic theory. But bringing in a well established concept from psychology that I think we’ve mentioned before helps explain. Loss aversion. Humans feel the pain of loss much more than they feel the pleasure of gain. So setting a daily earnings target ensures that they will never feel like they ‘missed out’ on income for the day. Similarly, once they hit their target on the busy days, they feel like they’ve done their jobs and can quit early, even though it doesn’t maximize their earnings. I can’t wait to have my next drunken discussion with a cabbie about this study…

Ok, I’m going to lean on Fiachra for the next two studies (And this next section is directly from him!  Note the Irish flare in his writing like ‘behaviour’ and ‘queue’ :))


So let’s start off with what will be in years to come one of the most famous application of behavioural economics, organ donorship. All over the world there are people that need organs, really badly, also every day thousands of people die with fully functioning organs in their bodies, and yet the organs cannot be moved from one person to another because by the time the hospital gets the permission off the obviously distressed relative the organs are no good anymore.
Numerous solutions from the neoclassical economic community have been suggested such as paying people to donate organs (results in turning it into a market rather than a social transaction and lowers donation rates, more on that later!) which people find a bit repugnant as they conjure up the image of the broke male student selling his kidney to get through college (though considering how rampant the public think the female student moonlighting as a hooker is it seems that this only evens up the score a bit..) which are based on the idea that if there is more demand than supply then you must increase the market price of something in order to get to an equilibrium.
Some countries, though have very high organ donation rates (we’re talking 98-100%), Austria, Poland, Hungary to name a couple while others like the United States, United Kingdom and Denmark have quite low ones (less than 20%), and for a long time this was assumed to be a case of different cultures blahblahblah, but then they looked at two countries Belgium and the Netherlands (Maybe you guys call it Holland I don’t know?) two countries that are incredibly similar (and were actually part of a kingdom together a few centuries ago) and yet the Netherlands after spending hundreds of millions of a huge donation campaign managed to get its rates up to… Wait for it.. 26%!) while Belgium had no campaign no nothing and had a rate of 98%) what was the difference?
Well in the Netherlands when you go in to get your driver’s licence you fill out a form and at the bottom of the form it asks you “If you would like to be an organ donor please tick this box”
And in Belgium you get an identical form except at the bottom of the page it says “ If you would NOT like to be an organ donor please tick this box”
It’s that simple.
This is due to something called the Status Quo bias whereby people are resistant to changes, the Conformity Bias whereby people assume that the default option is the right one (interestingly in opt in countries giving away your organs after death is seen as the equivalent to donating 25% of your earning to the poor upon death whereas in opt out countries it is seen as equivalent to letting someone in a rush skip ahead of you in queue, not because they have different cultures to start with but because if you haven’t thought about something much then you assume it’s not a big deal, and not ticking a box requires no thought) and the role of Inertia whereby people don’t like to do things that would seem to conventional economists as insignificant, such as say ticking a box, they don’t like it it makes them uncomfortable, thinking about the decision makes them uncomfortable they’ll just leave it.

So last is a study that pokes a hole in the traditional thinking deals with financial incentive for performance. Being paid for performance is not a controversial concept. Every year I sit down with my manager at the beginning of the year and she tells me what my max bonus I can get is if I complete various objectives. The conventional wisdom is that if my potential bonus is bigger, I’ll work harder throughout the year to achieve it.

So this last study explores what this looks like. Does performance just increase in a straight line, is there such thing as too big of a bonus, etc. I’m not going to go too deeply into the study but will link to it on the website, but basically they gave test groups a variety of tasks that they had to get to a “very good” level of proficiency to get the max bonus. Some of these tasks were purely physical, like stacking washers in some sort of puzzle shape, and some were more cognitive, like playing a simon says game.  They ran these games with a variety of ‘bonus’ levels.

Without going into too much detail, they found that there was a sweet spot for the bonuses, and if you went above that sweet spot, performance actually declined in 8 out of the 9 tasks. They actually do a good job in this study of not claiming to know ‘why’ this effect happens, just that it does. But I can think of a bunch of reasons, one in particular being that I can’t putt in golf when any money is on the line.

