LINGUIST List 5.1377

Fri 02 Dec 1994

Sum: Use of bubbler as a synonym for drinking fountain

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. "SEAN CHRISTENSEN,UW-WHITEWATER", Summary of 'bubbler'

Message 1: Summary of 'bubbler'

Date: Tue, 29 Nov 1994 21:39:39 Summary of 'bubbler'
Subject: Summary of 'bubbler'

A few months ago I posted an inquiry on the LINGUIST listing on the
distribution of the word "bubbler" as a synonym for drinking fountain.
Thanks to all who responded, which are too many to list. The Dictionary
of American Regional English has also extensively investigated this
word and it was my goal to gain more specific information than that
supplied by DARE (for example, the regional distribution within

Here is a summary of my findings:

In Wisconsin, bubbler is used throughout the eastern half of the state,
particularly along the coast of Lake Michigan and becomes less prominent
the further west one travels. The "stronghold" of bubbler appears to be
in Milwaukee and its suburbs. Milwaukee is also thought to be the
geographic origin of bubbler, coined by the Kohler company in the early

My university (UW-Whitewater) appears to be in conflict over what to call
drinking fountains. In one of our residence halls there is a sign asking
residents to not use the drinking fountain as a garbage disposal. The word
'drinking' is crossed out, and 'water' is put in its place. Then 'water' and
'fountain' are crossed out, and 'bubbler' is put in their place. It goes
to show you that people can be very loyal to their colloquialisms!

My research provided no evidence for the term's use in Minnesota or
Illinois, but I did find the word in use along the western part of
Michigan's Upper Peninsula (which borders Wisconsin's bubbler-using
region.) If bubbler is used anywhere else in the Midwest, its existence
escaped my research. In fact, I found no evidence of the word's use
within the U.S. west of the Mississippi or south of the Ohio River.

The other region that uses the term includes the state of Rhode Island
(where it is used exclusively by many speakers), far eastern Connecticut,
and southeastern Massachusetts- including the Boston area. I had people
from this region respond with amusement because they didn't know the
word was used anywhere outside of their area.

Lastly, and much to my surprise, bubbler is used in southeastern
Australia- predominately in New South Wales (including Sydney and
Canberra) and in portions of the provinces bordering New South Wales.
The information on Australia is only based on a few responses, but
there were some, especially in Sydney, who used bubbler exclusively
while growing up. There were some from parts of Australia who had never
heard the term before, so it does appear that it is also regionally
distributed in Australia.

There were some who distinguished bubblers from drinking fountains. Some
only called outside fountains, bubblers, while others vice versa. One
only called non-refridgerating fountains, bubblers.

Drinking fountain seems to be the generic term that everyone is familiar
with, whether they use it or not. Other synonymns are: water fountain,
water cooler, fountain, and water bubbler. For what its worth, the only
accounts I had of the term 'water bubbler' were among African Americans
from Milwaukee (but this only included three people.) Just plain 'fountain'
seemed to be the word of choice in northwestern Wisconsin, while drinking
fountain and water fountain were used pretty interchangeably everywhere

As for its use in literature, the only printed documentation of bubbler
I could find (under the given definition) was a 1985 Milwaukee Journal
article which was about the word's usage in Milwaukee.

I realize that some of my findings are inconsistent with DARE- I believe
this is because my research was not nearly as thorough as DARE, and didn't
take into account historical usage, only current usage.

Thanks again to those who responded.

Your avid bubbler user,

Sean Christensen
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue