Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Language of New England

Standing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire one can look back across the Piscataqua River to Kittery.
A reader from Chicago recently left this comment:
I know New Englanders use the term pocketbook, but might handbag, or just tote, be more befitting a utilitarian article like a boat tote? I would think pocketbook would refer to a true shoulder bag, satchel or clutch? [sic] Thank you for enlightening me on the use of this term. 
Pocketbook is an old Yankee term.   Gathering “New Englandisms” is easy to start and impossible to finish.

Words and Phrases
There are plenty of interesting words and phrases from across the six states. Some of the more salient:
  • Cabinet (for milkshake in Rhode Island)
  • Pocketbook
  • Cellar
  • Wicked
  • Wicked bummah
  • Wicked looza
  • Bubbler
  • Pissa or pissah
  • Ayuh
  • Jesum
  • Mass Souls
  • Congo Church
  • Staties (for state police)
  • Swamp donkey (for moose)
  • BMW (You will know this or not, but I am not spelling it out.)
  • Elastic (for rubber band)
  • Dungarees
  • Jimmies
  • Grinder (for subs)
  • Rubbish
  • Supper (for dinner)
  • Rotary (for traffic circle)
  • Bulkhead – the entrance to basement
  • Mum (for mother)
  • Snowing like a bass-tid
  • Steamers
  • Hamburg
  • Bulkie roll (for kaiser roll)
  • Quohogs (RI)
  • Coffee milk (RI)
  • Drug store
  • Hoodsie cup
  • Package store/packie

Juxtaposition of English and Indian/Native American Names
New England towns, bodies of water, and streets often enough either have English or Indian/Native American names, and the two are geographically commingled.
  • Cohasset (once Quonahasssit) is next to Hingham.
  • Piscataqua River is flanked by Portsmouth and Kittery.
  • Wolfeboro (originally Wolfeborough), named for English General James Wolfe, is on Winnipesaukee.
  • Damariscotta - “river of little fish” - has the twin village of Newcastle.
  • Mashpee is (roughly) between Falmouth and Chatham.

English OriginsNative American Origins
  • York
  • Newbury
  • Cambridge
  • Exeter
  • Gloucester
  • Ipswich
  • Boston
  • Plymouth
  • Scarborough
  • Swansea
  • Peterborough
  • Yarmouth
  • Salisbury
  • Tisbury
  • Camden on Penobscot Bay
  • Kennebunk
  • Niantic
  • Noank
  • Medomak
  • Aquidnick Island in Narragansett Bay with Newport and Portsmouth
  • Narragansett (Bay)
  • Kennebec River next to Bath
  • Hammonasset
  • Sagadahoc
  • Pettasquamcutt
  • Pocasset
  • Sachem’s Head  (part of Guilford, CT)
  • Samoset Golf Course (in Rockport)
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut
The abundance of Native American names ensures that most New Englanders share a common cultural touchstone: having the phone operator ask, "Can you please spell that?"

(Or there is the corollary experience of  listening to the person on the other end of the phone, with the goal of verbally confirming your address,  have a few attempts at pronouncing it.  Some people show mercy and intervene more quickly than others.)

The Names
One should enjoy the sounds of certain names, for their sheer verbal ambition on one hand and their history on the other.

Flipping through a thin directory of our Maine coast summer camp, published a couple of decades ago, and found these examples:
  • Warwick Atkins
  • Parker Dinkins
  • Tristram Dunn
  • Henry Hornblower Atkins
  • Hasket Hildrith – father was Horace or Hoddy Hildrith
  • Herbert Hudnut
  • Chandler Gifford
  • Winthrop Coffin
  • Renwick Tweedy
  • John Coggin Wellington
  • Tom Wigglesworth
  • Dr. Franklin Delano Roosevelt II
  • Josiah Whitney Bennett
  • Charles Cabot
  • Endicott Peabody Saltonstall
  • Rob Trowbridge (later Yankee Magazine Publisher)
  • Harwood Ellis
  • Nathaniel Bowditch
  • Kingman Brewster (later President of Yale)
  • Very Rev. Francis Sayre – Woodrow Wilson’s grandson and the last baby to be born in The White House
One can also look no further than one's family tree to find a collection of names that any editor worth their liberal arts master degree would cross out as being too contrived.  Some of my husband's and my direct ancestors include:

  • Hercules Hunking
  • Temperance Hunking
  • Dudley Winthrop
  • Peternell Hankcock
  • William Wormwood
  • Christian Coffin
  • Petronella Brokesby
  • Elispeth Brereton
  • Bathsheba Fay
  • Beatrix Felton
  • Zaccheus Wilcomb
  • Patience Page
  • Quinton Pray
  • Cecily Atheward
  • Valentine Rowell
  • Agnes Baldington
  • Wymond Bradbury
  • Moses Currier
  • Katherine Codman
  • Deliverance Lang
  • Thomasine Hilles

(Our family trees also has a plethora of New England plain names.  Some may see a pattern with the first names.)
  • John Smith
  • John Winthrop
  • John Aldrich
  • John Parkhurst
  • John Hussey
  • John Gove
  • John Peverly
  • John Reade
  • John Cutting
  • John Clough
  • John Clark
  • John Cheney
  • John Lord
  • John Hoyt
  • John Perkins
  • John Pike
  • John Lake
  • John Jackson
  • John Locke
  • Ann Bates
  • Mary Hussey
  • Ann Dudley
  • Alice Frost
  • Anne Grant
  • Mary Forth
  • Jane Hilton
As always, Jud Hale, long time editor of Yankee, has some wonderful descriptions in his book "Inside New England".
Every region has certain words that reflect its history, its geography – and its personality.  For instance , Southerners seem to me to be immediately open and friendly, even with total strangers  “Y’all come!” they’ll say, which would appear to include mankind.  We New Englanders are more reserved about extending invitations, or anything else, and our language reflects it.  In fact, as far as I can ascertain, New England does not possess any word or expression that is the equivalent of “Y’all come”.  There are simply no circumstances imaginable in which it would be desirable to have everyone, particularly strangers and their uncles, included.

