We stumbled across the Glossary Of Boston Slang on Wikipedia a few moons ago, and we thought we'd rifle through it and draw some items to your attention.
A few things need to be addressed before we start.
1) The glossary, which by name implies that Noah Webster pored over it, instead has that edited-by-teens look.
2) Your author, although born in Boston and a former resident of Dorchester and Quincy, is very very Irish Riviera. I moved inland once, and went back to the shore in 5 years. This geographic isolation will show in the slang that I recognize.
3) Many terms mean one thing in the city and another thing in the suburbs. Both forms are generally and technically correct.
4) We intend to treat several terms as either Retired or Redundant, both by Prominence rather than Obsolescence. They have been beaten to death in many a meme, and someone who assumes that a Massachusetts audience is just learning these words is most likely a Californian.
Among these terms are:
Tonic (which may have died out here anyhow)
The Irish Riviera
The Dot (We almost included "Dot Rat" below, but it got the chopping block)
The City Of Sin
Bang a U-ey
The People's Republic
The Green Monster
The elimination of these overused terms means that my own list below will be of the Deep Cuts, Junior Varsity, 200-level class... and I'm OK with that.
5) We may or may not tangle with where-is-it-prevalent questions regarding sub/hero/grinder and other linguistic mysteries... kinda depends on how much filler I need, to be frank. (Ed: Frank is actually the author's brother)
6) I may come across as a rube to some of you, especially if you are older or more urban than I am. It's all good, and I will take enlightenment in the comments.
7) While we may use a town nickname or two to get a laugh, we already did a Local Town Nickname article.
8) I'm not working with Boston Accent versions of regular words. I'm looking more for local patois.
|Let's look over some terms, shall we?|
The word "Yankee" means different things to different people. Our French editor tells me that the term is used in Europe (the French spell it "yanqui," which makes us sound like a Sasquatch type creature) to describe all Americans. The people of the American South use "Yankee" to describe anyone northern, even someone from New York. Northerners ascribe it to New Englanders. New Englanders ascribe it to northern New Englanders, and Maine/Vermont/New Hampshire will all just point at each other when you say it.
There is less wiggle room as to what a Swamp Yankee is.
Basically, it is a rural Yankee, although it goes deeper than that. Depending on who you ask, it can mean "old country family that is no longer elite or monied," "anyone from SE Massachusetts or Rhode Island," or "a term that Irish and Italian newcomers to a rural Massachusetts town use to describe the long-term residents."
"Four or five old country guys, sitting around a general store, having a lying contest" is a good description of the Swamp Yankee. Since even the rural towns are growing and becoming more diversified, the term describes an older and older man every year that passes. The term may even fall out of use, and pretty much has for a lot of people.
Although pejorative ("Yankee" implies industriousness, while "Swamp Yankee" aims more towards a bumpkin), it is very much like like the racial slur "ni**er," in that Swamp Yankees can call each other that name with love, but a city guy might get stomped if he says it in the wrong crowd.
This very magazine was almost named something with Swamp Yankee in it, but many definitions of the term stress a connection to English ancestry, and I'm as Irish as an 11 AM third beer.
Speaking of the Irish, this term has nothing to do with the Navy.
An Irish Battleship is simply a triple-decker house in the Irish parts of Boston.
There are some fun stereotypes to work with. Irish families tend to be large, so a triple-decker could spill out 30-50 people if they have bunk beds and so forth. These houses tend to be tall and thin, so as to allow the developer to fit more of them on a street. This gives the appearance of a warship when viewed from the front.
There's a reason that they call it an Irish Battleship instead of an Irish Freighter and so forth. The Irish like a good battle as much as they like a good bottle. I don't have the actual quote in front of me, but I heard something once along the lines of "your average Irish criminal has little use for things like Fraud, Embezzlement and Price-Gouging... but if there is some Fighting to be done, he is apt to have a hand in it."
With 40 people who may quite likely be inter-related in each house... if you mess with someone in their own yard, the whole battleship may come out after you.
The triple-decker is how housing was constructed in Irish neighborhoods during that time PJ O'Rourke described as "before city planners discovered that you can't stack poor people who drink."