I certainly have some concerns with this study. Even though they come right out and address that it would probably be wrong to extrapolate the results of these insignificant tasks to the real incentives provided by institutions, I think the implication is there. But I also think that this is one of the studies that at very least makes us think a bit harder about accepting the efficiency of our financial markets. The US stock market and financial institutions are built on big bonuses, and we kind of lull ourselves into thinking that by paying big performance bonuses, our hedge fund and mutual fund managers are going to perform better.

I can’t stress enough that it’s quite a stretch to extrapolate stacking quarters and remembering numbers to performance in the financial markets, studies like this at least make us ask the question if we should really be expecting better performance the higher and higher bonuses that institutions offer.

If you get nothing else from this podcast, it’s that behavioral economics attempts to bring in psychological, social, and emotional factors to questions that traditionally are answered by arguments based on rationality. I think I’ve only scratched the surface, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about a lot of it. But maybe we can have Fiachra on next year after he’s taken a few classes and he can let us know what behavioral economics can tell us about macroeconomics. That’s when I think it will really grow some teeth and start disrupting the status quo. Again, big thanks to Fiachra for helping me put this one together.

Internet Speed


If you are reading this sentence, you are presumably on the internet.  How fast did it this page load for you?  Have you ever had a Youtube video buffer slowly even though you’ve got big daddy cable internet?  Well it frustrates me too, so I decided to check out a few things that help to explain how things work out there and how we can monitor and potentially improve our internet speed at home.  We also discuss some options for other internet service providers that you should check out if you are struggling with your current ISP.

A couple links we talk about in the show are listed here:

And for Mitch’s geocaching challenge, check out this site – it should have everything you need to dominate this challenge.  Thanks for listening!


Buying an Engagement Ring


This week on the good guys to know podcast, we discuss how to buy an engagement ring.  As a guy, your endeavour to find an engagment ring might be your first step into the world of the jewelry store.  Don’t worry, after this podcast you will be able to waltz through the jewelry store like you own the place!  Thanks for listening!

Buying an engagement ring marks an exciting time in a good guys life.  However, the stress of entering a jewelry store and finding the perfect ring can be a very stressful experience.  There are a couple things that all guys should know BEFORE they set out to find the perfect rock for Jenny from the block.


  1. 4 C’s of Diamond Classification

GIA  (Gemological Institute of America) created the first international diamond grading system and the 4 C’s of the diamond industry.  The 4 C’s were created because no two diamonds are exactly alike and until the 20th century, there was no agreed upon standard by which diamonds could be judged.

–       Color – Color actually means lack of color.  The purest diamond is chemically pure, structurally perfect, and has no color.  The color scale goes from D-Z, D being colorless and Z being yellowish.


Side note: the color grading system starts at D because earlier color grading scales only incorporated A,B and C.  GIA wanted to create a scale that was completely distinguishable from the earlier classification system and so, started with D.

–       Clarity – Clarity refers to the absence of inclusions or blemishes.  While no diamond is perfectly pure, fewer blemishes = higher value.  Grading goes from flawless (FL) to very, very slightly included (VVSI) to very slightly included (VSI) to slightly included (SI) to included (I)  Most of the differences in clarity are to small to be seen by anyone except a diamond expert using 10X magnification.


–       Cut – Cut is the way that a diamond unleashes its light, the way it shines and sparkles.  It is graded from excellent to poor.  It is more than just a diamonds shape (round, emerald, pear).  Of the 4 C’s, it is the most complex and difficult to analyze.  Cut can be broken down further into: Brightness, Fire and Scintillation.  Brightness is how white light is reflected from the diamond.  Fire is the scattering of white light into the colors of the rainbow.  Scintillation is the amount of sparkle a diamond produces and the pattern of light and dark areas caused by reflection.

–       Carat – Carat refers to how much a diamond weighs.  A metric carat is defined as 200 milligrams.

Side note:  The modern carat system is based on ancient diamond measurements that were based on the carob seed.  Early gem traders used these seeds as counterweights to measure diamonds.