And
Summer people and townspeople do not always speak the same New England language or communicate in the same way... The most noticeable contrast in the communication techniques of summer people  and natives is in the sues of platitudes, profanity and medical reports.
This is a snippet from a conversation between two elderly male summer people:
“Well, George – so nice to see you again.”
“Nice to see you, John.”  (They shake hands.)
“Isn’t this just a marvelous day?”
“Gorgeous.  Couldn’t be nicer if we’d planned it.  You here for a while now?
“Yes.  We’re here for the summer.”
“Lucky you.  You know how to live, John.”
This one was between two elderly male natives, both slightly deaf.
“What are ya doin!”
“Nothin’.”
“Why not?”
“Too lazy.”
“Well, ya goddam sonofabitch, ya always were!.”
“Whazzat?”
“I said you always were!”
“Well I ain’t dead yet.”
“No, by Jesus, you ain’t .  Guess we can still show a few of ‘em one or two things, can’t we Ed?”

96 comments:

Squeeze said...

Ought to be the curriculum for a New England Studies college course.

LG said...

My husband and I like to play a game driving through CT: I try to pronounce the town names (often Native American) and he makes fun of me :)

(His grandmother was Prudence Page. I hope she and Patience were some sort of distant cousins!)

Anonymous said...

What fun to read about regionalisms Muffy! In the South "supper" is the main meal of the day- Sunday supper is almost certainly at midday. Is it used in the same way in New England?
Also, the even more inclusive "all y'all" ensures that the uncles of strangers are indeed welcome, whereas "y'all" might imply a slightly more exclusive group, perhaps only strangers and their immediate families.

K said...

I think you mean "bubblah" and "suppah"! I'd also like to add "cunning/cunnin'," which means "cute," although I haven't heard anyone say it in years...maybe it has entirely faded out of use. I love the list of names, particularly Hoddy Hildrith and Renwick Tweedy! I went to high school with Kingman Brewster IV twenty years ago; I wonder if there's now a V.

Marie said...

According to information in Albion's Seed many of the words that we commonly use are identified with certain regions in England. Some of the examples are kid for child, blab for talk, duds for clothing. While these words are universally understood in the US they virtually came over with the Winthrop Fleet.
Long Island also enjoys some intersting Indian names that can present some difficulty in pronouncing.

Anonymous said...

Many familiar words and names. I'm from Swamp Yankee stock. Having lived away from Northern RI/North Eastern CT, Ice realized that some of my language is regional, some familial, and some must have just been picked up along the way. Growing up, no one had a basement-- it was a cellar. Family rooms were parlors. And for some reason it was a grocery carriage, not a grocery cart. I made it 18 years without knowing that a bubbler was a water fountain everywhere else.

NCJack said...

The invitation "Y'all come" is directed at the person(s) spoken to, not all their friends and acquaintances. If only one person is being addressed, it means "you and your close family only", as "y'all" is always plural.

This is often mistaken by people from the benighted lands as we might, e.g., speak to an individual Californian and say "Y'all are a bunch of idiots"; he or she thinks we are talking to and of them only, but we mean them, their kin and landsmen, and the horses they rode in on.

When I was young in SE NC, dinner was the midday meal, supper the evening meal. And, stereotypically enough, we had sweet tea at each of them, though I didn't realize that until I was in my forties (responding indignantly to said stereotype)

I do love New England, and your updates on it.

Sarah said...

I enjoyed your post on names, and it reminded me of my first summer job in Harvard Square at Brigham's ice cream shop, and being asked for a "tonic," and the bewildered look I got after handing people tonic water (we always called it plain old "soda"...)

Also, one of my ancestors, Richard Waterman, who came to Mass. in the 1600s, named his children:
Mehitable
Nathaniel
Resolved
and Waite!

And to finish up in the "small world" dept, my best friend in the 3rd and 4th grades was an Aldrich, in Cambridge, MA!

3button Max said...

well done Muffy.

Bitsy said...

What a fun post!

Some favorites from my family tree:
Experience Edwards
Thankful Goodman
Patience Parker
Hepzibah Janes

heavy tweed jacket said...

Great post. This "flatlander" would also add "frappe" to the list of words and phrases. Cheers.

M said...

Love that I don't have any idea of what 2/3 of those words mean. I'll be all day looking them up. Glad to see regionalisms thriving in this global age!

Flo said...

I love colloquialisms--being from the Pittsburgh area we have quite a few unique ones.

Do you red up the house before company comes? That was one my mother used all the time.

And the names--wow, can you imagine learning to write some of those? My husband's family tree had a Hazard Cunningham on it, I wonder if he lived up to his name?

Unknown said...

I love regional differences in language and the study of word origins.I don't come from New England stock but growing up in NJ my family used pocketbook, cellar, dungarees and supper exclusively as opposed to purse, basement, jeans and dinner. And there was always the debate over jimmies vs. sprinkles every summer amongst all of the neighborhood kids (I will admit to having been solidly in the sprinkles camp). Maybe there was some sort of language trickle down effect!
Bonnie

Anonymous said...

In New England, accent is everything. It's an indelible part of your fabric and upbringing. A Brahmin accent or Mid-Atlantic accent is quite rare these days but a few old moneyed Beacon Hill families still speak with it. It's a derivative of the East Anglia accent. To most Americans who hear it for the first time, it could easily be confused for the British accent.

On the opposite end is the Working Class Bostonian accent typically found in urban epicenters, factory towns and coastal resort areas where the fishing industry has a historic presence. It was probably first used by Irish and Scottish immigrants from agrarian, peasant roots across the pond. It has a distinct guttural tone where "r's" are usually not pronounced: "Took my cah to Woostah afta the Hah-vad game!".

