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The Insider’s Guide to Life in the 603: Part I–How to Talk Like a Native March 18, 2011

Posted by J. in Genius.
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I am, as I have mentioned, a New Hampshire native, born and bred. A Granite Stater.  Yes, I have an accent, and it’s a pissah.

The second place slogan lost by a small margin: "Welcome to New Hampshire. Now go home."

In the first of a three-part series, “An Insider’s Guide to Life in the 603”, I’m going to lay down the lexicon of important New Hampshire words you need to know.  I’ve included words that are (according to my research) common or unique to NH or New England in general and frequently used expressions.

Whilst similar in many ways, the people in each New England state have their own way of getting their message across.  Vermonters, for instance, have their own common expressions, and Mainers speak a dialect of Yankee that is truly not for linguists who are faint of heart.

Some notes on pronunciation

Before I start slinging aphorisms around like road salt in January, know that there is just no way you can truly appreciate the New Hampshire accent in print.  Because writing it out phonetically is a challenge to both reader and writer, I’m going to keep it to a minimum. For example, “cardboard carton” is said “cahdbo-ahd cahton”.  Wire hanger becomes  “wi-ah hangah”.

You see?  After awhile both of us will have a headache.

The first and most important key to pronouncing Yankee English is that there are no “r’s” in the middle or on the end of any words. If a word ends in an “r” sound, it’s pronunced “ah”, as in “My cah is biggah than yo-ah cah.” In the middle of word, it’s more tricky. “Cart” is said “caht” and “horse” becomes something akin to “ho-iss”, with two syllables that are run together. It’s subtle, and tricky to pull off.

The second important key to pronouncing Yankee English is words that end in a “d” are pronounced as “id” such as “wickid”, “Conkid”, or “buzzid.”

NH pronunciation is slightly different than any other New England state. Mainers, Vermonters, and Massholes all have different accents than ours. It’s subtle, but in the same way a person from Georgia and a person from South Carolina have different accents even though you’d call them both “Southern”, they’re still different.

It’s hard to give examples of true New Hampshire dialect.  The best way to try to hear it is to visit WMUR.com and watch any of the news clips where they interview someone on the scene of something.  There was one clip this past fall from coverage of The Fair that had a guy with an accent so thick that we were peeing our pants, and we’re from here.

The following words and/or phrases are for the most part in no particular order.

Ayuh

This is the grand-daddy of all New Hampshireisms. It’s used in Maine and Vermont as well but is pronounced slightly differently in all three states. The way it’s accented depends entirely in which context you use it. It’s usually used as a word of agreement, or as an assent to something, but sometimes it’s just a way of punctuating a sentence. It can start a sentence or end it, or be its own sentence entirely. The thing is, when a New Hampshireite hears someone from ME or VT say it, we know exactly where they’re from. And if someone from outside these three states says it, we know immediately they’re “from away”.

Probably flatlandahs.   Bastids.

Flatlander

Someone “from away” or not from around here. Could refer to summer folks, usually applied to Massholes and people from New York, or anyone with an out-of-state license plate.  Flatlandahs have a reputation for being pushy, rude, and condescending, not to mention they drive like fucking morons.

Wicked

This word is a source of either great irritation or endless amusement to anyone not from New Hampshire.

For a time in the ’80’s, Valley Speak appropriated “wicked” into its lexicon. We, however, were using it before, and we’ve kept on using it long after the Valley Girl phase ended.  Yes, we started it, and we’ll decide when to finish it.  I had a friend once ask me if I still said “wicked”.  The only reply to that is, “I’m still from New Hampshire.”

It’s an adverb and stands in for the word “very” but also can be an adjective all by itself, though it’s rare.

Whale on it

When you whale on something, you hit it wicked hahd.

There was quite a few cars all stove up on I-93 that day.

Stove up

Something that is “stove up” is dented, smashed, caved in, totaled, or otherwise marred in a pretty big way. It’s what generally happens after you whale on it.

“This goddamn plow lever is stuck again.”

“Well, whale on it.”

“I did, and now it’s all stove up.”

Pisser

Pronounced “Pissah”, it can be either good or bad.

“That pahty was wicked pissah last night.”  (What a fun gathering of friends!)

“Ayuh.”  (Sure was!)

Or, “Didja see where Geeta whaled on that plow lever and stove it all to cat shit?”  (Geeta tried banging on the plow lever but it got badly dented in the process.)