The term "tuxedo" has no distinct connection to New England, and is in wide use everywhere. However, our little part of New England has very distinct uses of the term.
The term "Portuguese Tuxedo" or "New Bedford Tuxedo" refers to the practice of wearing a sport coat over a "premium soccer warm-up suit."
The "Fall River Tuxedo," on the other hand, is when you wear a sport coat over a hooded sweatshirt.
The "Irish Tuxedo" is when you're wearing shorts and a winter coat at the same time.
This sounds like a racial slur, but it actually refers to little goblins who supposedly haunt the swamps of the Bridgewater Triangle.
The term is from the Wampanoag language, and Pukwudgies play a role in their folklore.
They primarily haunt the Hockomock Swamp, and have turned up in references as far east as Silver Lake in Kingston.
A chocolate cake sandwich with creme filling. It was invented in Massachusetts, and has since spread nationally.
Whoever invented the Devil Dog pretty much just looked at a Whoopie Pie and figured out how to slim it down and make it mass-profitable. Devil Dogs were trademarked in the 1920s, as were Whoopie Pies. Both has been around for almost a century before they were trademarked, and they were known informally by their current names.
Also known as a BFO, aka Big Fat Oreo or Big F*cking Oreo. The Oreo, however, is a cookie, not a cake.
Southerners in northern bakeries will often mistake this for a Moon Pie, and are disappointed when they discover that there is no marshmallow or graham crackers in it.
This game is actually a Massachusetts variant of Ringolevio, a Brooklyn street kid game that evolved from a British game called Bedlam. "Relievio" is a spelling distinct to Massachusetts, however.
It is a much extended form of Tag, involving teams and jails. It is thought to have migrated into Massachusetts from Brooklyn, with minor name and rule changes as it bled into the former resort communities that now form Boston's suburbia.
This was the sh*t back when I was a kid on Duxbury Beach. You have two teams, and each has a jail at an opposite end of the neighborhood. The teams would chase each other around, capture each other, and jail each other. You could spring your team from jail by barging into the jail without being caught.
The Notorious B.I.G. referenced the game in Things Done Changed, calling it "Coco-levio" and referencing the "Coco-levio one two three, one two tree" capture line. He was from Brooklyn, and the same game was called Relievio (with a "one two three RELIEVIO" capture line) around the same time in Duxbury. George Carlin (a bit older than Biggie and I, and a Manhattan kid) referenced "ring-a-levio" in his act several times.
Biggie points to the decline of the game's prevalence as accompanying a period of social decay, but it fell out by mere demographics in Duxbury. Once the 40 kid neighborhood mobs of the Baby Boomer 1960s and 1970s fell off to the bare dozen kids of a Generation X neighborhood in the late 1980s, you didn't have enough manpower for Relievio. Most kids would just default and play the needs-less-kids Flashlight Tag. The same demographic fate is what basically killed baseball for white kids.
I doubt that this term is in widespread use at all, and I only included it because it made me chuckle.
It's a term for the very Caucasian town of Whitman, Massachusetts.
Wokka Wokka Wokka...
This is a term for someone who went to:
1) Boston College High School
2) Boston College
3) Boston College Law School.
A variant of DUI, with the last two letters being pronounced as a French website editor might pronounce "yes."
I like Dee Wee because:
A) Massachusetts drinks hard enough that a Driving Under The Influence term needs not only a nickname but an acronym,
B) Someone, somewhere was too lazy for the three letter acronym, had to shorten it... and it caught on.
C) It rhymes.
"Townie" belongs in the Retired category, and I only mention it here because it means different things to different people
Ideally, it refers to someone from Charlestown. However, you can lay the term on someone from Southie or even parts of Dorchester without losing any effectiveness.
Once you get out into the sticks, far enough that the urban connotation is no longer necessary, it means "the locals from that town." It is often used in college towns to differentiate between the local punks and the ones who are in the dorms.
