The wicked good guide to Boston English

(If you can call it English! F.S.)

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 refered 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...

Barnie

A Hahvuhd student, at least to Cambridge and Somerville residents. Derived from Barnyard, which is what the townies call Havuhd Yahd.

Barrel

What you deposit trash in.

B'daydas

You can serve them mashed, or whipped, or boiled.

Bobos

Boat shoes, i.e., Keds.

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.

Candlepins

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.

Carriage

What you use to wheel your groceries around at the Stah Mahket.

Cleanser

Where you bring your clothes to be Mahtinized.

Cuber

Island south of Florida; capital is Havanner.

Dot Ave

Dorchester Avenue.

Down

Where somebody is, for example: "They're down the Cape today." Sometimes prounounced "downna," as in "Wanna go downna Boston with me?"

Dungahs

Bluejeans.

Elastic

Rubber band.

Foddy

The numbah aftah thirdy-nine.

Frappe

A milkshake or malted elsewhere, it's basically ice cream, milk and chocolate syrup blended together. The 'e' is silent.

Gahkablahka

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.

Hoodsie

A small cup of ice cream, the kind that comes with a flat wooden spoon. Sometimes used to refer to certain teen-aged girls.

Human billboard

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 his hand.

Jimmies

Those little chocolate thingees you ask the guy at the ice-cream store to put on top of your cone.

Mehfuh

A city next to Sommaville. People on the north side of the city pronounce it "Medfid."

Milkshake

Milk with some flavored syrup, but NO ice cream. See, also: Frappe.

Mummy

What you call your female parent if you grew up on Beacon Hill.

Naw

Opposite of "yuh" or "yah."

OFD

Originally From Dorchester. Can be used as both adjective and noun: "The South Shore's full of OFDs."

Packie

Where you buy liquor. Used to be closed on Sundays, but voters repealed most of the remaining Blue Laws in Nov., 1994.

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.

Pushcard

Cards that political workers try to push into your hand as you go into vote.

Rat

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 variety.

Reefah

Refrigerator.

Rozzie

What the natives call Roslindale, Boston's premier neighborhood. Not to be confused with Southie, Eastie or Westie.

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.

Scoop

In Hyde Park, to kiss. In other neighborhoods, to engage in rather more intimate behavior: "Guess who I scooped on last night?!?"

Scrod

A small, ambiguous piece of fish that never knows if it's cod or haddock.

The show

The movies.

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!"

Soft

Crazy, bold, daring: "You're soft for questioning the professah."

Spa

A luncheonette or ma-and-pop convenience store (e.g., the Palace Spa in Brighton). Store 24s are never spas.

Spuckie

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.

Standout

An assemblage of human billboards: "We've got a standout at the Holy Name rotary from 4:45 to 6 on Thursday."

'Sup?

Hello, how are you?

The T

The Boston subway system. Represents the triumph of fuzzy logic, or something, because it does not actually stand for any single word. 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.

Time

A party, usually of the political or retirement type: "We're throwin' a time for the Dap down at the Eagles. Count you in?"

Tonic

What other people call soda. In some Boston supermarkets, the signs will direct you to the "tonic" and "diet tonic" aisles.

Tookie

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."

Townie

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 shit" to the end of many sentences, as in "Oh my gawd, like yestihday, right, he was totally down Nahant polishing his TA (Trans Am) 'n shit."

Three-decker

Boston's contribution to architecture -- a narrow, three-story house, in which each floor is a separate apartment. Only yups call them "triple deckers."

Triple Eagle

Somebody who went to B.C. High School, B.C. and B.C. Law School. In some circles, more prestigious than a Hahvuhd degree.

Wanna go?

"Let's step outside to the parking lot and settle this like real men."

Westa Wuhstuh

Terra incognita; beyond the bounds of civilization.

Wicked

A general intensifier: "He's wicked nuts!"

Wicked pissa!

Something that's way cool.

Wicked fuckin' pissa!

Something that's just absolutely too cool for words.

What's doin'?

How are you?

Whole 'notha

A complete replacement; "I got a whole 'notha computa on my desk now."




Go back to the masshole home page