Tips for Buying Engagement Rings:

1.  Avoid the “magic sizes” for diamonds.  For carat of a diamond, often times a 1-carat diamond will cost significantly more than a .99 carat diamond.  It may be beneficial to your wallet to avoid the “magic sizes” of diamonds, which are half carat, three-quarter carat, and 1 carat.

2.  Stick to your budget.  Go in to the jewelry store with a solid idea of how much you want to spend on a diamond.  Feel prepared to walk out of the store without purchasing a ring.  With a purchase this big, it is ok to visit multiple stores before you pull the trigger.  Also, the ‘ol myth of spending 2-3 months’ salary on a ring is bogus.  Spend what you are comfortable with and who knows, your lady-to-be might rather spend some extra cash on a honeymoon than have a gigantic rock.

3.  Be ready to negotiate.  For instance, if you are willing to pay cash, it is possible that the jeweler may be willing to give you a 3% discount because that is roughly the fee that many credit card companies charge for processing.  Also, summer tends to be a slow time of year for jewelers, which may allow for more negotiation on the price.

4.  Ask for the grading report.  This will allow you to see the scientifically determined 4 C’s of the diamond.  It will also serve as a way to prove to the jeweler that you know what you are talking about.

5.  Match the engagement ring to jewelry she already wears.  If she likes classic jewelry, look for a classic engagement ring.  If she likes chunky, ornate jewelry, get something big and flashy.

6.  Find out her ring size.  You could be sneaky and have one of her friends figure this out for you.  You could also take one of her rings and trace the inside circle or even, press the ring into a bar of soap for an impression.  When in doubt, go with a bigger size because it is easier to size down a ring than it is to make it bigger.





$3 Movie Tickets?!?!?!


This episode, we welcome Robert Wagner to the podcast. He’s a portfolio manager and popular author for the ubiquitous investing website Seeking Alpha. I reached out to Robert after reading his article on flexible movie theater pricing.

How many times have you seen a movie a month or two after it opened, and find yourself in a totally empty theater? How many times have you looked around and thought, “how do these guys stay in business?”

Wagner’s article and our conversation, takes us through the economic concepts at play with a new company called DealFlicks. These guys have started a company that is aimed at getting theaters to offer flexible pricing for movie theater tickets.


Wagner touches on several basic economic concepts – some of which we’ve talked about on the podcast before and some that are new. Have a listen and learn about this very real world example of the following; price floors and ceilings, surpluses, supply/demand, and Mitch’s personal favorite; UTILITY!!  Is there ever a time when paying $50 for a movie ticket is worth it? Listen or read Wagner’s article to find out!



How to Speak American



Check out a post from our very own Good Guy, Mitch, at, and while you’re there, tell our buddy Aaron Burk just how cool his latest creation is.



Check out the following post from that describes exactly why the American dialect is truest form of the English language:

There are manymany evolving regional British and American accents, so the terms “British accent” and “American accent” are gross oversimplifications. What a lot of Americans think of as the typical “British accent” is what’s called standardized Received Pronunciation (RP), also known as Public School English or BBC English. What most people think of as an “American accent,” or most Americans think of as “no accent,” is the General American (GenAm) accent, sometimes called a “newscaster accent” or “Network English.” Because this is a blog post and not a book, we’ll focus on these two general sounds for now and leave the regional accents for another time.

English colonists established their first permanent settlement in the New World at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, sounding very much like their countrymen back home. By the time we had recordings of both Americans and Brits some three centuries later (the first audio recording of a human voice was made in 1860), the sounds of English as spoken in the Old World and New World were very different. We’re looking at a silent gap of some 300 years, so we can’t say exactly when Americans first started to sound noticeably different from the British.

As for the “why,” though, one big factor in the divergence of the accents is rhotacism. The General American accent is rhotic and speakers pronounce the in words such as hard. The BBC-type British accent is non-rhotic, and speakers don’t pronounce the r, leaving hard sounding more like hahd. Before and during the American Revolution, the English, both in England and in the colonies, mostly spoke with a rhotic accent. We don’t know much more about said accent, though. Various claims about the accents of the Appalachian Mountains, the Outer Banks, the Tidewater region and Virginia’s Tangier Island sounding like an uncorrupted Elizabethan-era English accent have been busted as myths by linguists.