This accent is affectionately known as the Townie accent. It's all the rage these days with Hollywood filmmakers but the worst kept secret within the city's prestigious law firms and asset management groups is that a thick Townie accent could potentially eliminate a prospective candidate from employment. The Townie accent's unrefined, harsh dialogue can be incomprehensible and project undesirable ideas about a firm concerned about its image.

Most people in New England can't speak like William F. Buckley once did but I wish there was an effort to keep the accent going aside from incestuous marriages among Brahmin Families.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Muffy! I still cringe remembering the time I said the word "pocketbook" aloud in front of my california friends. They laughed out loud!

Greenfield said...

Laughed out loud at this one, your best "Old Yankee" post EVER. "There are simply no circumstances imaginable in which it would be desirable to have everyone, particularly strangers and their uncles, included." AMEN!

Exalting no one, we grew up calling our ancestors just "the Old Yankees." My great-grandmother didn't talk much about them because she thought they were boring. Including even the twin shipmasters in the Revolutionary years named Medad and Eldad. We also stuck folks with the recombinant family names that sound like they should've belonged to horses--like Burr Merwin Lobdell! ;)

Brent said...

My family's been in Rhode Island for several hundred years, and a snippet of first and last names down the line are:

First names: Samuel, Abigail, Jeremiah, Tristram, Mehitable, Hepzibah, Peleg (we had quite a few generations of Pelegs), Sabra, Elijah, Esther, Hannah, Humphrey, Lydia, Phoebe, Martha, Clothier, Carlos (not sure where that came from), and Philemon

Surnames: Thurston (my surname), Atherton, Bradford, Coffin, Clarke, Coggeshall, Goddard, Latham, Mott, Myrick, Pitman, Rogers, and Trowbridge

They sure don't make names like they used to!

BlueTrain said...

Well, gosh all fishhooks. I never heard the like of some of these things.

JSprouse said...

Muffy, I have no idea where you keep coming up with such interesting posts.

In Maine I've heard: "wicked good" as in Moody's "wicked good" blueberry pie, "finest kind" as referring to Hinckleys yachts. Hank Hinckley Jr. who owned OCY brought the yacht "Song" to the Annapolis sailboat show one year and also the man who had done the "bright work" on her. I couldn't understand a word he said, his accent was so thick.

I went to school with Wilford Staley IV. I always thought that was an interesting name.

Here in PA, near Philadelphia, people say "going down the shore" instead of down TO the shore. A friend's Mother once told me she was going to "go over town". I asked if she was planning to use a helicopter. That got a blank look.

Anonymous said...

I'm from the West, but one summer in college I worked at a national park (in the west) . During a talent show put on for the guests I heard what was apparently an entire skit known as Bert and I, complete with motorboat sounds, etc. It was the first time I became aware of how different New England was from where I came from.

WRJ said...

So many of these words I gew up with and didn't realize were part of a New England patois until I went to college or even more recently (pocketbook, grinders, drug/package store); some I hear often but would never use myself, associating them primarily with Massachusetts, a strange and foreign land(wicked anything; bubbler; packie); others I cannot imagine any alternative word/phrase ("steamed littleneck clams"? "a half-milk, half-coffee, heavily sugared beverage"?). Having a father from Northeastern and a mother from Southeastern Connecticut, I have noticed some differences even between regions about an hour apart (only dad's family says "supper"; only mom's family says "bulkhead").

Those names are hilarious in their solemnity. My first name is a family name, fairly unusual but which has become somewhat fashionable recently. I was always used to people commenting on my name, particularly when I was younger, but never realized the socio-cultural implications of it until I went to college and became friends with a group of students from Manhattan. I quickly earned the nickname "WASPy W----", based solely on my name and Connecticut provenance, and ignoring my protestations that I'm no true WASP.

On the topic of New England names, I met a Kensington last weekend ("Kens" for short), and a poor friend has to suffer with the middle name Pennock, an old family surname--though is thankful to have avoided it as a first name, unlike some relatives.

I love the old Indian names. Many are hidden under anglicisation, like Mystic, CT (from missituck, describing the confluence of river and tidal waters).

John said...

A fascinating post. There's also a (small) category of places named after Native Americans; perhaps the most famous is Hyannis (and the nearby) Wianno, both named after Iyanough, the sachem on Cape Cod at the time the Pilgrims landed.

Somewhere (I think it is in "One Boy's Boston), Samuel Eliot Morison wrote about buying wreaths for the family house and hearing the price quoted in shillings (a sixth of a dollar). This would have been around 1895, showing the persistence of regional speech in the pre-modern era. It's a good thing that so much of this has survived.

Anonymous said...

Boston slang and phrases:

"He's a good guy": This conveys favorable endorsement in the spirit of nepotism or patronage in public roles.

"Sporting lint": Abject poverty

"Eating cheddar": Snitch, rat

"Mondays": racist, derogatory term used against people of color

"The Rez": Indian Reservation, Foxwoods or Mohegan Sun

"Huxtables": uppity people of color

"Carpet Bagger": uppity Progressives from other States who hijack local issues, positions, etc.

"Toonie": opposite of a "Townie", usually means Yuppie or poser

"slope": derogatory term against Asians

"stemming": panhandling at designated spots with tribal affiliations or turf such as Park Street Station or the Trinity Church in Copley Plaza

"piker": target for low brow sales people pushing sketchy products or services

"Irish Luggage": plastic garbage bag

"bit": term for jail sentence popularized by Dennis Lehane, Chuck Hogan and George V. Higgins

"DD": Progressive Hippies and their growing fascination for dumpster diving, foraging for discarded food behind super markets

"crew": interchangeable with underground compatriots or illegal immigrants in General Contracting business

"finski": variation of $5

"champy": champagne

"item": concealed weapon

"vig": commission on illegal gambling

"The 'Dise": Paradise Rock Club

"Pisser": majestic, lofty, grand, magnum opus, awe, etc.





