I’ve always been fascinated with words, language, the turn of phrase (no surprise, I’m thinking). It wasn’t until I moved to Massachusetts, however, that I noticed that there were different — um, what to call them… how about — dialects in this country. But with that move, there was no avoiding my “a ha!” moment.
I’d never been to New England, and hadn’t spent much time living north of the Mason Dixon line at all. Though I was born in New York, I spent my youth being a government brat. Dad was in the US Public Health Service, and à la the military, they moved us around like chess pieces on a board. Most of those moves, usually one every four years or so, were to places in the south. Dad’s last assignment before retirement was Miami, and that’s where I spent my teen years and finished high school.
When I was 19, I moved to Massachusetts, where I’ve lived ever since. And lo. What kind of language is this?
“I’d like a small coffee to go, please.”
“You want coffee regulah?”
“Uh, as opposed to what? Irregular?”
Turns out that coffee regular (oops, sorry, regulah) is coffee with milk and two sugars added for you.
And that was only the beginning. Here is a little lexicon of the new language I learned.
Grinder: Sounds like a machine of torture, but it’s actually the long sandwich you may know as a sub, hoagie, torpedo, hero, blimpie, po’ boy, tunnel, Hodgson, salad roll, etc. And in some parts of Boston, it is a “spukkie”? Yeah, go figure. What’s your version called?
Tonic: I thought that was Geritol or maybe some other elixir of good health, like something you mix over ice in a glass with gin and a wedge of lime on the rim. Nope, it’s that soft drink in a bottle or can you may call soda, coke, or pop. What’ll you have?
A full English: I had no idea on this one. But if you’re really hungry, order a full English, and you’ll be served one and a half English muffins. I had been hoping for a handsome server with a sexy Brit accent, but alas…
Frappe: Ah, a touch of la langue Française; how very cosmopolitan. Of course, I could figure out that this was the creamy delight that I knew as a milk shake (though native Massachusetts folk would deny that a milk shake ever had ice cream in it). You might call it a cabinet or “awful-awful” (no, I’m not making that up; folks in Rhode island would probably know what I’m talking about).
Whoopie Pie: No, it’s not a practical joke device you leave on someone’s chair. It’s that snack cake I would have called a moon pie. Just don’t ask for a “moon pie and an RC” in Boston, because they’ll look at you funny. Trust me, I know.
Coffee Milk: This is the official state drink of Rhode Island, and it’s quite common in Massachusetts too. But it’s certainly nothing I’d ever come across down south. It’s like chocolate milk, but instead of chocolate syrup, you use coffee syrup. If you want it to be really authentic, look for Eclipse Coffee Syrup, the first on the market in 1938. “You’ll smack your lips if it’s Eclipse.”
Chowdah: Of course, I knew what this was, sorta, and you do too, sorta. What you may not know is that the thick creamy stuff you can stand a spoon up in is what the locals serve to tourists because that’s what they expect. But the soup we make at home in Massachusetts is on the thin side, made with milk, some clam broth, and perhaps a little light cream for flavor. It will have onions, a few potatoes, bacon, perhaps a few carrots, light seasoning with salt and pepper. And of course, clams, often whole. Deelish!
I’m sure there is more local lingo that I’ve absorbed and made mine, but I’ve been in Massachusetts a long time now, and I can’t remember any more. I think I’ve gone native.