There were no border guards or customs officials. I didn’t need a passport. But it was a foreign land….this Massachusetts, this little enclave of individualism in the homogeneous United States.
We moved to Massachusetts the summer just before my junior year in high school. From Iowa. Does that seem like it should have been one of the greatest culture shocks of my life? Well, let me tell you, it was.
And why shouldn’t it have been? The two states are over 1,000 miles apart. Place a pin in the heart of Europe and go out 1,000 miles in any direction and you’d hit dozens of languages and cultures. But wait! At least we all speak the same language in the good ol’ USA.
No, we don’t. We really don’t.
From my first day at my new high school, I knew I was in trouble. There was the usual trauma of being the new girl: figuring out how to remain invisible while sizing up the various cliques; seeing that the brand new pink and gray argyle sweater from “Hit or Miss” was a big MISS here where girls were wearing muslin smocks and bellbottoms; and, to my dismay, realizing that the boys were all short.
Well, maybe not all short but compared to the big strapping Norwegians and Swedes in my high schools in Minnesota and Iowa, I was in big trouble surrounded by these little Italian and Portuguese guys. Was I ever going to have a date?
But worst of all were the “wicked” strong accents. Oy vey, what ARE these people talking about? And why are they calling me Bob? And offering me medicine?
Here I present you with a sprinkling of typical terms and their standard translations just in case you find yourself stranded in the wilds of Massachusetts someday.
- Tonic = Soda or Pop. “Wanna tonic?” (the aforementioned medicine)
- Dungarees = Jeans. “Where’d you get those dungarees?”
- Frappe = milk shake “I got a chocolate frappe at McDonalds.”
- Parlor = living room. “Let’s go sit in the parlor (pahlah).”
- Grinder = Sub “Wanna go get a grinder (grinduh)?”
- Pocketbook = Purse
- Staties = State police “Slow down, I saw a statie!”
- Coppa = Town police “Slow down, I saw a coppa!”
- Wicked = Very “That grinder is wicked good!”
- Soft = Dumb “He’s wicked soft.”
- Cellar = Basement “Let’s go down celluh” Note: nobody says let’s go down to the cellar.
- Basement = School bathroom “I need to go to the basement” Note: I spent my first few days wondering why all these kids were so interested in going to the basement. It was later explained to me that the term is a throwback to Catholic schools where the bathrooms were always located in the basement….or down cellar.
- Bubbler = water fountain (bubblah)
- You’re a pisser = can be good or bad, depending. Too hard to explain. (pissuh)
- What a pisser = see above.
- Bang a U-ey = make a U-turn
- Elastic = rubber band (I once asked a girl for a rubber band and she laughed. You mean “elastic,” she said. )
- Hot Ticket = somebody with a great personality
- Hot Sh%# = see above
- No Suh! = often said in disbelief, i.e. “You got an A on that test? No Suh!”
- Packey = Liquor Store “Let’s hit the packey for some bee-uhs”
- Jimmies = Chocolate sprinkles on ice cream Note: even grown men are Jimmy, Tommy, Donny, and Mikey.
- Rotary = traffic circle
- The Registry = the DMV
- So don’t I = So do I. (Don’t ask. But imagine my confusion….)
- Rubbish = the trash or garbage
Finishing up, I went my entire junior year to school with a kid named Pat Haggity. Only when I saw his name printed, did I see he was actually Pat Hagerty. Ahhhhhh.
After twenty years living in Massachusetts, I did embrace a few terms: “grinder” and “rotary.” But then we moved to Virginia, bless our hearts, and it was time for another lesson in language. I’m “fixin'” to tell you about it someday.
How about you? What terms are unique to your area?
And thanks for reading – you hot ticket,