Around the turn of the 18th 19th century, not long after the revolution, non-rhotic speech took off in southern England, especially among the upper and upper-middle classes. It was a signifier of class and status. This posh accent was standardized as Received Pronunciation and taught widely by pronunciation tutors to people who wanted to learn to speak fashionably. Because the Received Pronunciation accent was regionally “neutral” and easy to understand, it spread across England and the empire through the armed forces, the civil service and, later, the BBC.

Across the pond, many former colonists also adopted and imitated Received Pronunciation to show off their status. This happened especially in the port cities that still had close trading ties with England — Boston, Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah. From the Southeastern coast, the RP sound spread through much of the South along with plantation culture and wealth.

After industrialization and the Civil War and well into the 20th century, political and economic power largely passed from the port cities and cotton regions to the manufacturing hubs of the Mid Atlantic and Midwest — New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, etc. The British elite had much less cultural and linguistic influence in these places, which were mostly populated by the Scots-Irish and other settlers from Northern Britain, and rhotic English was still spoken there. As industrialists in these cities became the self-made economic and political elites of the Industrial Era, Received Pronunciation lost its status and fizzled out in the U.S. The prevalent accent in the Rust Belt, though, got dubbed General American and spread across the states just as RP had in Britain.

Of course, with the speed that language changes, a General American accent is now hard to find in much of this region, with New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Chicago developing their own unique accents, and GenAm now considered generally confined to a small section of the Midwest.

As mentioned above, there are regional exceptions to both these general American and British sounds. Some of the accents of southeastern England, plus the accents of Scotland and Ireland, are rhotic. Some areas of the American Southeast, plus Boston, are non-rhotic.

Read the full text here:
–brought to you by mental_floss!


Here’s a list of the various sub-dialects found in America today, from Robert Delaney at

General Northern

This is sometimes also refered to as General American and is used in almost two-thirds of the country. It breaks down into the dialect regions below.

Northern New England

Many of the Northern dialects can trace their roots to this dialect, which was spread westward by the New England settlers as they migrated west. It carries a high prestige due to Boston’s early economic and cultural importance and the presence of Harvard University. A famous speaker is Katherine Hepburn. They sometimes call doughnuts cymbalssimballs, andboil cakes.

Eastern New England (1)
This is one of the most distinctive of all the American dialects. R‘s are often dropped, but an extra R is added to words that end with a vowel. A is pronounced AH so that we get “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd” and “Pepperidge Fahm remembuhs.”

Boston Urban (2)
Like many big cities, Boston has its own dialects that are governed more by social factors like class and ethnicity than by geographic location. Greater Boston Area is the most widely spoken and is very similar to Eastern New England.Brahmin is spoken by the upper aristocratic class like Mr. Howell on Gilligan’s Island.

Central City Area This is what most of us think of as being the “Boston Accent.” In the last few years, Saturday Night Livehas featured this dialect among a group of rowdy teenagers who like to videotape themselves. Also think of Cliff onCheers, the only character on this Boston-based show to actually speak a Boston dialect.

Western New England (3)
Less distinctive than Eastern, but more influential on the other Northern dialects.

Hudson Valley (4)
New York was originally a Dutch colony, and that language influenced this dialect’s development. Some original Hudson Valley words are stoop (small porch) and teeter-totter. They call doughnuts (which were invented by the Dutch) crullers andolycooks.

New York City (5)
Unlike Boston and other urban dialects, New York City stands by itself and bears little resemblence to the other dialects in this region. It is also the most disliked and parodied of any American dialect (even among New Yorkers), possibly because many Americans tend dislike large cities. When an R comes after a vowel, it is often dropped. IR becomes OI, but OIbecomes IR, and TH becomes D as in “Dey sell tirlets on doity-doid street” and fugedaboudit (forget about it).

This pronounciation is particularly associated with Brooklyn but exists to some extent throughout the city. The thickness of a speaker’s dialect is directly related to their social class, but these features have been fading within all classes over recent decades. Famous speakers are Rosie Perez, Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinnie, Archie Bunker, Bugs Bunny, and (if you’re old enough to remember) the Bowery Boys.