I dated a girl from Charlestown (she ruled... she had 5 kids from 4 men, all of whom were in jail for robbing armored cars, and the principal of the school that I taught at- who grew up in the neighborhood- told me "She's a wonderful girl, sweet, never misses Mass... but if you just even take her out to dinner, she'll be pregnant before the check comes.") once. When I brought her to Duxbury Beach for a bit of ucking, we crossed some unknown line between Charlestown and Duxbury where she stopped being the Townie and where I became the Townie. Offhand, I'd draw that line at about where the Route 128 Split is.
From The "U" When It Was Only A "C"
Many people from Massachusetts- myself included- went somewhere like Salem State, Framingham State, Worcester State, or Bridgewater State. Shoot, I went to a pair of 'em.
At some point, the state switched those schools, formerly known as Bridgewater State College and so forth, into universities. Thusly, Salem State College became Salem State University.
Universities are more prestigious than colleges. Someone like me, who has a Bridgewater State College diploma up on the wall, can front like I was smart enough to get into a University just by saying "I went to Bridgewater State." This works even if, say, I was a moron, who BSC only let in the door because I was an orphan with a Pell Grant in each hand.
It can backfire, as there is a Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane (it once housed the Boston Strangler) in the same town which is also called "Bridgewater State," but the right man can work that to his advantage in most social situations.
However, if you catch someone fronting on their Framingham State College education like they went to a University, you can shut them down by going "You went to the 'U' when it was only a 'C.'"
This is another one that should be retired. However, the author lives near a bunch of these, has written about them at length, and knows that someone reading this article as a prep guide prior to a Massachusetts visit may need to know some things. The centre does not hold.
What everyone else in the world calls a "traffic circle" or a roundabout" is called a "rotary" in Massachusetts. There is actually something called a "rotary" in real life, but it isn't what we have in Massachusetts. We use the term incorrectly, and great and potentially lethal differences exist between how one drives in a rotary, a roundabout and a traffic circle.
The funny part is that rotaries/traffic circles/roundabouts fell out of favor in the US, and were gradually phased out to the extent that they are now nearly extinct... except in Massachusetts, where they are still prevalent. That's right... the people who don't know the rules now define the rules.
The even funnier part is that, as far as I can tell, there are no rules in a rotary other than No Left Turn. The best way to deal with it is to treat it like stealing a base.... get a lead, pick your spot, explode full-speed, slide through the base...
Stacey, our French writer, uses a sudden zero-to-seventy snap of her wrist to illustrate the same method, and it looks very much like the motion one would use to start an outboard motor.
An indiscriminate number used on Cape Cod to answer the "How many dishwashers/painters/movers/laborers/whatever are on Cape Cod?" questions that sometimes arise during regional planning discussions.
Much like other intangible terms like "the code of the West" or "la plume de ma tante," it is a term that, as Hunter Thompson once said, "can mean just about whatever you need it to mean, in a pinch."
We tend to assign Piracy to places like Somalia these days, and perhaps rightfully so.
However, there was once a time when America was more like Somalia than Somalia was. Cape Cod, which is a mess of little islands, hidden coves and known-only-to-locals currents, was prime ground for piracy, privateering and smuggling.
Smugglers like darkness, as they often depend on rowing ashore without anyone noticing. When the moon was shining, it increased the chances of being seen. Hence, they would "curse" at it.
"Curse" becomes "Cuss" very quickly on the lips of people who are famous for not pronouncing their R sounds.
"Mooncusser" was a prominent enough term on Cape Cod that it was in solid contention when newly-formed Monomoy High School was kicking the mascot idea around a few years back.
This one snuck up on me. I had no idea that this term was not used outside of Massachusetts. The rest of the world calls them pot-stickers, dumplings or- properly- Jiaozi or Guotie
The term arose from Joyce Chen's restaurant in Cambridge, and it was named "ravioli" in an effort to lure in Italian customers. Attempts by Chinese restaurants to lure in Italians and Irish-who don't consider a meal to be a meal without bread- are also why the Hung Lo Kitchen in Yourtown, Massachusetts still throws some bread in with your order.
The meal itself dates back to the Song Dynasty, and versions of it have been found even further back.