Anonymous said...

“What are ya doin!”
“Nothin’.”
“Why not?”
“Too lazy.”
“Well, ya goddam sonofabitch, ya always were!.”
“Whazzat?”
“I said you always were!”
“Well I ain’t dead yet.”
“No, by Jesus, you ain’t . Guess we can still show a few of ‘em one or two things, can’t we Ed?”


Absolutely fantastic! makes my day.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I went to school with a fellow from Boston who said, "I'm going over to the bubbler." When I asked what a 'bubbler' was? He said a drinking fountain. I about laughed myself to death.

Anonymous said...

Two terms I picked up visiting my grandparents in central Maine: flush-top for toilet, and corn piece for corn field. I don't know if it's a New Englandism or not, but I've always been partial to "Water Closet" or WC for the bathroom.

Something that puzzled me in college was the consistency with which my non-New England friends would dismiss any local term (especially soda and rotary) as snobby. No one accused them of sounding like hayseeds for saying pop or traffic circle or referring to their aunts as ants, and yet our words were greeted with hostility. Does any other part of America bear as much of the rest of the nation's regional insecurities?

I've enjoyed looking through everyone's lists of old family names as well. It's reassuring to see that none of the names overlap with my own, suggesting that we're not all totally inbred! My own contribution: Carrier, Hale, Seymour, Ingraham, Nickerson, Reed, Dudley, Jackson, Sparks, and the very preppy Ducky.

JSL

Wasp Decor said...

Muffy, another great post. You made this Mainah laugh, today. I just wanted to share a few that I know of:
"never heard tell of it"-never heard of it.
"can't say not knowin'"- I don't know.

funseekers-tourists with boats, snow sleds, skis
Puddlejumpah-small plane-Cessna, Beechcraft type.
headin' ta home-going home
upta camp-heading to your camp
camp-cottage, lake house
"noon meal"-lunch
dinnah-noon meal
"well aint that sumpthin'"
down rivah: northern saying for going down to Skowhegan, for example.

Some of my favorite Maine lakes or rivers:
Meduxnekeag
Musquacook
Sysladobsis--"dobsi"- by the locals
Mooselookmeguntic -lake-moose feeding place
Passagassawakeag-"a place for spearing sturgeon by torchlight."
Wassataquoik lake

What a fun post.
W.D.

Wasp Decor said...

shoot, I forgot:
"store boughten"-heard this used for bread, as in: "mothah fahgot ta make bread, so she headed downrivah to get some store-boughten bread"

Anonymous said...

William Buckley's family was from Texas, spent time in Mexico and partially ended up in SC.

Chelsea said...

Muffy, unrelated, but I'm chomping at the bit for your take on the new J. Press "York Street" line! I mean... what on Earth inspired this monstrosity? http://www.jpressonline.com/floral-pocket-tee-earth-tones/

Heather said...

Your list of regional phrases brought back wonderful memories. I grew up in upstate New York and then matriculated at URI. I couldn't understand half of what people were saying! I still remember discovering that Worcester was actually pronounced "Woostah".

Cate Brenton said...

In my family tree, I'd always thought Freelove Bliss must have felt out of place in 16th century New England--now I see maybe not, as it turns out!

BlueTrain said...

Okay, all you uptown folk, who knows what a "come here" is? I don't know if it's used up North but it's not a city expression.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another wonderful post.

My memory of childhood is that many people did not pronounce the "t" in "pocketbook."

By the way, I had a steak bomb grinder delivered for my supper a couple of days ago.

--JR

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why a moose is called a "swamp donkey". Wouldn't "swamp mule" be more size appropriate?

Sartre said...

Great, great post. I think we've discussed "hamburgs" before. My family always ordered a "pizza pie," never a pizza, and always from Anthony's (or whoever's) "Apizza."

Another one, realizing that there are always regional differences, is that we never, ever had dinner, we had supper.

Sartre said...

BTW I had a fraternity brother at Cornell named Nate Bowditch, who joined just as I was leaving. I wonder if this is the same person.

mkh said...

anonymous @ 2:21 - my family still says "pockabook" spoken very quickly, in a clipped way. Thanks for bringing that up. They say "WIST-ah", not "WOOS-tah" though.

WrySmile said...

My grandma who was of English and Native American descent (Micmac tribe, Maine) used to say "they fell out" for people who were once friends but are no more.

Christine said...

We should chat sometime about PA Dutch...in the community where I teach (in Berks County, PA), the Legion hall still holds evening classes to teach the "language". I believe they are still taught because the language still exists among the older members of the county.

I am a native Berks Countian; however, I spent 17 years of my adult life in Texas...so, as you might guess, I have a weird hold on language and a vast local color lexicon under my hat. And, to think, I teach high school English! :)

Greenfield said...

Heck, Muffy, you -can't- be that old! The Nathaniel Bowditch I know wrote the "American Practical Navigator" around 1800!

Perhaps Freelove Bliss could cheer up Dutiful Penitence Casket (does anyone else remember "Nightbirds on Nantucket?") :)

Sarah Faragher said...

In use at our house:

Hahd tellin' not knowin' (all-purpose)

Godfrey mighty (profanity)

Howyoudoin'deAH? (greeting)

Good,'n'you? (quick reply to above)

Dark as a boot (wicked dark)

Cold as a bastahd (brrrr)

Regarding place names, I must mention two great books, "Indian Place Names of the Penobscot Valley and the Maine Coast" by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm (1941), and "A Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary" published by the University of Maine Press in 2008. The former is fascinating and quick to read, and the latter is massive and an incredible work of scholarship. Many of those Maine place names you mention, and their root words/prefixes/suffixes, are defined in full, or speculated on if the original meaning has been lost. Brings a new level of appreciation to this area we love so much. (Maine: finestkind.)

mary anne said...