Bonac (6)
Named for Accabonac Creek in eastern Long Island, this dialect is rapidly dying out due to the influx of people from other areas. Back when New York City belonged to the Dutch, this area was part of New England, and Bonac shows elements of both dialects.

Inland Northern (7)
Combines elements of Western New England and Upper Midwestern. Marrymerry, and Mary are pronounced the same. They call doughnuts friedcakes.

San Francisco Urban (8)
Unlike the rest of California, which in the early twentieth century saw an influx of people from the South and other parts of the West, San Francisco continued to be settled by people from the Northeast and Northern Midwest, and elements of their dialects (North Midland, Upper Midwestern, Inland Northern) can be found. The Mission dialect, spoken by Irish Catholics in a specific part of the city, is very much like the New York City dialect.

Upper Midwestern (9)
Originally settled by people from New England and New York State who brought those dialects, this area was also influenced by Southerners coming up the Mississippi River as well as the speech patterns of the German and Scandinavian immigrants and the Canadian English dialects from over the border. It’s sometimes referred to as a “Midwestern twang.” They call jelly doughnuts bismarks.

Minnewegian (Minnesota / Norwegian), a subdialect spoken in the northernmost part of this region was spoofed in the movies Fargo and Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Chicago Urban (10)
Influenced by the Midland and Southern dialects. Often spoken by the late John Belushi (Chicago’s Second City comedy theater supplied many Saturday Night Live actors). SNL used to spoof it in the “Da Bears, Da Bulls” sketches. They call any sweet roll doughnuts.

North Midland (11)
Created as the people in Pennsylvania migrated westward and influenced by Scotch-Irish, German, and English Quaker settlers. This and the South Midland dialect can actually be considered a separate Midland Dialect region that serves as a transition zone between the north and south. They call doughnuts belly sinkersdoorknobsdunkers, and fatcakes.

Pennsylvania German-English (12)
This was strongly influenced by Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German spoken by people in this area (in this context, “Dutch” is actually a mispronunciation of the German word, “Deutsch,” which means “German”). Its grammar allows sentences like “Smear your sister with jam on a slice of bread” and “Throw your father out the window his hat.” They call doughnuts fasnacht, and they also invented dunking – from the German “dunken” (to dip).


Compared with the Eastern United States, the Western regions were settled too recently for very distinctive dialects to have time to develop or to be studied in detail. Many words originally came from Spanish, cowboy jargon, and even some from the languages of the Native Americans: adobe, beer bust, belly up, boneyard, bronco, buckaroo, bunkhouse, cahoots, corral, greenhorn, hightail, hoosegow, lasso, mustang, maverick, roundup, wingding.

Rocky Mountain (13)
Originally developed from the North Midland and Northern dialects, but was then influenced by the Mormon settlers in Utah and English coal miners who settled in Wyoming. Some words that came from this dialect are kick off (to die), cache(hiding place), and bushed (tired). They also call jelly doughnuts bismarks.

Pacific Northwest (14)
Influenced by settlers from the Midwest and New England as well as immigrants from England, Germany, Scandinavia, and Canada. Much earlier, a pidgin called

Chinook Jargon was developed between the languages of the Native American tribes of this area. It would later also be used and influenced by the European settlers who wished to communicate with them. A few words from Chinook Jargon like high muckamuck (important person) are still used in this dialect today. (Note that, in this case, the word “jargon” has a different meaning from the one discussed above)

Alaska (not shown)
Developed out of the Northern, Midland, and Western dialects. Also influenced by the native languages of the Alutes, Innuit, and Chinook Jargon. Some words that originated here are: bush (remote area), cabin fever, mush (to travel by dog sled), parka, stateside.

Pacific Southwest (15)
The first English speakers arrived here from New York, Ohio, Missouri, New England, and other parts of the Northeast and Midwest in the 1840s, bringing the Northern and North Midland dialects with them. Words originally used by the gold miners of this period are still used today: pay dirt (valuable discovery), pan out (to succeed), and goner (doomed person).