New Bedford rules, and one of the reasons she rules is because she has about 10 nicknames. Even your author, who studies and writes about junk like this for a living, doesn't know all of them.
Nicknames include New Beddy, New Beige, Beige, New Beffuh (born of the same mom as Meffuh/Medford, I'd bet), New Betty, Baby Lisbon, New B and even The Whaling City.
You have to wave these around very carefully, as what might get you a laugh in one bar might get you a chain-whipping in another. With the exception of Baby Lisbon, you never know which is which.
This is a term for a worker of Irish descent who is in Massachusetts illegally.
There is a layered meaning to the term, with "green" working along the lines of "new, naive, inexperienced" as well as the green of the "green card"... which a true Greenie wouldn't have, anyhow.
However, the main thrust of this term is the Irish reference. I'd recommend knowing but not using this one, as it could get you stomped by a roofer in many a pub across our reading area.
Mike Greenwell patrolled left field in Fenway Park for many a season with this nickname, and I have no idea if he knew about the meaning.
While we're on the subject, this term falls into the same pejorative region.
It is not a term in itself, as it needs something to modify. It is very much like how "wicked" is used in Massachusetts.- no one ever says "wicked" in a stand-alone sense. The heading should technically be "Shanty Irish ____," and only isn't because I needed an extra paragraph.
You can use it in front of "house," "town," "family," and whatever else you might want. A guy who I used to work with, who no doubt had a grouchy wife, used to bemoan the "shanty Irish bone" that the Good Lord in all his wisdom had cursed him with. He used to volunteer for extra shifts a lot.
Cape Cod is easy to get around on. Two roads cut right through it. If you get lost, it's a husband's dream... if you just keep driving and your wife doesn't yell out the window for directions, you'll hit Route 6 or Route 28 again soon enough.
So, to make it more confusing, locals have a dozen different terms for navigation that make perfect sense to them and will drive a New Yorker insane. This is before we get to the rotaries (see above).
Upper/Lower/Mid/Outer Cape Cod is easy to explain. Trains used to run out here from Boston, and the terms are born from the towns' relative placement on the list of train stations.
Upper Cape = Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich
Mid Cape = Barnstable, Yarmouth and Dennis
Lower Cape = Brewster, Harwich, Chatham
Outer Cape = Orleans, Eastham, Wellfleet, Truro, Provincetown
Parts of the Lower Cape appear higher on a map than parts of the Upper Cape do, but try not to worry about that right now.
Other navigational aids on Cape Cod:
"Off Cape" means everything on Earth once you cross the bridges (Sagamore and Bourne). It is used how "Outside The Asylum" is used in Douglas Adams novels.
"On Cape" speaks not of a region, but of a direction. You might tell someone asking for your ETA that you "just got on Cape," or you someone in Dartmouth may tell a tourist to "just take Route 6 to the bridge, and follow it on Cape."
"Out on the Cape" is how Cape Codders speak of people further out (east, sometimes north, sometimes even south... as long as it correlates with Route 6 or Route 28) on Cape Cod than they are.
"Down the Cape" is a) how someone from the mainland refers to someone from the mainland who moved to Cape Cod, i.e. "Steve moved down the Cape," or b) how Cape Codders move along a directions-seeking tourist once they determine that they will find either Route 6 or Route 28 soon enough, i.e. "Get on Route 6 and just keep heading down the Cape." Option B only works west-to-east, except when it is working south-to-north.
South Shore vs South Coast
These two terms should mean the same thing, but. uhm, welcome to Massachusetts! Remember, this is where a single road is concurrently 95 North, 93 South, 128 North and Route 1 South.
The South Shore is considered to be Boston's southern coastal suburbia, and it runs roughly Quincy to Plymouth.
The South Coast is the Greater New Bedford area, and was called so until a weatherman invented "South Coast." It runs from Wareham to Fall River or so.
The town of Bourne's mainland area forms the hinge on the imaginary door between these two, and is the only town that touches both regions. Bourne sort of serves the same Latvia/buffer zone purpose with Cape Cod and the rest of the world.