|Standing in Portsmouth, New Hampshire one can look back across the Piscataqua River to Kittery.|
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 and it got me thinking about the language of New England. 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:
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 Origins||Native American Origins|
(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.)
One should enjoy the sounds of certain names, for their sheer verbal ambition on one hand and their history on the other.
I was flipping through our 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
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.
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.”This one was between two elderly male natives, both slightly deaf.
“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.”
“What are ya doin!”
“Well, ya goddam sonofabitch, ya always were!.”
“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?”