The early twentieth century saw an influx of people from the South and other parts of the West. The people here are particularly fond of creating new slang and expressions, and, since Hollywood is located here, these quickly get spread to the rest of the country and the world.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, an extreme exaggeration of this dialect that came to be known as “Valley Girl” or “Surfer Dude” was popular among teenagers and much parodied in the media with phrases like “gag me with a spoon” and“barf me back to the stone age.” Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Whoopie Goldberg in her one-woman show are two famous examples.

Southwestern (16)
By the time this area became part of the United States, there had already been as many as ten generations of Spanish speaking people living here, so the Mexican dialect of Spanish had an important influence on this area that became a melting pot for dialects from all over the USA. Some local words are: caballero, cantina, frijoles, madre, mesa, nana, padre, patio, plaza, ramada, tortilla.

Hawaii (not shown)
The original language of the Native Hawaiians is part of the Polynesian family. English speakers arrived in 1778, but many other settlers also came from China, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Spain, and the Philippines to influence the modern dialect.Hawaiian Creole developed from a pidgin English spoken on the sugar plantations with workers from Hawaii and many other countries. Some words are: look-see, no can, number one (the best), plenty (very). It isn’t widely spoken anymore.

Nonstandard Hawaiian English developed from Hawaiian Creole and is spoken mostly by teenagers. Standard Hawaiian English is part of the Western dialect family but shows less influence from the early New England dialect than any other American dialect. It has many words borowed from the original Hawaiian as well as some from the other Asian languages mentioned above: aloha, hula, kahuna, lei, luau, muumuu, poi, ukulele.

General Southern

This dialect region matches the borders of the Confederate states that seceded during the “Confederate War” and is still a culturally distinct region of the United States. Since it was largely an agricultural area, people tended to move around less than they did in the north, and as a result, the subdialects are much less uniform than those of the General Northern regions and have much more clearly defined boundaries. Other languages that had an important influence on it are French (since the western region was originally French territory) and the African languages spoken by the people brought over as slaves.

People tend to speak slower here than in the north creating the famous southern “drawl.” I is pronounced AH, and OO is pronounced YOO, as in “Ah’m dyoo home at fahv o’clock.” An OW in words like loud is pronounced with a slided double sound AOO (combining the vowel sounds in “hat” and “boot”). Some local words are: boogermanfunky (bad smelling),jump the broomstick (get married), kinfolksmammymuleheadedoverseertotey’all.

South Midland (17)
This area, dominated by the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozark Mountains, was originally settled by the Pennsylvania Dutch moving south from the North Midland areas and the Scotch-Irish moving west from Virginia. A TH at the end of words or syllables is sometimes pronounced F, and the word ARE is often left out of sentences as they are in Black English. An A is usually placed at the beginning of verb that ends with ING, and the G is dropped; an O at the end of a word becomes ER. (“They a-celebratin’ his birfday by a-goin’ to see ‘Old Yeller’ in the theatah”).

T is frequently added to words that end with an S sound. Some words are: bodaciousheapright smart (large amount),set a spell, and smidgin. American English has retained more elements of the Elizabethan English spoken in the time of Shakespeare than modern British English has, and this region has retained the most. Some Elizabethan words that are extinct in England are: bubcross-purposesfall (autumn), flapjackgreenhornguess (suppose), homelyhomespun,jeansloopholemolassespeekragamuffinreckonsorry (inferior), trashwell (healthy).

Ozark (18)
Made famous by the Beverly Hillbillies, this isolated area was settled by people from the southern Appalachian region and developed a particularly colorful manner of speaking.

Southern Appalachian (19)
It is a popular myth that there are a few remote regions here that still speak an unchanged form of Elizabethan English, but they aren’t true. Linguists are still studying the specific differences with South Midland.


As the northern dialects were originally dominated by Boston, the southern dialects were heavily influenced by Charleston, Richmond, and Savannah. They tend to drop Rs the way New Englanders do, but they don’t add extra Rs. Some words are:big daddy (grandfather), big mamma (grandmother), Confederate War (Civil War), cooter (turtle), fixing to (going to), goober(peanut), hey (hello), mouth harp (harmonica), on account of (because).