This is a wonderful, fun post.

Katahdin said...

Some more Maine-isms:

Bug: Lobster

Cah: A four wheel vehicle, not a truck.

Chowdah: Chowder

Crittah: Any furry animal

Cunnin': Cute

Finest Kind: The very best

From Away: Not from Maine

Gawmy: Awkward or clumsy

Numb: Dumb. Stupid.

Pot: Lobster Trap

Prayer Handle: Knee

Scrid: A tiny piece

Wicked good, wicked bad, wicked excitin'

Anonymous said...

@mkh: I say "WIST-ah", and I don't I've ever heard "WOOS-tah" except maybe from people on television who aren't from New England.

Zach said...

My father and his family are from Vermont, my mom's side has been in Portsmouth since 1630, so it's interesting to see all of these terms. I'd say that they can be broken down by regions within New England. "Hard telling not knowing" is something one hears more in VT than on the coast, in my experience, while a lot of the other terms were more coastal in nature.

Also, mother's side had some strange names- Jareb (yes with a b) comes to mind.

Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

Dinner was the big meal that we had at midday on Sundays and on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. We ate dinner in the dining room, sometimes with guests. Our usual everyday meals were breakfast, lunch, and supper, which we usually ate in the kitchen.

LG said...

This probably isn't an obvious one but I always struggle with Gloucester, which is pronounced "Glauce" (like sauce) in Virginia.

Marie said...

I am partial to the saying-
going by shank's mare

My Hudson Valley grandfather and his brothers always used this phrase. It meant to walk.

Matt said...

Oh, the list goes on. "I wud'n know way-ah ta begin."

Marie mentioned "Albion's Seed." The author, Fischer, says that Puritans in naming their children would sometimes open the Bible and chose the first word they saw. "Notwithstanding" is a recorded Puritan name. I have a Puritan ancestor named "Hazelelponi," an obscure name from 1 Chronicles.

Rachel said...

Great post! I know some Southern women who say pocketbook but not in my family, I say purse. I hear some people from Eastern KY say "you'uns" instead of "y'all" which is what those of us who grew up in Western KY say. Something funny did happened on our honeymoon to Vicksburg MS, a young man waiting on us called us "Yankees". Mind you we hadn't told him where we were from (KY)so this was not some old Civil War issues, we just sounded different. That was a first as I'd been told by a friends mother in Indiana that I had the "sweetest and most beautiful Southern accent she had ever heard". I might have a slight identity crisis having been born in Louisville KY into a Quaker, German, Anglican and Scots-Irish family. Those of you who have read "Albion's Seed" will understand..LOL!!!

Katahdin said...

"Bert and I" by Marshall "Mike" Dodge, Maine linguist from away:

“Where does this road go?”

“Don’t go nowhere, Mister. Stays right here.”

“Can I take this road to Portland?”

“Sure, but they got all the roads up to Portland they need.”

“You don’t know much, do you?”

“No. Then again, I’m not lost.”

“You lived here all your life?”

“Not yet.”

Anonymous said...

Among old-time Chicagoans:

"Djeet?" "No, Jew?": "Did you eat? No, did you?"

"Duh show": A movie, a wedding ceremony, a college lecture.

"Adlai duh Turd": Former senator Adlai Stevenson III.

"Outfit": The Italian mob. Nothing to do with clothes.

"Where you at?": What is your location?

"New England": The city that hosts the Patriots football team.

"Summer house": A fishing cabin in northern Wisconsin.

"Snob": the excretion that comes from blowing one's nose while crying.

"Preppie crap": Clothing worn by people from Lake Forest or Kenilworth; the people from Lake Forest or Kenilworth who wear the clothing; people who go to four-star restaurants; people (other than musicians and mayder-dees) who own dinner jackets.

"Harvard": An all-purpose descriptive noun, as in "Hey, Harvard, no one cares if your pants get dirty. Pick up your shovel and get to work," or "This joint ain't Harvard. You don't have to lift your pinkie every time you swallow your beer."



Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

While this list is excellent, it should also be noted that about 50% of Yankee (and Northeast) communication can be non-verbal. I realized this and learned it the hard way when I began spending time (for business) in the west and the west coast. A glance or a micro-expression unseen by most people can be an entire conversation, punishment, agreement, permission, correction or proposal between two Yankees. It allows for triple-entendres.

Brad Cole said...

There are certainly some interesting names of things and places in New England. My eldest daughter attended a school in CT that abutted a lake called Wononscopomuc. That does not easily roll of the tongue - mine at least - and there are people who live in the area who can’t seem to pronounce it correctly. Anyway, another fun post. Thank you, Muffy!

Kathy said...

@Yankee-Whisky-Papa , you are absolutely right about non-verbal communication! My Mother was the best at that of anyone I've ever seen! I learned the skill from my Mother and relatives. My southern husband ( I am a yankee) can read my micro-expressions but southern friends usually don't.

Another great post!

Janjan said...

Great post, great comments. Here in Mahshfield ( Mahsh Vegas, if you prefer) its called a "pawkahbook", and babies are indeed "cunnin'". Certain folks may even claim "that pawkahbook is Mayan", and it has nothing to do Indians.

"Finest Kind", now THAT is Bonnac, from down in Springs.

Gotcha beat on ancestral names, though. Septimus Loftus!

Anonymous said...

I smiled as I read through this post, remembering all of the road signs we see of these uniquely-named places when we are visiting New England. We love Boston and I have family in Charlton, Worcester, and Leominster, Mass., which we frequent several times a year. Husband's family is in Maine, which we visit in November. We love traveling to New England because it's truly another world. We love the traditions, the customs, and everything else about New England!

Anonymous said...

