Learn a Foreign Language: 'Boston'

Direct From Boston: Speak Like A Hubber.

Attention Actors - Don't Try to Speak Boston Without Studying the Language!



I recently viewed an episode of American Horror Story/ Asylum (season two) and watched Jessica Lange struggle unsuccessfully to effect a Boston accent. To Massachusetts natives, her botching of the Boston dialect is epic.


So for future reference for actors, film makers, and potential visitors here’s a guide to proper use and pronunciation of the Boston lexicon from a native speaker.



The first rule of grammah: (not your granny - but grammah as in ‘words‘)


NUMBER ONE RULE: To speak good Boston, you must pretty much fahget about the letter ‘R’ and the letter ‘G‘. They are not used in proper Bostonian.

Thus, English words like running, walking, crying, car, ever, yard…..in Boston; become runnin, cryin, walkin, kah, evah, yahd.


Here’s a sprinklin of some Boston words and phrases:

Ash Day: This word dates back to the time when almost all homes were heated by coal, and the ashes were put into large metal cans and saved for pickup by the town on Ash Day. If it snowed, the ashes were spread on the sidewalks and driveways.

Bummah: An exclamation used to describe an unpleasant experience. “The Pats losin to the fotty ninahs was a bummah!”

(The) Cape: There might be many Capes in Massachusetts but only one is “The Cape.” It is Cape Cod. When Hubbers go to the Cape, they say they are going “down Cape”.

Con - a yellow vegetable. May be eaten on or off the cob. Also may come in a can, as in ‘can of con‘.

Drunkin' Donuts: The sarcastic name for a Massachusetts based donut shop. According to some the chain is known for featuring overpriced coffee and stale donuts. Lovers of 'Stahbucks', which is trying to gain a foothold in New England, think that Drunkin' Donuts coffee is as weak as a seven ounce floundah.

Dungarees: Blue Jeans. This word is now used mostly by the older generation and has been replaced by words like slacks and jeans.

Fotty: The written word for the numbah 40.

Glawstah: The ancient Northeast fishing port of Gloucester. Must be pronounced properly under penalty of being thrown off the pier.

(The) Hub: The appellation given to the city of Boston by writer Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that Boston is the “Hub of the Solar System.”

Hoss: As in how many hosspowah your kah has.

Howahya: It's not that new state in the Pacific Ocean. Howahya, like the word ‘jevah’, is a combination of words used to ask a person how they are feelin or how they are doin - such as in a greeting like “Howahya today?”

Jevah: A combination word used to ask a question. Example, “Jevah go to a Boston Bruins game?” Can be translated to the English words, “Did you ever”.

Kah: - a motor vehicle

Kahkis: - Instruments from a locksmith. Used to start your kah. “Jevah lose yah kahkis? It’s a bummah!”

Lobstah: The numbah one ketch of the sea from Provincetown to Boston and on tah Glawstah.

Noth: This is a direction of the compass - the opposite of south. It is pronounced ‘Noth” - NOT ‘Nawth’ and certainly not ‘North‘. .

Numbah: 1, 2, 3, 4 etc.

Off Cape: What happens when a local is forced to cross over the bridge and leave Cape Cod for mainland Mass. He or she is said to be “Off Cape”. Locals never will tell you where anyone actually is when they are not “On Cape”, they just say, “He had to go ‘off Cape’.

Pahk: - 1. a public rest and recreation area. Often has swings and a slide. 2. A verb used to denote placing your vehicle in a designated area. Example: Pahk your kah in the yahd. . 3. a baseball field where the Red Sox play. Called Fenway Pahk.

Powah: Strength. As in liftin weights. Such as ‘a powah lift‘.

Quincy: - city in Massachusetts named after John Quincy Adams that must be pronounced 'Quinzee'. If you call it 'Quinsee', you will be stared at, as if you are an alien life form.

Shot: This word refers to the height of a person. Such as: Basketball is a game not usually played by ‘shot’ men.

Suicide Alley: A 44 mile stretch of route six on Cape Cod from Dennis to Provincetown where the road narrows from four to two lanes, separated only by sticks planted in the middle of the roadway. The speed limit is 50 but some drivers have been known to almost double that. From 1970 to 90, nearly 40 people were killed in head on accidents on the alley. Since then, some road improvements have lessened the toll.