“Ayuh. Pissah.”  (I saw.  Sucks to be him.)

Chipper

A chipper is a good ole’ boy, hick, yokel, or rube. He is delightfully unsophisticated. A chippah drives a truck with a gun rack, a stainless-steel tool box, or both.  The truck in question may be a total “beatah” that’s held together with Bondo and primer, or it may be brand new, full of muscle, and have every chrome bell and/or whistle they make and he’s spent more money on it than the home he lives in.

A chipper wears t-shirts (or flannel shirts in the winter), jeans, and steel-toe work boots, and at least 2/3 of his wardrobe bears the Carhartt label.  He has a can of chew in his back pocket so often that there’s a permanently bleached circle in the fabric, and in his other pocket you’ll probably find a jackknife.   He likes drinking Budweiser, watching NASCAR, owns at least one snowmobile (or “sled”), and has a plow route.

Buzzard

Only a native or a social anthropologist could probably tell the difference between a chipper and a buzzard.  As a type of person, they’re practically interchangeable.  However, to refer to someone as a “chipper” is slightly less derogatory than to call them a “buzzard.”

Buzzards are decidedly lower on the food chain.  You would call a chipper you don’t like a buzzard.  And you probably don’t like him because the qualities that make a chipper a generally likable guy have in some way come together in a negative way in a buzzard.

I do too and So don’t I

These are interchangeable and both mean “Me, too” or “As do I”. They are examples of very bad English, unless you’re from this part of New England, in which case they might be taught in English class as proper usage.  (Don’t quote me on that.)

The midway at the Deerfield Fair. I want a fried dough so much right now it hurts a little.

The Fair

Any one of a number of agricultural fairs held around the state, most between Labor Day and Columbus Day. They all have names based on where they’re held, like the Sandwich Fair, the Deerfield Fair, and the Hopkinton Fair, but a native will just say “You goin’ to the fay-ah this weekend?”

“Ayuh. Got my tickets for the tractah pulls already.”

His buddy will know exactly which fay-ah he means.

Cellar

The cellar is the under-part of some houses.   Newer homes have basements that are made of concrete and are usually finished to some degree. Old houses, like mine, have cellars that might have dirt floors and walls made of stacked field stones.

Basements are useful. Cellars are scary. You might make a nice family room in the basement. You hide bodies in a cellar.

Go downstreet

Downstreet is simply what other folks call downtown. We used to ride our bikes downstreet to Harp’s Market to get some candy for ourselves, or some cigarettes for Grammy. We were told not to go to the Greek’s because he’d gyp you. (Do other people say “gyp” or is that a New England thing too, I wonder.)

Bang a U-ee

Execute an illegal u-turn in traffic to reverse direction. If a native does it, it was probably for a good reason. If a flatlandah does it, it’s because those bastids don’t know how to drive.

Can’t get there from here. Least not ‘fore dark.

This is the phrase that flatlanders will use when they want to make fun of a quaint accent they otherwise lack the skill to reproduce.   It is to northern New Englanders what “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd” is to Bostonians.

Notwithstanding, we use it among ourselves as a way of saying, “Dude, that’s a long ride and the roads are shit between here and there.”

I believe this phrase comes from the fact that in NH there are the three main highways that run through the state. The rest are secondary highways or town roads and can be tricky to navigate, depending on the time of year and one’s innate sense of direction.

So if you ask us “Where is such and such a place?” and we tell you you can’t get they-ah from he-ah, it means that you’re going to have to get off the highway and you may get lost a couple two three times.  You may also encounter dirt roads so rutted that your back fillings will fall out or frost heaves the size and shape of a whiskey barrel.  And the directions are going to involve instructions like “…take a left at the big maple tree that is shaped like a profile of Dean Martin if you look at it in the right light, then keep going a ways until you pass the Levesque’s little brown log cabin…we play cards with them…when you get to the house where the lady that has the llamas lives, you take a left, but stick to the right hand side of the road ’cause it gets pretty gummy this time of year…”

Trust us.  You can’t get there from here.  At least not before dark.

A couple two three

Another way of saying two or three, more than one, or a few. If you are of French Canadian descent, you would say “a couple two tree”.