I love this post - the entire blog actually. You feed my obsession with all things New England. Here are a few words/expressions from the land of dead Elvis:

"Coke" - unless a person is sniffing white stuff, this word generally refers to all kinds carbonated drinks

"Icebox" - rather old school, but this is a refrigerator

"Buggy" - a grocery cart-also old school

"Going to the store" - going to the grocery store

"Fixin' to go to the store" - visit is imminent

"Beauty Parlor" little old ladies do not miss weekly appointments

"Beadle Dog"-a Beagle

Happy blogging!












Rachel said...

Stay safe this weekend my NE friends. This Nor'easter sounds wicked.

Anonymous said...

Very enjoyable post.

Pennsylvanians in the thread: I lived and worked in Pittsburgh for a while and quickly picked up the western Pennsylvanian shorthand of saying "X needs Y" instead of "X needs to be Y". For example, "The car needs washed".

All east coasters: I am originally from California and the freeways and highways are referred to as "the" and the number; for example, "the 101" for US route 101 or "the 5" for I-5. This is how all the local TV and radio news stations identify the roads when reporting traffic, and I didn't realize that this was a regionalism until I moved east. Now I would find it very strange to refer to "I-95" as "the 95" as opposed to simply "95"!

Anonymous said...

We're expecting close to 2' of the white shroud in the next two days. Whatever. We're New Englanders. Nothing a Landie 90 and pair of Bean Boots can't handle.

However, I am pleasantly surprised to hear all the positive things said about us in this thread. It's refreshing. Normally, I hear scornful tales of horror, personal resentment and indignation from outsiders on their view of the quintessential native here. We're "stuck up", "guarded", "speak in code", "suspicious of outsiders", "possess a Country Club view of the polis", "indifferent to external ideas, phenomenons or peoples", "stuck in a time warp", "excessively proper and formal", "rude", "unforgiving as drivers", "provincial"...You get my point. But for being such a good sport, the next round of Guinness is on me provided you sit in reverence for a proper reading of T.S. Eliot.

Cheers and drive safely.

Ferd said...

Does anyone other than I cringe on the occasion of telecasters’ announcement of this week’s storm of the century? This phenomenon of life in modern America is one of the most patent pieces of evidence that we have descended to a culture of bread and circus, where football games resemble ravages in a coliseum for the amusement of the masses and a storm allows us to escape from our own private Bleak House. When I was a child snow was snow. Its oncoming did not involve endless cacophony and mindless speculation about accumulations. Grown adults did not discuss a coming storm with the interest and urgency previously preserved for world wars. I suppose with corrupt, sinful slime for clergy our only remaining common experience of purity and proof of the deity is a snowstorm. Oh well, at least it will give our game show host politicians something else to distract us with whilst they carry on with their plunder. What a world we have made.

BlueTrain said...

I'm surprised (a little) that no one took me up on my question as to what a "come here" is. In fact, it represents what many of the quaint words and saying reflect. They are not so much regional, for the same things are found all over, but rather the difference between the city and the country and all the tensions that follow.

A "come here" is someone who moves from the city or the suburbs to a rural district, typically somewhere on the water (that is, waterfront property), usually when they retire. They bring all their city attitudes with them and start introducing things like leash laws. Moreover, they drive up local real estate values and push out the original farmers and commercial fishermen who had lived there for generations. They are a mixed blessing for the local economy. Because all these come-heres have children working in the city, the weekends will find the highways leading to these basically retirement communities crowded with BMWs, Volvos and Lexuses.

However, circumstances differ from place to place. I understand that in New England, if you merely move across the river when you're ten years old, you nevertheless remain an outsider (if not a "come-here") for the rest of your life. But I mentioned somewhere else here, moving across the river is not something done lightly.

Anonymous said...

As ususal, Ferd is dead on! Sad, but true...

Greenfield said...

I'm with Ferd, totally rolling my eyes last night when the media gassers started shrilling "Historic!" storm. Histrionic is more like it.
It snows in New England, after all. Sometimes even a lot. It's half the fun!

My take on it is someone on Madison Avenue figured out that fear, panic & confusion sell things--so if we keep the populace in a continual state of Impending Doom, rather like stirred-up sheep, business will be good. If an asteroid or lost election isn't in the offing, a rainy day or the imminent Zombie Apocalypse will do.

The downside of all this is like the Boy Who Cried Wolf; in Hurricane Sandy, people who were over-inured to hearing "State of Emergency! State of Emergency!" declined to evacuate and found themselves wishing they had.

It all brings to mind the old saying, "When in danger, or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!" Our ancestors respected the elements; and the Indians, well, they just moved to the wigwam on higher ground, built a fire, and shrugged.

Blizzard of '88, anyone?!
What has changed is NOT the weather; it's the far greater complexity and scale of our modern human infrastructure, as well as the populace's unrealistic expectation of unfailing comfort and convenience. Well, Nature still rules, the grid DOES fail, so Yankee ingenuity is key. I tweak my routine a little more every storm. "Sparky" the Generator is all ready to go with gas for a week--just call me the Preppy Prepper! ;)

BlueTrain said...

No offense, but I have to disagree. True, the weather had not changed so much but the complexity and scale of the human intrastructure (your term) hasn't changed so much either. One thing that made the Blizzard of 1888 so bad, at leat in New York, was that many people lived on a day-to-day basis. They'd go out every day to buy their coal. The blizzard shut down the comings and goings of all those little people who brought the food and coal into the city, so a lot of people, all low income, were hurting. But I guess they didn't count then any more than they do now.

Laurie Ann said...

Gunman down Muffy. Theyus a wicked stahm acummin!

Laurie Ann said...

Hunkah!! Sorry. I hate auto spell.

Karen Alstadt said...

I just LOVE you Muffy! As a 14th generation ( grandparents got off the boat in Scituate, MA in 1638) I just love this blog. Having been brought up in PA and moved here for college I have had to acclimate culturally. I just love your take on Preppy, WASP, New England culture. Thank you Karen Alstadt Scituate, MA

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I live in Central Maine. There seem to be a few variations on the Maine accent. The coastal accent is sometimes more dense than elsewhere, but rural inland Maine has plenty of verbal fun. On a snowy day like today, everyone talks about the "stahm."