Tonic: - A soft drink such as Dr. Pepper or Pepsi Cola. Over the past few decades the word ‘tonic’ has begun to fall from favor and (except for a few areas) ‘soda’ is the more popular word

Whistah: The Western Mass city of Worcester. Pronouced jist like Glawstah, only a little difffrent.

Yahd: The land around yaw house.


Yaw: Translates to the English word your. As in yaw book, yaw kah, or yaw house.


The guide is not intended to be complete, nor is it a functional course in the language. However, if you diligently practice forgetting your Rs and Gs, and pepper your conversations with a lot of ‘wicked goods’, you’ll get by reasonably well in the Bay State. And if you’re lucky enough to get a film or tv role playing a Bostonian, perhaps we won’t laugh at you like we do at Jessica Lange as she desperately tries to sound like Rose Kennedy.


More by this Author


Comments 30 comments

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

(snicker!)

Up and funny!


Efficient Admin profile image

Efficient Admin 3 years ago from Charlotte, NC

I got a chuckle out of this but quite franky I absolutely LOVE the accent of those Boston and New Englanders. I adore that Long Island, NY accent too.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Thanks Will. When I was touring Phoenix, Prescott and Bisbee my Boston accent was surely noticed. Most of the time my education and training hide it, but it does slip out when it wants to.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

I am very grateful for the comment Efficient Admin. I have been to the Carolinas and I think you just might have some of the best weather. You are fortunate to live in such a beautiful state. As for the Boston accent, I have spent over 50 years training to lose it and just when I think it's gone, I travel to somewhere like Charlotte or Knox PA, and right away people say, "You're from Massachusetts". You can take the boy out of the farm etc.


Efficient Admin profile image

Efficient Admin 3 years ago from Charlotte, NC

Thank you Billrrrr, yes we sure do have some great weather, except in July and August when the humidity is so bad. Right now it's not cold at all. We have a lot of northerns come down here and I can always tell by their accent and love listening to them.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 3 years ago from American Southwest

If I had had this helpful article to read 25 years ago, I would have known better than to feel sorry for the first two or three people I met from Boston. Coming from the Southwest, I genuinely thought they had a speech impediment.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

LOL ! Thanks aethelthryth. I have roamed over most of this nation and am happy to say that, in Oklahoma and Arizona nobody thought I had an impediment. I've been to the other Southwestern states as well, but spent more time in OK (visiting military) and AZ (exploration & recreation). Even though I am a Boston guy, I can speak a fair amount of regular English !

This great land we live in is so huge that it's actually like a dozen or more countries packed into one. The Northeast is vastly different from other sections. We all speak English but there are a number of distinct dialects. I have been to several places where I could barely understand one word they were speaking and vice versa.


Monis Mas profile image

Monis Mas 3 years ago

Very cool and funny! Let's not forget a "lobstah suppa"!


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

You are so right Monis Mas. How could I evah fahget LOBSTAHS ?


Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

“Pepperidge Fahm Remembahs.” I shouldn’t giggle, ‘cause I live in Massachusetts. My mother’s family has been here for centuries. When I moved here from LA (very different culture), it took me months to pronounce Worcester properly. (It kept pronouncing it like Worcestershire sauce. Oh, well, phonics.) My family gave me a pass since I had been “out there” for too long. :-) “Pahk the cah in the yahd” is symbolic of Bean Town. I like the “Southie” accents...Matt Damon does a decent job with this as does Mark Wahlberg – for obvious reasons. Great hub and I love the “Drunkin Donuts.”


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California

My family is from Lynn. I grew up in CA. My cousins all loved to tell me I talked funny when I visited. Great fun hub.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Thank you Genna East for reminding me about Pepperidge 'fahm'. I loved those commercials with the old New England Yankee telling us how good those cookies were ( and still are). Parker Fennelly was the spokesman for the company for many years. He was also famous as "Titus Moody" on the Fred Allen radio show. The reason he could speak "Boston" so well was because (like the Wahlbergs and Damons), he was a New Englander.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Thanks for checking in from the 'left coast', tirelesstraveler. For me, Lynn will forever be famous for "Marshmallow Fluff" which is one of the top ten inventions of all time. There's nothing like a 'Fluffah nuttah" sandwich. If grits can be the state food of Georgia, then Fluff should be the state food of Massachusetts !


FSlovenec profile image

FSlovenec 3 years ago from San Francisco, CA

Thank you for this entertaining Hub! I lived in Boston, the Navy Yard, for 5 years, love the city..never spoke Boston, understood most of it but never spoke it....


