Sunday, September 18, 2011


A reader recently asked about the Ocracoke Island word "dingbatter." It is used on Ocracoke to mean someone from off the island who is naive or clueless. For example, an O'cocker might say, "Look at that dingbatter. He's walking right down the middle of the road with his back to traffic!"

As you might expect, it comes from the 1970s sitcom All in the Family.

As Walt Wolfram & Natalie Schilling-Estes write in their book, Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks, The Story of the Ocracoke Brogue, "Foreigner [or stranger, a word that my father's generation used], the traditional term for 'outsider' or 'someone from off-island,' has been replaced in Ocracoke speech by dingbatter.... Archie Bunker regularly refers to his wife Edith as a 'dingbat' when she displays a lack of common sense. The reason the term seems to be such a fitting replacement for foreigner is that, as used on TV, it not only literally referred to a person on the show but also strongly implied that this character was gullible and naive. Ocracokers took those implications of the word dingbat and applied them to their term dingbatter. They now have a single word that conveys many of their feelings toward visitors who come to the island and get into ridiculous situations because they're unfamiliar with island life."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a history of the marine hospital on Portsmouth Island. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous8:34 AM

    There are many definitions to the word dingbat. I knew it as a printing element--in hand typesetting way back when-- the spacing between words are em or ens the decorative stylistic images are called dingbats. However the dingbat as an architectural device made my jaw drop. As it is a two story walkup apartment with below parking -- a house I often see as a rental unit design along the Atlantic coast. Archie Bunker may introduced it to Vance Packard's " A nation of Strangers" but as shop talk it has existed in many a profession. The wikipedia dictionary has photos!!

  2. Anonymous9:58 AM

    I like Phillips defintion better ... I just hope I was never called a dingbatter when I've visited!!

  3. Anonymous11:17 AM

    It isn't just an Ocracoke word. As a young person visiting Morehead City and Beaufort areas I was often referred to as a Ding Batter. Others were called Dit Dots.

  4. Anonymous12:20 PM

    If you need to ask what is a dingbatter, then most likely you are a ...

  5. Dingbatters & dit dots...the difference illustrates how geography affects language. It is unusual to hear "dit dot" on Ocracoke, though both words mean the same thing.

  6. Anonymous11:09 PM

    Just don't forget us dingbatters pay a lot of you bills.

  7. Ahh Philip, guess I have been a dingbatter for 25+years! Love that little strip of land!

    Now, I remember years ago at 9:30 PM a tourist could not find an available room on Ocracoke and asked my Dad, "How's the road to Cedar Island?" Dad just said "wet"

  8. Anonymous9:42 PM


  9. Anonymous11:57 AM

    Naive and clueless about what. Visiting your OI is no small feat. As from what I gather a great deal of planning is involved from rental reservations to ferry rides. I am stunned. Do visitors think they are arriving on a Survivor TV show set? Is the low expectation of creature comforts part of clue less ness


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