Boston Proper, Boston Strong

11 kennedy flagLinda Burton posting from Boston, Massachusetts – If you want to be considered a proper Bostonian, you have to understand Boston English. “Don’t worry about the poor lost New England “r’s” I learned; “we stick them onto the end of certain other words.” Some “r’s” take on an “ah” sound; you can make any Bostonian groan and roll their eyes when you cite the example 11 tour bus“Hah-vahd Yahd.” But to a non-Boston ear like mine, that’s what I hear. It’s hard (hahd) for most visitors for the first few days, but Boston tour guides plunge forward (fah-wahd) with their dialogue and the tour buses roll on. I dug a little deeper into how it works and found this rhyme: Ah final ahs just disappeah, but wheah they go we’ve no idear. Yes, those floating “r’s” grab onto words such as “idea” and stick there; I can almost hear John Kennedy’s voice ringing in from the past. I even found instructions on “How to Talk Like Kennedy” – so that vigor becomes vigah, and Cuba becomes Cuber.

11 hahvahd personsBut to truly speak Boston English is to do far more than just move the “r’s” around– the natives have their own unique vocabulary, and even grammatical constructs as well. For example:

  • Barnie: A Hahvahd student, at least to Cambridge and Somerville residents. Derived from Barnyard, which is what the townies call Hahvahd Yahd.
  • Barrel: What you deposit trash in.
  • B’daydas: You can serve them mashed, or whipped, or boiled.
  • Breakdown Lane: 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).
  • Bubbler: That’s a water cooler to you, bub.
  • Carriage: What you use to wheel your groceries around at the Stah Mahket.
  • Cuber: Island south of Florida; capital is Havanner.
  • Dungahs: Bluejeans.
  • Foddy: The numbah aftah thirdy-nine.
  • Mummy: What you call your female parent if you grew up on Beacon Hill.
  • Naw: Opposite of “yuh” or “yah.”
  • The Pike: 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.
  • Reefah: Refrigerator.
  • Rotary: A traffic circle. One of Massachusetts’ two main contributions to the art of traffic regulation (the other being the red-and-yellow pedestrian-crossing light).
  • Saddadee: The day after Friday.
  • Scrod: A small, ambiguous piece of fish that never knows if it’s cod or haddock.
  • The show: The movies.
  • ‘Sup?: Hello, how are you?
  • The T: The Boston subway system. It does not actually stand for any single word, it’s a graphic designed to be as recognizable as a cross and evoke the idea of transit, transportation, tunnel.
  • Tonic: What other people call soda. In some Boston supermarkets, the signs will direct you to the “tonic” and “diet tonic” aisles.
  • Three-decker: Boston’s contribution to architecture — a narrow, three-story house, in which each floor is a separate apartment.
  • Wicked: A general intensifier: “He’s wicked nuts!”
  • What’s doin’?: How are you?
  • Whole ‘notha: A complete replacement; “I got a whole ‘notha computa on my desk now.”

The quickest way to blow the fact that you’re just a tourist is to refer to “the Public 11 boston common swansGardens” (even if you pronounce it “Public Gahdens”) or “the Boston Commons.” Both are singular — “Public Garden” and “Boston Common.” Other tips: Tremont is pronounced “Treh-mont” and it’s COPley, not COPEly, Square (or Squayuh).

The Boston accent is one of the most recognizable in the United States, frequently imitated in shows and plays for character development, and by comedians and others trying to crack a joke. Though it’s rare you’ll be able nail the accent without spending a significant amount of time in Boston, here are three easy steps to get you started.

  1. Pronounce your R’s as AH (Park the Car at Harvard Yard will become Pahk the Cah At Hahvad Yahd). Don’t drop the “R’s” at the beginning of the word (crisis remains crisis).
  2. Pronounce your “O’s” like “aw” (‘Boston’ becomes Bawstun, ‘Octopus’ becomes ‘Awctapus’).
  3. Pronounce your “A’s” like “ah” (last [lehst] becomes lahst). “The first shall be last” becomes The fihst shahll be lahst.

It helps to use some of the lingo and to talk (and listen) to Bostonians. But all these 11 Boston strong posterinstructions come with a warning too. “Be careful if you’re trying to make fun of us. We Bostonians have more than the accent to show for ourselves.” Consider the phrase that has emerged since the horrific bombings last year; you see it everywhere today: Boston Strong.