Genna East profile image

Genna East 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Bill, your comment brought back memories. My father used to quote, “Pepperidge Fahm Remembahs”…but I remember that he talked about Fred Allen from his ‘radio days’; he liked him. Unlike my mother, Dad’s family was Canadian. (They lived and worked in Northwest NJ for a time before taking an early retirement and moving back to New England.) Dad used to say, with good natured teasing, “Massachusetts is a country within a country.” Best wishes for a Happy New Year. :-)


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

FSlovenec, I am so happy you read it and enjoyed it. Five years in Beantown is pretty good. There is a lot to see and do. I went to Huntington Prep School and Grahm Jr. College in Boston and have enough happy memories to last three lifetimes. In the same week I could see the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Arthur Fiedler conducting and a Red Sox game with Ted Williams in Left Field(later Yaz and Jim Rice). I could eat at the Automat for a few coins one day and at Joe and Nemo's the next (Hot Dogs for a dime) and then splurge on 'Chowdah' at Durgin Park.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Fred Allen was Boston born and was employed in the stacks of the Boston Public Library as a youth. It was in the stacks where he learned juggling, ventriloquism and joke writing and telling. After winning a BPL talent contest, Fred headed off to Vaudeville, eventually becoming one of its biggest stars. In the 1930s he went to radio and stayed near the top of the radio ratings for about 20 years. Television finally brought an end to his radio days. Fred hated TV. He said that the reason they call it a medium is because nothing is ever well done ! Fred worked 39 weeks a year in radio and spent the off season every year at Old Orchard Beach in Maine.


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 3 years ago from Upstate, New York

I have family from Boston and am very "familia" with the accent. Also speny many years in the Cape and go back "theya" every "summa".


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Drop those Rs ! Lose the Gs ! We don't have trouble makin' people undahstand us ! Shiningirisheyes, I love the Cape and Beantown; but I also am crazy about upstate New York. My buddy and I dream of Saratoga every August. Thanks for the comment.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Bill,

This is a great interesting hub. I first became introduced to the Boston accent when I was going through Navy basic training north of Chicago in the late 60s. There were a couple of guys from Boston in my company, and I quickly learned from them that "tonic" meant things like Coke and Pepsi. Voted up and sharing with followers and on Facebook. Also Pinning.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Thanks Paul. As always, I deeply value your comments and appreciate the read.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 3 years ago from North Carolina

Been above and right below Boston but never quite made it into the city by kah. Whenever a Boston accent comes up am immediately reminded of the Kennedys. Your sprinklin' of words and phrases is frankly powahfully enjoyable!


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Thanks for readin Alastar Packer. Yuh don't have tah go drivin up Noth to Boston now that yah ken speak Boston.


ocfireflies profile image

ocfireflies 3 years ago from North Carolina

My 82 year old neighbor recently moved here (Northwestern NC) from Boston, and we have had such fun learning from each othuh. We have discovered that we ah not so different for if yah ah from Appalachia, yah don't use them "g" on the end of words as well. I will keep this checklist handy. SMILES!


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Thanks ocfireflies faw this interestin' information. I hope tah get tah Appalachia in the next yeah or two. It's pleasin' tah know that I will be able tah tawk tah everybody.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

The FX television series American Horror story prompted this piece. Watching Jessica Lang 'butcher' the Boston language, I decided to write a primer for would be Boston talkers. The first season of American Horror story got very high ratings. Season two saw a completely new story line, but with the same cast as season one. As good as Jessica Lang was in season one, she was HORRIBLE in season two. At least part of the problem, I believe, was that she and the other actors had no clue of how to speak Boston. The third season of the program will begin in October 2013. I will bet the farm that Jessica & company will NOT BE SPEAKING BOSTON in season three.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America

I had a good time reading this Hub, Bill. Rated Up and many others.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

I am very grateful for the comment and that you read the article. Thanks Patty.


Ann 3 years ago

My husband and I traveled all over the us with a woodworking show, we did a show in Boston they couldn"t understand me and I had a hard time understanding them. but they were very friendly and we laugh at eaqch other speech. I am a mountaingirl from the App. in NC I realy enjoyed your writing.


Billrrrr profile image

Billrrrr 3 years ago from Cape Cod Author

Hi Ann. Thanks for checking in and for the interesting comment. I too have rambled over most of the U.S. and being a New Englander, there have been many times when people had a hard time understanding me - and me them. The hardest accents for me are those of the deep South. There have been situations where I required a 'translator'!!!!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working