New Englanders have a certain way of saying things.
In Yankee country, we call remote controls “clickers,” traffic circles “rotaries,” and subs “grinders.” Mainers tack unnecessary “r”s onto words, like idear, while Bostonians drop ’em all together.
It’s wicked weird.
Inspired by our lists of Southern slang and Midwestern expressions the rest of America can’t understand, here are 13 New England sayings that will inspire you to visit Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
A dead giveaway that you’re talking to a New Englander, “wicked” is a general intensifier often followed by “pissah,” to mean superb.
Given the Puritan past of New England, the term emerged as a pseudo-curse word during the Salem Witch Trials; although it’s also said to originate in Maine. In the last 20 to 30 years, the region adopted it as an affectionate nod to the past.
2. “Bang a uey.”
Whether you’re cruising the Pike or navigating a parking lot at one of tax-free New Hampshire’s outlet malls, to “bang a uey” (pronounced yoo-ee) is far from being a suggestive slur. “Bang” is to turn and “uey” is short for U-turn, so this basically is just a directive to turn the car around.
The milkshake that brings all the boys to the yard is the frappe (pronounced with a silent “e”). It’s an ultra-thick blend of milk, flavored syrup, and any flavour of ice cream available. If you order a milkshake in New England, you’ll likely get a soupier concoction of just milk and syrup.
The frappe, often called a “cabinet” in Rhode Island, worked its way into the national vocabulary when in 1994, Starbucks bought the rights to the name “Frappuccino.”
If a Mainer asks if you read Stephen King’s new book, you can assure him, “ayuh!” The informal affirmative, meaning “yes,” possibly derived from the nautical “aye.” It’s mostly associated with the old-fashioned Down East accent, which is still heard in Eastern Maine but is pretty scarce among people under age 40.
5. “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd.”
Do so and you’re likely to get towed — “Park the car in Harvard Yard” is an old saw used to ridicule the way Bostonians talk. The traditional, John F. Kennedy-famous accent has broad “a”s and is non-rhotic, meaning the “r” sound drops when it precedes other consonants (smart becomes “smaht“), and other times just for fun (chowder becomes “chowdah“).
6. “That Masshole just cut me off!”
The “Masshole” takes pride in his aggressive and illegal driving habits. The King of Road Rage, he drifts between lanes with reckless abandon, tailgates hard, is too cool to use turn signals, and has demonstrated an inability to yield, merge, observe road signs and speed limits, and function like a human being behind the wheel of a car.
7. “Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven don’t make them biscuits.”
This odd little analogy heard throughout Vermont and Maine emphasises the value they place on native status. If you were born in New England, but your parents are originally from out-of-state, you can fuhggedabout claiming to be a true New Englander. Harsh.
One might also say someone is “from away,” indicating he isn’t a native of Maine.
8. “Now that’s a New York System hot wiener!”
A staple of Rhode Island’s foodie tradition, these wieners — never “hot dogs” — caught on in the early 1900’s and were named to invoke a sense of Coney Island-authenticity. The New York System hot wiener ordered “all the way” is cut short, about four inches long, cooked slowly on a low-heat griddle all day, and topped with mustard, raw chopped onions, celery salt, and a greasy ground-beef sauce.
Wash it down with a bottle of coffee milk, a combination of sweet coffee syrup and milk that is Little Rhody’s official state drink.
9. “Make a packie run.”
Before the Sox game starts, stock up on some Sam Adams at the package store, or “packie” for short. It’s also known as a liquor store. The term is a relic of post-Prohibition days, when purists still didn’t care to associate with the likes of boozy-sounding words. “Package” most likely references the plain paper bag you get at checkout.
10. “You can’t get there from here.”
Before it was a R.E.M. song, this colloquialism served as a tongue-in-cheek response to travellers asking for difficult directions.
It seems like nonsense today but in Maine during the era of settlement — with few roads, fewer bridges, and tough terrain — many people on the move would often find themselves in sight of their destinations but with no way to get there.
11. “Have a Hoodsie Cup.”
A Hoodsie Cup is a small waxed-paper cup filled with half chocolate, half vanilla ice cream, and tastes of frozen whipped cream and nostalgia. Every elementary school child received a red polka-dotted cup with a flat wooden spoon on Ice Cream Days and in-school holidays.
Produced by Massachusetts-based dairy company Hood, Hoodsies launched in 1947 and is still available at Walmart and limited grocery stores in the Northeast.
12. “The kid’s got moxie.”
Moxie describes someone with vigor, stamina, and guts — a neologism inspired by the official soft drink of Maine. Dr. Augustine Thompson, a Union native, first patented Moxie in 1876 as a medicinal drink that strengthens the nerves and cures “loss of manliness.”
The bitter beverage was later rebranded to take advantage of the rapidly growing soft drink market, and by World War II, people were saying, “What this country needs is plenty of Moxie.”
13. “Live free or die.”
New Hampshire doesn’t mess around with freedom. When an illness forced General John Stark, the state’s most distinguished Revolutionary War hero, to decline an invitation to the 32nd anniversary reunion of an important battle, he instead sent a written toast to his wartime comrades. It read, “Live Free Or Die; Death Is Not The Worst of Evils.”
More than a century later, the 1945 Legislature adopted it as the official state motto. It remains the ballsiest motto of the 50 states.
Did we miss your favourite? Add it in the comments.
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