Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Idioms Of Boston

(The following ruminations were spurred by this conversation over at Universal Hub.)

Every section of the United States has its own particular idiomatic expressions. These are pieces of spoken language which make little or no sense to the outsider. They may refer to places or things or activities.

Sometimes the outsider tries very hard to change these expressions, ridiculing the native speakers. This is the ultimate in snobbery. How dare you go into someone's home and try to rearrange the furniture? You are a guest. Leave that fridge where it is.

(Fridge = refrigerator, unless you're over 65, in which case it might be an ice box.)

Now, as a professional voice, I'm not talking about defending the Boston accent. It is not without its charm, but I had that drilled out of me in broadcasting school. I probably speak more like a Chicagoan now than I do a native of Dorchester, which is what I am. Anyway, regional accents are less and less defined with each passing year. That's the inevitable result of widespread mass communication.

(Of course, the more insular the community, the more the local accent is retained. I find the strongest Boston accents among politicians and state workers. There's probably a correlation between retention of the accent and patronage, but that's a subject for another day.)

What I am here to defend are the labels that natives use for places and things. For instance, you might think a sub is a vessel that travels underwater - or perhaps a replacement teacher - but we Bostonians know better. It is a sandwich, known in other parts of the country as a grinder, a hero, a spuckie, a po' boy, a torpedo, etc.

By the same token, you might think you know what a milkshake is. It's milk, ice cream and a flavored syrup, mixed together into a thick, frothy delight, correct? Wrong! That, my friend, is a frappe. A milkshake is milk and syrup, shaken.

Insofar as place names are concerned, it is up to the people who live someplace to define what that place should (or shouldn't) be called. Someone who lives in Roslindale has every right to call where they live "Rozzy." If you don't like it, we couldn't care less.

(We also couldn't care less if you say "COULD care less.")

Other locations in Greater Boston:

Southie = South Boston

JP = Jamaica Plain

Dot = Dorchester

(But only in some instances. For one, Dorchester Avenue is never called Dorchester Avenue by anyone in Dorchester. It is "Dot Ave". And Dorchester Park is "Dot Park", even to the lowliest crackhead waiting to jump out of some of its bushes and rob you. Likewise, if you come from Dorchester, you might refer to yourself as a "Dot Rat". But, if you are "OFD", then you are "Originally From Dorchester", not "Originally From Dot". Ask a resident of Dorchester to tell you where he or she lives, and you will NOT hear "Dot". Only people from Southie call Dorchester, "Dot".)

Mass Ave and Comm Ave = Massachusetts Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue, respectively.

The People's Republic = Cambridge

The Garden = Where the B's and C's play.

(NOT The Public Gardens, which are across the street from The Common, which = Boston Common.)

The Mystic River Bridge = The Tobin Bridge

(This is fairly interchangeable, but older residents are more likely to use the first.)

The Ted = The Ted Williams Tunnel

Rte. 128 = I-95 sometimes, I-93 other times, and sometimes just itself. The rule of thumb is that, whatever road you may have been traveling on, as soon as you hit 128 you're on 128. Eventually there will be a sign telling you where to get off and continue on the road you came in on. Don't take a nutty.

Some idiomatic expressions lose their currency, falling out of favor naturally. "Don't take a nutty", for example. I wouldn't argue for these things being set in stone and pillorying anyone who dares not use them. For instance, if you can find someone in Boston who has actually said "Wicked Pissah!" within the past fifteen years - without it being either sarcastic or part of a comedy routine - you will have found a linguistic archeological relic.

Don't take a nutty = chill, relax, don't sweat it, calm down.

Wicked Pissah! = extremely good, something you really like or admire a lot

("Pissah" as a stand-alone was actually more likely to be heard in my neighborhood. Depending upon the tone taken by the speaker, it was a compliment or an insult. You had to notice the inflection to gather the intent.)

Within the conversation referenced at the top of this piece, someone mentioned the word "tonic". That's what most Bostonians used to call soda pop. It has mostly vanished, hanging on only in certain enclaves of the city and there only in pockets. If you go to JP and ask for a tonic, you're less likely to get one than if you ask for one in Rozzy. To save yourself some trouble, just specify a brand name, instead. Everybody knows what a Coke is, even if they live in Vevere.

