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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sun, 1 Sep 96 12:40:32 -0700
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The Wicked Good Guide to Boston English
Everybody knows about pahking cahs in Hahvuhd Yahd, but there's more to the
accent than that. In Boston English, "ah" (the one without an R after it)
often becomes something closer to "aw", so that, for example, "tonic" (see
below), comes out more like "tawnic" (former Mayor Kevin White would often
express outrage by exclaiming "Motha a'Gawd!"). And it's not just after the
A's that the R's go away. They disappear after other vowels as well,
particularly "ee" sounds, so that one could properly argue that "Reveah is
wicked wee-id" (translation: "Revere is unusual"). But don't worry about
poor lost New England R's. In typical Yankee fashion, we re-use 'em -- by
sticking them on the ends of certain other words ending with "uh" sounds:
"Ah final ahs just disappeah, but wheah they go we've no idear."
The quickest way to convince a native that you're just a tourist is to refer
to "the Public Gardens" (even if you pronounce it "Public Gahdens") or "the
Boston Commons." Both are singular (ie., "Public Garden" and "Boston
Common"). Other tips: Tremont is pronounced "Treh-mont" and it's COPley,
not COPEly, Square (or Squayuh). The pronunciation of many other
Massachusetts locations bears little resemblance to their spelling; to avoid
the feeling that the natives are snickering at you behind your back, take
The Massachusetts Quiz.
But to truly speak Boston English is to do far more than just imitate the
Pepperidge Fahm man -- the natives have their own unique vocabulary, and
even grammatical constructs as well. For example...
A Hahvuhd student, at least to Cambridge and Somerville residents. Derived
from Barnyard, which is what the townies call Havuhd Yahd.
What you deposit trash in.
You can serve them mashed, or whipped, or boiled.
Boat shoes, i.e., Keds.
Highway shoulder. Also, an oxymoron -- the last place you want to break down
in greater Boston is in the breakdown lane, especially during rush hour,
when it becomes the high-speed lane (in some places, even legally).
That's a water cooler to you, bub.
Boston bowling; involves tiny little pins and tiny little balls (the pins
are so hard to hit, you get three tries a frame). Watch "Candlepin Bowling"
every Saturday morning, always hosted by some retired/fired sportscaster,
like Don Gillis or Bob Gamere.
What you use to wheel your groceries around at the Stah Mahket.
Where you bring your clothes to be Mahtinized.
Island south of Florida; capital is Havanner.
Where somebody is, for example: "They're down the Cape today." Sometimes
prounounced "downna," as in "Wanna go downna Boston with me?"
The numbah aftah thirdy-nine.
A milkshake or malted elsewhere [except for Rhode Island, where it's a
cabinet -psl], it's basically ice cream, milk and chocolate syrup blended
together. The 'e' is silent.
Traffic tie-up caused by people looking at an accident on the other side of
the road (or sometimes at excessively enthusiastic human billboards. First
used by long-time WEEI traffic reporter Kevin O'Keefe, who also came up with
"stall 'n' crawl," "cram 'n' jam" and "snail trail."
Get on the state
Land a job with the MBTA, MWRA or some other state agency.
A small cup of ice cream, the kind that comes with a flat wooden spoon.
Sometimes used to refer to certain teen-aged girls.
People who stand at rotaries or on overpasses with campaign signs, sometimes
causing gahkablahkas. The candidate's the one who doesn't have a sign in
Those little chocolate thingees you ask the guy at the ice-cream store to
put on top of your cone.
Live 'n' kickin'
The only kind of lobsters you'll find at Boston deli conters.
A city next to Sommaville. People on the north side of the city pronounce
Milk with some flavored syrup, but NO ice cream. See, also: Frappe.
What you call your female parent if you grew up on Beacon Hill.
Opposite of "yuh" or "yah."
Originally From Dorchester. Can be used as both adjective and noun: "The
South Shore's full of OFDs."