Side by each

New Hampshire has a high concentration of people descended from Quebec. Canadians from Quebec who come down to visit seem to prefer to be called “Quebecois” and consider “French-Canadian” a slur of sorts, but to those of us of Quebecois ancestry, we don’t much mind French-Canadian at all.  Tree- quarters of my family tree came here via Quebec. You used to hear French accents a lot more around here than you do now. It’s mostly the old-timers that still have French affectations in their speech, like pronouncing “three” as “tree”, or “third” as “tird”.

To that end, “side by each” is one of those old-timey French Canadian expressions that younger generations only use for effect but not so much in every day usage. It means “side by side.”

Pied-de-sous

I only learned how to spell this a few years ago. In our family it’s pronounced “pee-shoes” and it means “slippers” or “house-shoes”. Other French-Canadian descended people pronounce it differently, depending on where you are.

Piton

Another French word that refers to a little knob or thingy or button that sticks out. If you’re a guy and a woman refers to your “piton”, she’s not being kind.

Faire-do-do

French again. The spelling and pronunciation of this vary wildly from family to family and region to region. It means “go to sleep” and it’s something your Memere (grandmother) would croon to you while rocking you. In my family it’s said “fuh-de-doo.” I’ve whispered it and sung it to my own wee babies to lull them to sleep.

Rig

A rig is a thing that defies any other description and has many applications. The first is describing something truly fucked up, or over-the-top ridiculous.

“Did you see Geeta’s new truck?”

“Jesus, what a rig that is.” (It insinuates that Geeta’s new truck is either tricked out eight ways to Tuesday and they’re jealous as shit, or that it’s a piece of crap that they can’t believe he spent money on. Context is everything.)

You can also look like a rig if you’re wearing clothing that is grossly mismatched, doesn’t quite fit, or makes you appear mentally ill. “Can you change Emma’s clothes and run a comb through her hair? I’m taking her to Wal-Mart and she looks like a rig.”

Frig, Friggin’, Frigged

Frig, friggin’ and frigged don’t refer to something sexual, unless that’s what you’re talking about specifically. It’s like a softer version of “fuck”. If you frig with something, you might just be messing around. If you fuck with something, you’re either doing it maliciously or very badly. If something is all fucked up, it’s on the verge of being a total loss if it’s not already. If it’s just frigged up, it’s just a mess that can be fixed with some time and effort, or possibly by whaling on it.

Hard telling, not knowing.

It means “I don’t know.” You’d say it when it’s pretty obvious that you have no way of knowing the answer to what someone is asking you. “You think we’re going to have a snowy winter?”

“Hard telling, not knowing.”

Rotary

What you probably call a traffic circle. They are generally despised. Apparently the rest of the world took to calling them traffic circles but it never caught on here.

Notch

What you probably call a mountain pass. We have several up in the White Mountains and if you ever get a chance to take a car tour of NH, I recommend visiting them. If a local asks you if you’re “goin’ through the Notch,” that’s what they’re talking about.  Usually.

Pocketbook

A purse. This was more my grandmother’s generation, I think. She always carried a pocketbook and if I was to come across one of hers in a box today I’d still call it a pocketbook. Yet I refer to my own handbags as purses.

***After careful consideration and much discussion with my fellow locals on this matter,  I believe the consensus is that a pocketbook is an old lady’s purse, and you are officially old when you refer to your own handbag as such.***

No-suh and Yessuh

Literally, “No sir” and “Yes, sir.”   This one, like “ayuh”, is all in the pronunciation and the context. It’s one of those old Yankee expressions that in the hands of a non-native speaker just does not work.  It defies imitation.  You can’t do it.   Leave this one alone.

I'm not saying the Leaf Peepers don't have point, though. Yes, it really is this spectacular.

Leaf Peepers

Flatlanders that pile into their cars and come north to see the trees change color. They start appearing way up north in mid-September and don’t leave until mid-October. Then we get a break from them until ski season starts.

Elastic

We call rubber bands “elastics.” As in, “Will you put a braid in my hair? Here’s an elastic.” And yes, Gary, it is also what you use to hold your underpants up.

Clicker

The remote control to the TV. Does anyone else call it a clickah?

Sugar snow

I think this is New England-wide. When the days are above freezing but it still drops below freezing at night, it’s “sugaring” weather. The sap in the maple trees starts running and maple syrup producers get to work boiling and producing the year’s maple syrup. Because it starts in early spring, you can’t rule out the occasional snowfall, but because temperatures are warmer, it doesn’t accumulate very much (if at all) and the flakes are big and wet. We refer to this as “sugar snow”.