"It's snowin' wickid hahd, by Godfrey! I was goin' uptah Bang-goah t'night for bowlin' but it's slip-pree all ovah!"
For "groshrees" you drive to a "stoah" like "Hannafids."
You get gas for the cah at "Irvins."
If your "cah" "gitsin" an accident, it will be "all stove up" and you may need to buy a new "wintah beatah" by searching the listings in "Uncle Henry's." If you win the "Megahbucks" you can buy "sumthin wicked fancy" like a "Linkin Town Cah."
When summah comes, it can get "as hot as a witch's tit in a brass bra."
I could go on all day...

Anonymous said...

My great-grandparents had a farm in Mout Vernon, Maine (pronounced Mount Vern-nin). I'm not sure if this is exclusive to Maine, but they always referred to the toilet as "the commode." As in, "Go warm up the cah, dee-ah, I've just gut to use the commode before we go."
And yes, if you were in a car accident you "stove up" the car, meaning you broke it/damaged it etc.
If something stopped working, it "sh*t the bed." As in, "Well, the tractor just sh*t the bed. It must need a new belt."
If something broke, you "made do" but repairing it as best you could. My great-grandfather worked wonders with scraps of tin, old shingles, canvas, and a hammer.
I remember that my great-grandmother and her friends would always refer to a pregnancy as "up a stump." As in, "Well, Ida's up a stump again. This one will make nine."
When money was in short supply in the 30's, she drove from Mount Vernon to the Hathaway Shirt Company factory in Waterville. In those days, that was a VERY long drive in unreliable cars. "It was a wicked hike to get to work," she said.
I miss them. They were what I think of when I think of hearty Maine people. I know that Henry James said that the most beautiful expression in the English language is "summer afternoon," but for me it will always be "bean suppah."

Janjan said...

^^^ Anonymous, great post! And how great is that phrase " sh*t the bed", if perhaps a bit indelicate?

Anonymous said...

Born and bred "old family" New Yorker ( which is NYeese for Manhattanite )and grew up with family and friends saying "pocketbook". We also call a refridgerator an "ICE-BOX".

College in N.H., so do know about a "frappe" and had to learn what " going down street" meant.

My daughter went to boarding school and college in Mass. (I did boarding school in Pa.; which is a whole 'nother set of language lessons ), so had to learn the ins and outs of "wicked" usage.

itztru said...

Somewhere along the line, the branches of our family are crossed. I am a descendent of Mary Bradbury (Salem Witch Trial).

Janjan said...

Of course with this blizzard Hizawnah the Mayah is all over Boston TV, and damned if I can understand a word he says!

Sartre said...

My wife just reminded me about Bet's Fish Fry near Boothbay Harbor where they have painted on their wall, "Free beer tomorrow." I always feel that is quintessentially New England.

itztru said...

Yes, I love Mary Bradbury's story and have saved our genealogy research to pass down to my future grandchild (first one due in May!). My line from Mary Perkins Bradbury is her daughter Jane, who married Henry True. Henry's parents (the True line I descend from) were Henry True and Israel Pike. I am a True who cherished the family name and gave it to my son as his middle name. Fingers crossed that he continues the tradition in naming his daughter.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, Muffy. Hard to believe that "Mondays" and "Huxtables" have gone unchallenged.

@ Anonymous 2/6/13 12:08pm

A few questions -

Is it truly common to refer to people of color as "Mondays?"

Is the phrase "people of color" a euphemism for "Americans of African descent?"

Could you please define "uppity?"

What a fun post followed by truly delightful and enlightening comments.

Anonymous said...

@Anon at 11:57 pm

I posted the original comment on Boston slang. The racist comments are not openly used in the public square but it's certainly common within provincial groups. The source of the racial tensions originated with the Brahmin Families and English patriarchy who posted signs on the variation of the theme "Irish Go Home". The Irish later expressed similar sentiments against the Italians and later the Eastern Europeans and on and on it goes. These days, it's all the rage to malign illegal immigrants and in particular, Brazilians.

To an outside observer, this can easily be construed as "racist" but as a life long resident of this State, I think its much more nuanced than this. Jack Nicholson's opening soliloquy in the film "The Departed" captured the precise ethnocentric argument of ownership and entitlement conveyed in such high-profile events as the Busing Crisis. It isn't about race per say. It's more about fighting for a slice of the pie or in political terms, allocation of scarce resources.

The Busing Crisis caused resentment against Blacks and Progressive Democrats because Court Rulings based on forced integration encroached on tribal neighborhoods. It forced Irish, Italians and Eastern European students to commute half way across the City when they were public school buildings in their very own neighborhoods. All in the name of "diversity". If you're keeping score, the schools are actually worse today no matter how you measure it.

I'm not certain on the etymology of the term "Mondays" but the general consensus is that it's just a day of the week everyone dreads so it became fashionable in some circles to use this it.

But this isn't true racism. It's just pent up frustrations, human foibles and personal insecurities. This is more about tribal politics than arguments for the Master Race. And this is where outsiders attuned to political correctness would take issue with it because they conflated "tribalism" with "racism".

Most people in Boston are not racist. Provincial, yes.

Anonymous said...