Where you buy liquor; to stock up, you go on a packie run.
The Massachusetts Turnpike. Also, the world's longest parking lot, at least
out by Sturbridge on the day before Thanksgiving.
Plenty a chahm
What all houses for sale have, at least according to the brokers. Really
old houses also tend to have "characta," especially if the roof and floors
need to be replaced.
You go downna Stah deli counta to order one of these when you're having a
Time was, only women and girls (and Mr. Clean) had these; now they're common
even on males.
Cards that political workers try to push into your hand as you go into vote.
Young resident of certain neighborhoods, for example: "Rozzie rat" and "Dot
rat" (the former being a denizen of Roslindale, the latter of Dorchester).
The Back Bay and Beacon Hill do not have rats, at least not of the human
What the natives call Roslindale, Boston's premier neighborhood. Not to be
confused with Southie, Eastie or Westie.
A traffic circle. One of Massachusetts' two main contributions to the art
of traffic regulation (the other being the red-and-yellow
The day after Friday.
In Hyde Park, to kiss. In other neighborhoods, to engage in rather more
intimate behavior: "Guess who I scooped on last night?!?"
A small, ambiguous piece of fish that never knows if it's cod or haddock.
So don't I
An example of the Massachusetts negative positive. Used like this: "I just
love the food at Kelly's." "Oh, so don't I!"
Crazy, bold, daring: "You're soft for questioning the professah."
A luncheonette or ma-and-pop convenience store (e.g., the Palace Spa in
Brighton). Store 24s are never spas.
Sometimes, spukie. What some Bostonians still call a sub or hero (there's
even a sub shop in Dorchester called Spukies 'n Pizza). The single most
controversial word in this guide; some people refuse to believe it's real,
but it must be, because the Middlesex News wrote about it in 1993. May be
limited to Dorchester, South Boston and Roxbury, although your scribe once
heard it in West Roxbury. From spucadella, a type of Italian sandwich roll
you can still buy at some of the bakeries in the North End and Somerville.
An assemblage of human billboards: "We've got a standout at the Holy Name
rotary from 4:45 to 6 on Thursday."
Hello, how are you?
The Boston subway system. Represents the triumph of fuzzy logic, or
something, because it does not actually stand for any single word.
Cambridge Seven Associates thought it up in the early 1960s when the state
hired them to design graphics for the then new MBTA. Their goal was to come
up with something as recognizable as a cross that also evoked the idea of
transit, transportation, tunnel, etc.
A party, usually of the political or retirement type: "We're throwin' a time
for the Dap down at the Eagles. Count you in?"
What other people call soda. In some Boston supermarkets, the signs will
direct you to the "tonic" and "diet tonic" aisles.
Somebody who goes out with a much younger person: "He's such a tookie! He's
going out with a ten-year old!!!" See also, "Hoodsie."
Often, a resident of Charlestown. But townies also live in Reveah and
Whiskey Point ("da Point") in Brookline, so it's also a state of mind, or
perhaps hair. You can often tell a townie by the way he or she adds the
phrase "'n sh*t" to the end of many sentences, as in "Oh my gawd, like
yestihday, right, he was totally down Nahant polishing his TA (Trans Am)
Boston's contribution to architecture -- a narrow, three-story house, in
which each floor is a separate apartment. Only yups call them "triple
Somebody who went to B.C. High School, B.C., and B.C. Law School. In some
circles, more prestigious than a Hahvuhd degree.
"Let's step outside to the parking lot and settle this like real men."
Terra incognita; beyond the bounds of civilization.
A general intensifier: "He's wicked nuts!"
Something that's way cool.
Wicked f****in' pissa!
Something that's just absolutely too cool for words.
How are you?
A complete replacement; "I got a whole 'notha computa on my desk now."
The one they seemed to have forgotten was...
Hammaahhd (ie. hammered) = intoxicated.
"Jesus, Mary 'n Joseph, did we get wicked hammaahhd"
© 1996 Peter Langston