It’s a phrase we use to remind ourselves that it’s snow but not the “real” kind that we’ll have to deal with in any way. It’s sort of how we encourage ourselves to get through it, because by March and April, we’re pretty goddamn sick of snow.  Saying “it’s just sugar snow” is how we handle seeing snowflakes well past the point where less hardy folks would have become suicidal.

It shit the bed

It broke or died or stopped running. It gave up the ghost. It’s had the radish. It’s toast.

“What happened to the skiddah?”

“It shit the bed.”

“Did you let Geeta frig with it?”

“Ayuh.”

Just giving a little shout out here to my friend Geeta.  He’s had that nickname since high school though I’m damned if I can remember why now.  Of all the nicknames of all my friends, I chose  his to use because it’s wicked awesome and just rolls delightfully off the tongue when you’re talkin’ Yankee.

New Hampshire Superlatives

It’s not enough to say that someone is stupid, useless, fat, or ugly.  We must qualify exactly how stupid or useless with a colorful turn of phrase.  These are the ones that my family uses all the time, though I have heard literally hundreds of them and everyone has their favorites.

Homlier than…

…the south end of a northbound cow.

…a cartload of assholes.

…a hedge fence.

Hotter than…

…a four-balled tom-cat.

…the hinges (hammers) of Hell (Hades).

Shaking like…

…a dog shitting peach seeds.

…a 20-dollar set of K-mart tires.

Colder than…

…a witch’s left tit in a brass bra.

Harder than…

…a whore’s heart.

Dryer than…

…a popcorn fart.

Darker than…

…a pocket in a union suit.

Slower than…

…cold molasses running uphill.

…molasses in January.

Tighter than…

…the bark on a tree. (meaning cheap or frugal)

…a bull’s ass at fly time. (meaning really tight or stuck shut)

Wound up tighter than…

…a nine-day clock.

Rougher than…

…a cob.

…a whore’s dream.

Useless as…

…tits on a bull.

…tits on a nun.

Hornier than…

…a forty-peckered roadrunner.

Dumber than…

…a box of rocks.

…a bag of hair.

If any of my fellow NH natives can think of any regionalisms I’ve forgotten, or if you have different ones that you use in your family or part of the state that differ from mine, let me know in the comments and I’ll add them in my next installment of “The Insider’s Guide”.

Be sure to tune in for “An Insider’s Guide to the 603: Part II–How’s Your Grinder?”, uploading on April 18.

It’s gonna be wicked pissah.

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Comments»

1. Pippa Posey Peanut Butter Pants - March 21, 2011

You have a book here…it’ll be pissah. What about how we tend to put an R on the end of anything that ends with an A. It’s not a Toyota gollrammit – it’s a Toyoter. And let’s not forget; Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord “Hosanner in the highest”. Wicked.

2. Cindy Ouellette - March 21, 2011

Jen, you crack me up! You sho nuff gotta be the funniest pissah I ever did know! Love the “useless as tits on a bull” – had a priest tell me that the title of Monsignor is about as useful as that. I roared then and I’m roarin’ now!

3. Shelly - March 21, 2011

This is my favorite Poops post ever, hands-down. You made this Maine-girl-in-exile have a good shoulder-shakin’ laugh. I miss New England. Can’t wait to read the rest of the series!

4. elizabeth M. - March 21, 2011

I always thought it was “wailing” on something, not “whaling”. You brought it all back for me, though. Just like 1978 all over again.

My best friend’s family was of French-Canadian heritage. She had 52 first cousins. I have none. Her mom carried a pocketbook, and it was a quintessential old-lady style, even though she wasn’t that old back then.

And what Pippa posted above: a girl in my first grade class was called Rit-er Taylah.

5. Nancy Jacobs - March 23, 2011

I laughed out loud at the cellar description. When I think of all the creatures that I literally ran into while doing laundry on High St, I don’t know whether to shutter or smile. Amazing what could squeeze between those big field stones. My favorite crawly was the 5 inch newt with bright yellow spots, but only as long as he didn’t surprise me. I always assumed it has been my accent that sets me apart down here, but after reading your list I am revisiting that theory.

6. Shelly - March 23, 2011

Oh, I forgot to ask………do you park in the dooryard?

poopslacey - March 23, 2011

No-suh. We pahk in the driveway.


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