Virginia Piedmont (20)
When an R comes after a vowel, it becomes UH, and AW becomes the slided sound, AH-AW. Thus, four dogs becomesfo-uh dahawgs. Some local words are: hoppergrass (grasshopper), old-field colt (illegitimate child), school breaks up(school lets out), weskit (vest).

Coastal Southern (21)
Very closely resembles Virginia Piedmont but has preserved more elements from the colonial era dialect than any other region of the United States outside Eastern New England. Some local words are: catty-corner (diagonal), dope (soda, Coca-Cola), fussbox (fussy person), kernal (pit), savannah (grassland), Sunday child (illegitimate child). They call doughnutscookies.

Gullah (22)
Sometimes called Geechee, this creole language is spoken by some African Americans on the coastal areas and coastal islands of Georgia and South Carolina and was featured in the novel on which the musical, Porgy and Bess, was based. It combines English with several West African languages: Mende, Yoruba, Wolof, Kongo, Twi, Vai, Temne, Ibo, Ewe, Fula, Umbundu, Hausa, Bambara, Fante, and more. The name comes either from the Gola tribe in Liberia or the Ngola tribe in Angola. The grammar and pronunciation are too complicated to go into here, but some words are: bad mouth (curse), guba(peanut – from which we get the English word goober), gumbo (okra), juju (magic), juke (disorderly, wicked), peruse (to walk leisurely), samba (to dance), yam (sweet potato).

Gulf Southern (23)
This area was settled by English speakers moving west from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas, as well as French speaking settlers spreading out from Louisiana, especially the Acadians (see “Cajuns” below). Some words are: armoire(wardrobe), bayou (small stream), bisque (rich soup), civit cat (skunk), flitters (pancakes), gallery (porch), hydrant (faucet),neutral ground (median strip), pecan patty (praline).

Louisiana (24)
There’s a lot going on down here. Many people in southern Louisiana will speak two or three of the dialects below.

Cajun French (the Cajuns were originally French settlers in Acadia, Canada – now called Nova Scotia – who were kicked out when the British took over; in 1765, they arrived in New Orleans which was still French territory) carries the highest prestige of the French dialects here and has preserved a number of elements from the older French of the 1600s. It has also borrowed some words from the Spanish who once controlled this area. There are many local variations of it, but they would all be mutually understandable with each other as well as – with some effort – the standard French in France.

Cajun English borrows vocabulary and grammar from French and gives us the famous pronunciations “un-YON” (onion) and “I ga-RON-tee” as well as the phrase “Let de good times role!”, but movies about cajuns usually get the rest wrong. A famous authentic speaker is humorist Justin Wilson, who had a cooking show on PBS, with his catch phrase, “How y’all are? I’m glad for you to see me.” New Orleans is pronounced with one syllable: “Nawlns.”

There is another dialect of English spoken in New Orleans that is informally, and some would say pejoratively, called Yat(from the greeting, “Where y’at”), that resembles the New York City (particularly Brooklyn) dialect (more info). Provincial French was the upper class dialect of the pre-Cajun French settlers and closely resembles Standard French but isn’t widely spoken anymore since this group no longer exists as a separate social class.

Louisiana French Creole blends French with the languages of the West Africans who were brought here as slaves. It is quite different from both the Louisiana and standard dialects of French but is very similar to the other creoles that developed between African and French on various Caribbean Islands. Married couples may speak Creole to each other, Cajun French with other people, and English to their children.



  • Rattray, David, ed. Success With Words: A Guide to the American Language. Prepared in association with Peter Davies.. Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1988. (Rattray is the primary source for information in the text. Since the text was intended as an informal overview, page numbers are not cited.)
  • Crystal, David. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • McArthur, Tom, ed. The Oxford Companion to the English Language New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Taggart, Chuck. A Lexicon of New Orleans Terminology and Speech The Gumbo Pages. Accessed May 7, 2001.