@ anon at 8:29 AM: Though there certainly was some anti-Irish sentiment among "Boston Brahmins" when the Irish began arriving in the 19th century, racial and class tensions were most pronounced among the working classes. They were competing for the same jobs and, increasingly, the same neighborhoods. You are right about the resentment caused by the forced busing in Boston, but I fear you may be a little too generous in classifying racist stereotypes as tribalism or provincialism. There is some of that, certainly, but dismissing such sentiments out of hand can lead to allowing such fears and resentment to fester into actual racism.
Among upper class "Brahmin" Bostonians, many of whom were strongly anti-slavery and well-educated, prejudice was mostly directed to Catholicism, though making bigoted statements publicly, even among friends, was frowned upon. My great grandmother, from an old Boston family, told me that she could remember her mother(who died in 1935) making disparaging remarks about Irish Roman Catholics. It was considered very "common" to behave in such a way and she never repeated her mistake.

itztru said...

Interesting in that my line follows through Henry & Jane's son William marrying Eleanor Stevens as well. From there we branch off to their son Benjamin marrying Judith Morrill. Eventually, the True's migrated to Canterbury-Loudon, N.H. and then back to the West of Boston Suburbs in my lifetime. Thank you for the connection. It's a very small world. PS - I was approached by a "Pike" in my high school years who opened our life long friendship with "We're related, you know". I believe the Pike family played an important role in Mary Bradbury's trial. What would our ancestors be thinking?!

Anonymous said...

Aren't pent up frustrations, foibles and insecurities a root cause of what is commonly called racism? Why is it provincial in Boston but racist in other parts of the country?

Anonymous said...

@Anon Feb 10 12:04,

Thanks for your insightful response. I understand your perspective and concerns over watering down the severity of toxic language and vitriol but the motivation behind racial epithets has more to do with politics than Aryan theories on the Master Race. If they were Mormons pre-1970s, part of the Identity Movement, Theosophists or members of the Third Reich, I would agree with you. These are merely working class White folks who feel disenfranchised because of the color of their skin through Affirmative Action, Busing and other forms of social policies which impact the Sumum bonum. In other words, they're taking issue with Social Engineering or racial preferential treatment which comes at their expense. So they react in horror against people they believe didn't pay their dues.

However, I see the same social policies harming Asians. As you know, they are at disadvantage when it comes to racial quotas especially in College Applications. Yet Asians don't express the same level of disenchantment as their White contemporaries. So you do have a point in how certain working class groups can allow personal pain to snowball and manifest into irrational hatred which becomes a catalyst for racism.

Since I am very familiar with just about every group in my State from Blacks to Irish Catholics to Evangelical Congregationalists to Belmont Mormons to Brookline Ashkenazi Jews, I'm not prepared to dismiss the language as racism. They may express unfair accusations or common generalizations about their nemesis but I don't believe in their heart of hearts, they are superior because of their skin color.

I believe it's merely a dialectic--contrived by puppet masters to create unnecessary tension so that predetermined outcomes would emerge.




Mark S. Redmond said...

I was born 'on' Cay breton (Cape Breton) and grew up in Arlington and Braintree, MA. I've grown to appreciate regional phrases as I get older. Cape Breton has it's own language (it seems) and is fiercely independent of Nova Scotia, and Canada. There is a book titled 'Down North' which is a glimpse at the extreme regionalism my grandmother is in it, posing with her papillon. Last week a friend asked if I was 'set faw de stawm'. My response, 'I'm good, gotta blowah and melt'. (Snow blower and salt)

Mike & Catherine said...

Love the blog and this post in particular, Muffy! Though tonic and jimmies were mentioned, the place where one purchases them was not: the spa.

"Jimmy - run down the spa and grab some tonic and a pack of Luckies for your fathah."

Obviously, kids don't run to the corner spa much anymore, nor do they buy smokes for their parents...

Kat said...

There is a spelling mistake: It should be "kaiser roll", not as you wrote "keiser roll". "Kaiser" as in Emperor (it's originally from Austria).

NEW Communications said...

Here in Wisconsin, use of the term "bubbler" is thought to be proof one is a Badger by birth. Good to know we Badgers will not go thirsty in New England.

Thanks to my Yankee and French Canadian ancestors who came to Wisconsin from Maine and Massachusetts, some of these terms are very familiar to me.

WRJ said...

I thought you might find these linguistic maps interesting--there are a number of categories in which New England is distinctly different from nearly the rest of the country. It also addresses the New HAVEN/NEW Haven issue. See: http://spark-1590165977.us-west-2.elb.amazonaws.com/jkatz/SurveyMaps/. How "bubbler" came to be a nearly exclusively Rhode Island and Wisconsin phenomenon is baffling.

Gretchen said...

It's QUAHOG, not quohog. I know that because it's on my Michigan license plate :)
And my brother in East Greenwich digs them for fun and profit.

Really enjoyed this piece - thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

As a native New Englander, It's Masshole, not Mass Souls. Just to clarify.

Katahdin said...

a regional Dialect Quiz and Mapping System:


Anonymous said...

My grandfather, GCH Jr. always used to say when it was a nice day out: "It's a Corkuh" in his Brahmin accent.
GCH IV

BlueTrain said...

I always delight in hearing different accents and ways of speaking. I moved to Northern Virginia from southern West Virginia about 40 years ago but it only takes about a minute of conversation with someone back home to resume my hillbilly twang, something I have tried to lose. But within the family, there is a rich mixture of accents ranging from the wonderful Hollywood Russian accent of someone from Serbia (who speaks no Russian) to a Minnesota accent (from one named Olsen, no less). There are also generational differences. The older people I've known have had accents that younger people simply do not have, though they might appear when the people get older.

Naturally, slang and colloquailisms abound. The late arrivals from abroad, all fluent in English, know the current slang which I don't use but they don't know the slang I do use.

Gosh all fishooks! There ought to be an Academy of the English language, the only language that has none.

Anonymous said...

My mutha's from Maine, and I had to staht usin' the letta 'ah' at the preppy schools I went to. Everything's fine until I get tie-ed and / or have a bee-uh. Even my own kids make fun of me.

Anyone else put things in a 'draw' (drawer), go 'down cellah', or have grandparents named Gammy and Gampy?

Sue B (descended from original settlers in 3 towns in northeast MA)