How to Talk Like a New-Englander

My 1980 photo of Morrissey Blvd, Dorchester, on my way into Boston after snow storm.

After reading “Ahead of Fenway Bowl, SMU players struggle to define Boston terms” by Trevor Hass regarding visiting college football players from around the country visiting Boston for the 2021 Fenway Bowl football game, I became interested in compiling more information about the unusual phrases that I grew up with in the Boston area and my several weeks each year on the coast of Maine.

Here are a few examples from that piece:

One player guessed “packie” meant a gun and another said “something you carry.” Two players did correctly identify it as a liquor store.

Next up, one player inferred that “bubbler” meant soda and and another agreed it was “a pop.” A fellow SMU player believed bubbler was “a beer,” but a teammate corrected him. “No, it’s a water fountain,” he said. “I literally just said it.”

One said “Dunks” meant “skateboarding shoes,” but a few others realized it was short for Dunkin’ in Massachusetts.

When prompted with the word “wicked,” one player said “wicked stupid.”

Here are some others from The Daily Meal by Matt Sulem:

Shout-out to all the Mainers out there! If you’ve ever visited America’s easternmost state, or simply read a Stephen King novel, you might know that folks from Maine have another way of agreeing or saying yes: “ ayuh. Just be sure, for true accuracy, to pronounce the “A” as if you’re saying the name of the letter. This term is one of the most Maine things you can possibly say, along with telling someone (while giving directions): “You can’t get there from here.”

Although you might be just as likely to hear a submarine sandwich in New England called a “sub” as anywhere else, New England has an additional term: “grinder.” No, not the dating/social networking app, but a New England word that either referred to the Italian-American slang term for a dock worker or the fact that it took a lot of chewing to eat the hard crust of the bread. It’s worth noting that some only use the term grinder for a hot sandwich — using sub for other large sandwiches — and some call them all grinders.

June 24, 2015, was a historic day for New Englanders: It was the day “Masshole” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary and became an official word. Of course, in this region, it’s been a common portmanteau for some time, as there’s no better way to describe the rushing, tailgating, aggressive style of Massachusetts drivers. And it’s not just an insult, as some natives wear the term as a badge of pride. Back in 1996, the Boston Globe helped in the coinage of the word in an article titled “Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving.” The story began by giving an example situation for local drivers, asking them to think about what they’d do if approaching an intersection full of people as the light turned yellow. The very first option? “Floor it, weave around pedestrians, and flip a finger as you do.” That, ladies and gents, is a true Masshole. But hey, this style of driving isn’t without its advantages. As a local bumper sticker reminds other cars: “If you drove like a Masshole, you’d be home by now.”

A “package store” is one that sells bottles of liquor and wine, a term that dates back to the post- Prohibition laws that stated liquor and wine must be packaged up after being purchased and not carried openly in public. Although this wording is used in both New England and parts of the South, the former region owns the slang term “packie,” because people there like to give nicknames to everything and everyone.

You call it a traffic circle or a roundabout; New Englanders call it a “rotary.” We get it. And with all the rotaries in New England, locals have earned the right to make up their own name.

When you use the interstates as much as New Englanders do, you’re bound to run into your share of state troopers out there policing the roads. Of course, few people refer to them by the full, proper name, opting for the nickname “statie” or “statey” instead.

[I wonder why Massachusetts calls them “state” police when, in fact, Massachusetts is not a state. Its a commonwealth. I guess if they were called commonwealth police, we would call them “commies.”]

From what I gather, substituting the word “tonic” for “soda” is beginning to die out. However, this is still a thing with which many New Englanders are familiar. And it’s not only used as a substitute for club soda or seltzer; it can refer to cola and other sodas, too. Personally,  I’m just thankful they don’t call it “pop.”

While most of the English-speaking world would use “wicked” only when referring to something evil (after all, it emerged as a pseudo-swear word from Puritan times), New Englanders use it as an alternative to the word “very.” As in, “Wicked is a wicked fun word to say.” Sure, the occasional outsider might utilize the expression from time to time, but nobody takes it as seriously as those in New England. If you refuse to accept that, you at least won’t be able to deny that only people in New England use the term “wicked pissah” for something especially great.

In New England, if you want to order a milkshake, you’ll need to ask for a “frappe.” Request a “milkshake” and you’ll just end up with milk and syrup blended together, without any added ice cream. In order to get that frozen goodness, you’ll have to ask for a frappe. But don’t get all fancy and call it a “fra-pay” or “frappé” like you’re from France though; in New England, it’s pronounced “frap.”

People in northern states tend to take for granted how beautiful changing leaves are. In fact, it can be somewhat of an annoyance to them, as out-of-state tourists will annually invade their territory to watch this fall event. New Englanders got so annoyed that they created a term for these types of travelers: “leaf-peepers” or sometimes just “leafers.”

If you ask directions when going the wrong way, most locals would tell you to make a U-turn. In New England (especially Boston), you might hear someone instead instruct you to “bang a uey.” As in, “ Fenway Pahk Bang a uey and head down the road a piece.”

[We always used the phrase “Hang a uey” for making a U-Turn. Apparently, “Bang” has replaced the word “Hang.”]

Elastic is a word almost always associated with clothing. An elastic band, for instance, is what keeps sweat pants or gym shorts from falling down. However, in New England, “an elastic” is a rubber band. You might occasionally hear it called an “elastic band” (like they apparently say in England, according to our resident Brit), but just saying “elastic” will do the job.

