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Nostalgia for Boston accents:
Confessions of a language snob

On the way to my hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts, for a fundraiser, I waxed nostalgic about the Boston accent I once had.

Quincy is just south of Boston. As my daughter, husband and I rode along in my cah (car) I regaled them with examples of Bostonese, including hoss (horse), muthah (mother) and apahtmint (apartment). Also, makin’, fakin’ and takin’. Final Gs are a no-no, along with Rs in middle or at the end of a word. Many words are simply abbreviated or mooshed together, dontcha know. And on occasion an R is added, if you get the idear. Undahstand?

I didn’t so much lose my accent as choose to overcome it. I think it was in my collij (college) days that I stahted (started) to incorporate missing letters into my vocabulary. Depahtmint became department, ha ya doin’ became how are you doing, c’meah became come here, and so on. Maybe it was the exposure to uthah, I mean other, modes of speech that made me self-conscious. To be honest, I began to feel that Boston accents made people sound, shall we say, less intelligent (not smaht, certainly not the product of a Hahvid education). In other words, I became a language snob.

My daughter asked why I got rid of my accent, or, as I like to say, had my Rs implanted. “Would you feel confident with a doctah (doctor) who recommended haht (heart) surgery?” I responded. “Would you like to finish first in a race and be called the winnah (winner)? Or have your teacha (teacher) help you study grammah (grammar)?” And so on. As I discussed this, I began to feel that I was talking down to my origins. Does Bostonese sound ignorant to me? Too parochial?

I have observed that Hollywood does miserably with Boston accents. Mahk (Mark) Wahlberg, once known as Mahky Mahk (Marky Mark), being an exception as well as a Boston native. I’m told there was at least one character in the show Cheahz (Cheers) who did the accent well, but I nevah (never) watched it. Tom Hanks in the movie Catch Me If You Can and Kevin Costnah (Costner) in Thirteen Days failed miserably. (Ah my translations becoming’ tedious? Apologies. I just want to be shuah my meaning is cleah. B’sdies, doin’ this is habit formin’.)

The comedy troupe Mass Hysteria does a great shtick about Boston accents. A troupe member holds up a sign and challenges the audience to translate. It was a peeseacake (piece of cake) for me when we saw them perform a few years ago. Examples: Jeet? = Did you eat? No, joo? = No, did you? They also referenced the towns of Woosta (Worcester ) and Peebidy (Peabody). My foreign-born husband, for whom English is a second language and Bostonese a third language, was mystified.

Quincy, by the way, is pronounced Quinzy. It might be Quincy with a C in other states — there are at least 10 Quincys in the U.S. — but not in Massachusetts. Just ask John Quincy Adams.

So I have my generic accent with an occasional fall-back into R exclusion. There’s no going back. Neither of our kids has a Boston accent, although this is where they grew up. But there’s a loss here, of something funky and authentic. On that Sunday it was kind of nice to hear “How ah ya?” and “Nice ta see ya.” And yes many of these nice folks are wicked smaht.

These days I find Boston accents kinda chahmin’. And thanks to my brother Mahty for some idears for this ahticle.

— Ann Green

Ann Green is a freelance writer, editor, PR consultant and tutor.

Reflections of Erma