Probably the deadest of Boston idioms is one that I always found most charming. I'll leave it up to you to tell me if you know what a "bubblah" is.

(If nobody can, I'll do it later.)

Anyway, those who wish that these idiomatic expressions would just go away will get their wish. They all go away, sooner or later. Sometimes it takes a coon's age, but go away they do. Just like some retahd who tries to bang a uey on 128 in front of a statie.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(Which isn't so much an idiomatic expression as an idiotic one.)


Anonymous said...

two thoughts:

1) You show remarkable restraint in not taking to task those annoying tourists who insist on asking directions to "The commonS"

2) this is more relevant to the original comment on the other blog re: 6th ave. in NYC. I've noticed that not only do New Yorkers not have time to say "Avenue of the Americas" lately no one even bothers to say the proper street name. Thus, I work at the corner of Madison and "two nine". You think I have the time to say "East Twenty-Ninth street"???

That would be wicked retahded...

Tara said...

Didn't you have "supper" in the "parlor" when you little?

Can't you just hear me saying it:)

Betty Blog said...

Here's another one that I had no idea about until recently - the rest of the world calls General Gau's chicken General Tso's chicken. I had been trying to get a nutritional estimate on Gau's for months thinking "well I'm sure it's not as bad for you as this General Tso's Chicken I am reading about". And then it dawned on me. Dammit's_Chicken

David Sullivan said...

The nuns used to stand next to the "bubblah" to make the line move along and be sure that none of us over indulged so we wouldn't have to use the "lav" ten minutes into class.

Anonymous said...

One other thing--the only people
who actually refer to Boston
as "Beantown" have never been
inside of 128.

And yes, I used to turn in my
paper route money in Rozzy Square.

Ron Newman said...

Isn't it the Public Garden, singular, not Gardens?

David Sullivan said...

Two more things:

The summer I moved to Northampton the Ice Cream Cart came by and my mother and I went out to get some thing refreshing. I asked the driver "what kind of tonic do you have" He said "we don't have tonic." My mother said "these hicks call 'tonic' soda out heah" I am originally from HP.

A few months after moving west my friend Tommy and I were sitting on a bench infront of my apartment. Two girls walked by and I asked him "Are they a couple of Hoodsies?" He said "you mean ice cream". Hoodsies was the precursor to "Hood Rats" in good ol' HP.

Anonymous said...

And another thing...

Back when tonic was tonic the
tonic of choice was Moxie.

Suldog said...

Anon - It isn't so much the tourists that annoy me. They have an excuse. However, anyone who has taken up residence in the city should know better.

Tara - Yup. Suppa in the pahla. And suppa was what you had Monday through Friday (or maybe Saturday) but it was dinna on Sunday, aftah mass.

Auntie - Yeah! And Moo Shi is Moo Shu. What the hell???

Cousin Dave - You win! A "Bubblah", for those who don't get it, is a water fountain (wodda foun'n.)

Bob - Yep. We're "Beantown" only to truckers on CB and bad sports announcers.

Suldog said...

Ron - You know what? I'm not sure what the official name is. But I always heard my Mom and Dad say "Garden" when referring to the sports arena and "Gardens" when referring to the public space, so that's how I know it. I'm willing to be corrected, if I've been using the wrong terminology. What truly bugs me, though, is when someone refers to The Boston Garden as "The Boston Gardens."

Dave - Hoodsies. Heh.

Bob - Moxie is not only (now) a regional tonic, it is something of an acquired taste. I love seeing someone's face when they taste the stuff for the first time. said...

I love Boston, but you'll never find me driving there. I took a tour bus around town and was scared to death!

Anonymous said...

Do you remember getting a "whiffle" at the beginning of summer, then letting your hair grow longer when school began?

Suldog said...

Oh yes, I got a "whiffle" - once. Even my parents agreed that it didn't look good on me. I went back to a "regular boys" ever after!

Anonymous said...


Is that just for the Celtics thing or are you interested in Ubuntu ( ?

Just curious, some people can be interested in both.

Anonymous said...