And from

The Dot (n.): Dorchester, where that stereotypical Boston accent basically originated.

The Garden (n.): TD Garden, (f/k/a Boston Garden) where the Celtics and Bruins play.

Jimmies (n.): chocolate sprinkles for your ice cream.

OFD (adj.): Originally from Dorchester (i.e. The Wahlbergs); a badge of honor for townies.

The Pike (n.): the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90), which runs between the city and Western Mass.

Southie (n.): South Boston, a historically Irish-American neighborhood where well-paid yuppies and townies now coexist.

The T (n.): the MBTA (f/k/a MTA,) our public transit system and favorite thing to complain about.

If you know of any words or phrases that I am missing, I would love it if you would post them in the “Leave a Reply” section below.

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Harpswell Neck Maine

Edwin, Steve, Andy & Allen on West Harpswell’s “Sandy” Beach

A big part of my life growing up in Quincy, Massachusetts, was my many trips to Harpswell, Maine. Harpswell is a small town outside of Brunswick. Harpswell is made up of several islands as well as the peninsular known as Harpswell Neck that extends out into Casco Bay. My grandfather’s camp was on the western shore of Harpswell Neck. Those vacations spent at my Grandpa Locke’s camp will always be among my fondest memories.

Frank Locke’s Tent in Harpswell, Maine, that was enclosed with siding and roof.

My Grandpa Locke’s father, Frank Locke, was born in Nova Scotia but emigrated to Boston with his mother when he was very young. In his later years, he spent a lot of time travelling around Maine, and eventually purchased a small lot on the western shore of West Harpswell. He erected a small tent there, and later enclosed the tent with wood and erected a permanent roof where it could be used year-round. It only had a single room, but it was shelter from the weather, and he left it open to travellers and hunters who needed a place to spend the night. That enclosed tent was still standing years later when I first went there.

Arthur Locke’s Cottage

The camp was about a mile from the nearest utilities. It had no electricity and a deep well and an outhouse was in the camp.
After his father passed away, my Grandpa Locke took over the camp. He had a small cabin built next to the tent structure. On my trips there, the adults usually slept in the cabin and enclosed tent. The kids slept in a temporary tent set up nearby. The camp never had running water or electricity when I visited.
However, it was just a few steps up the trail to the well. I still remember the taste of that well water. I think it was the best tasting water I have ever drank. That water was always ice-cold even on the hottest days. I guess my least favorite part of vacations there was using the outhouse.

I remember spending many hours on that porch in the cabin facing Casco Bay. From that porch, we could look out on the bay and the islands in the distance. Uncle Bryant and Grandpa Locke would test me on my knowledge of the island names. I still remember spotting Big and Little Whaleboat, Upper and Lower Goose, The Goslings, and several more. On a very clear day at sunset, we could even see Mount Washington in New Hampshire, over seventy miles away “as the crow flies.”

The first trips from home in Quincy, Massachusetts to Harpswell that I remember must have been in the mid-1940s. I remember getting up early in the morning, before the sun came up, riding all day, and finally arriving at the camp that night after dark. Of course, those were the days before Interstate highways, and the roads were sometimes poor and often closed by road construction and repairs. Today, that drive takes less than three hours via Interstate 95, traffic allowing.

The Guernsey Villa, West Harpswell, Maine

In the years before I was born, my family spent a lot of time at the camp in Harpswell. About a mile up the dirt road to the main road now called “Harpswell Neck Road,” was an inn that today would be called a “bed and breakfast.” It was named the “Guernsey Villa,” and served meals as well as rented rooms. In 1936 when they got married, my mother and dad spent part of their honeymoon at the Guernsey Villa.

Sylvia & Ed with 1935 Ford at Guernsey Villa, at Harpswell, Maine, on their honeymoon in 1936.

My grandfather eventually sold the Harpswell camp to my mother’s sister, Louise, and her husband, Bryant Minot. The Minots lived in New York for many years where Bryant was a high school teacher and music director and they had summers off. They spent their summers in Harpswell for many years. After Bryant retired, they sold their home in New York and purchased the Guernsey Villa. When my mother dad visited them each summer after they owned the Guernsey Villa, mother and dad slept in the same room where they had spent their honeymoon thirty plus years before.

A big part of my summer days spent in Harpswell was the time I was able to spend with my cousins, Louise and Bryant’s two daughters. Sydney was a couple of years older than me, and always considered me her “little brother.” When she got older and started dating, she even let me tag along on some of her dates with a local guy named David Sparks. Sydney and David eventually got married and lived in nearby Brunswick for many years.

David Sparks and his Jeep at Harpswell, Maine

David had a jeep that he loved to show off by driving through the rough areas around the camp. Of course, my rides with them in that jeep are a highlight of those times for me.

Many years later after I had retired from the Navy and had my accounting practice in Florida, Helen and I visited my aunt and uncle in Harpswell. Their home was now the Guernsey Villa, but they still owned the camp. We all went down to the camp and it looked very much the same as had when I was a kid spending part of my summer vacations there. I was amazed to find that a place that always seemed so remote to me, now had a good Verizon Wireless signal on my phone.

Here are a few more of my many photos from the camp in Harpswell

Allen and Grandpa Locke playing cards on the porch of the cabin at Harpswell camp.
Harpswell Camp visitor log book, 1935. (Photo by Steve Forrest)
Andy, Steve, & Sylvia, on Harpswell Beach

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I’d love to hear from you!

AL Forrest