Buying a new house?  Maybe a new car?  How about asking for a raise.  All of these have something in common beyond terrifying a lot of people.  The art of negotiation is an often overlooked skill.  If I could give everyone sage advice on the topic, I would.  Instead, I reached out to my buddy Chris, who deals with negotiations all day every day.  This guy could get you a good deal on most everything.  The nuances are important.  Here are a few of Chris’s main points that we discuss that will help you keep thing in the right perspective:

1.  This is probably the most important idea Chris tried to get across – Every negotiation, in any environment, should try to result in a win-win situation.  Do not try to “beat” your purchaser or seller, an insulting offer from you can quickly turn into an equally insulting counter-offer and the termination of a deal.

2.  Do your research.  This always seems like a no-brainer, but it can’t be stressed enough, and it is important to know WHY you are doing the research.  Doing the research will give you things you can talk about and point out to gain leverage to get a better price.

3.  Have some backup plans.  If you are in love with just one car, or one house, your negotiations could potentially suffer.  Having plan A, B, and C will increase your bargaining power, and allow you more places to concede certain items to obtain the highest number of your must-have items/features overall.

4.  Keep your cool.  Being short with the salesman, or condescending with your buyer is not a way to show strength.  As Chris has learned over many years, a good relationship and a good conversation is better than a good price in a lot of situations.

5.  Know your buyer.  Any information you can gain about the needs of your buyer will help.  Asking “soft” questions to get the ball rolling is a great way to learn what a potential buyer really wants.  If you can determine that he or she hates not getting a real person on the phone, that can be used to your advantage.

6.  Think about the fringe.  In a lot of job/salary negotiations, there are tons of perks that can be hidden behind a dollar figure.  Getting more flexibility to work from home, extra vacation, or having more autonomy are all things that can improve your quality of life as much or more than another could grand.  Think about all of the things other than money, and value them before you talk to your employer.  Be prepared to give things up and gain some others.

7.  Know your goals.  Now that you have all your options lined up, make sure you think hard about which ones are really your favorite.  Have a solid ranking system in place and stick to it.

8.  Think about how you respond to the offer you are putting forward.  If you wouldn’t consider an offer, why should anyone else?

9.  Be prepared to do what you say.  If you threaten to walk, you better be able to.  Don’t “play too hard of ball”.

10.  Read up.  Practice.  Chris gave some good resources in the podcast you should check out.,,,,


You can gain a lot of things by negotiating with a cool head, and a lot of options.  There isn’t a magic bullet on how to get a car 50% below sticker, but you can certainly do your part to get closer.  Think about your interactions using some of the above guidelines and you’ll give yourself a good shot at a win-win .


Alcohol Legislation and Subscription Bars


The constitutional right to drink/sell/manufacture alcohol has been debated since the early 1900’s.  Most famous amongst these debates was the era of prohibition.  Prohibition was initiated in 1920 with the passage of the 18th amendment.  This U.S. Constitutional amendment made it illegal to manufacture, transport, or sell intoxicating liquors.  Conveniently for all people who appreciate the finer things in life (like Coors Light and other alcoholic beverages), the 18th amendment was repealed in 1933 by the passage of the 21st amendment.  Shortly after, many individual states adopted minimum legal drinking age policies which made it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to drink alcoholic beverages.  Due to the passage of the 26th amendment, which lowered the required voting age from 21 to 18, many states adjusted the minimum legal drinking age from 21 to 18, 19 or 20.  However, a dramatic increase in accidents involving alcohol use in younger people followed this decrease in the minimum drinking age.  In 1984, Congress passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act which set the minimum drinking age back at 21.  Any states not in compliance with this act were penalized by having 10% of their highway construction funds revoked.  Depending on the size of the state, this legislation prevented the distribution of 8 to 99 million dollars.  By 1988, all 50 states ratified the National Minimum Drinking Age Act but U.S. territories Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands maintained an age of 18.


Today, in the wake of this fluid legislative history, many states have additional regulations which control the sale and distribution of alcohol.  These laws stipulate who can sell alcohol, when alcohol can be sold, and how strong alcohol can be.  Every Good Guy To Know should be aware of these laws in their home states.  For more information on your states regulations visit this website:


And here is the article from Esquire that prompted this main pillar.

What If Bars Sold Subscriptions?

What would it take for you to “subscribe” to a bar?  Leave your comments below and thanks for listening!