The "Massachusetts-To-English" Conversion Guide For Tourists
We in Massachusetts love to have you come visit. You out-of-towners talk funny, and we find that delightful.
But we’ve also noticed that you sometimes have a little trouble understanding us, so as a public service, I’m offering this language conversion tutorial for those of you who are planning a visit.
And I hope you are planning a visit…we’ve got tons of stuff to do. From Boston to the Berkshires, Massachusetts has a lot to offer vacationers.
We’re filthy rich in historical and cultural opportunities, from Lexington and Concord to our many concert venues and museums. We’ve got great beaches, great hiking and camping, the quaint charm of Cape Cod, and hip & chic nightlife.
If you’re going to be among us, though, you might as well have an idea as to what we’re saying. This is not a complete guide, of course, but it will get you started.
First let me help you with some of our cities and towns, which, no offense intended, you always mispronounce.
A Guide To Our Cities and Towns
Ayer, pronounced just like the stuff we breathe, unless you’re a local, then it's Ayuh, with two syllables. Bedford, pronounced Bed-fird, unless you’re a local, then it Bedfid or Beffid, in compliance with our unwritten “silent D” rule. Billerica, pronounced Bill-ricca, even by locals (the e is silent, but we don’t have a rule that says so).
Blandford, pronounced Bland-frd, unless you’re a local, then it’s Blanfid (silent D rule applies).
Bridgewater, pronounced just like it looks, unless you’re a local, then it's Bridge-watta. Clinton, pronounced Bubbah (a little MA humor, there). Dunstable, pronounced Dun-stible, even by locals.
Fairhaven, pronounced just as it looks, unless you’re a local, then it’s F’Haven. Gloucester, pronounced Gloss-ter, unless you’re a local, then it Glossta. You’ll just have to get used to the fact that, in all syllables spelled “cester” that syllable is pronounced “stir."
Goshen, pronounced Go-shen by everyone. Gosnold, no, not Goes-nold, pronounced Gawz-nold. We toss you a curve every now and then. Haverhill, pronounced Hay-vrill by everyone. Hingham, pronounced Hing-um by everyone
Holbrook, the “o” is long, so we all say Whole-brook. Holyoke, pronounced Whole-yoke by everyone except my neighbor who says it with 3 syllables. Leicester, pronounced Lester. The first guy in town had a funny way of spelling things and may be the author of the “cester/stir” law.
Leominster, pronounced Lemon-stir, unless you’re a local, then it's Lemminsta. I wonder if the first guy in town was related to the first guy in Leicester? Mattapoisett, pronounced Matta-poy-sit by everyone. Medford, pronounced Med-frd unless you’re a local, then it’s Medfid or Meffid.
Methuen, pronounced Ma-thoo-en by everyone. Milford, pronounced Mil-frd, unless you’re a local, then it's Mil-fid. We always pronounce the “L” because if we didn’t it would be Miffid, which is too close to Meffid.
Montague, pronounced Monta-gue by everyone. Even we know not to call it Mon-Tag. Nahant, can be pronounced Na-hant or Na-haunt if you’re prone to be uppity. Needham, pronounced Need-um by everyone.
North Canaan, pronounced North Kay-nin. I know, none of us ever heard of it, either. North Reading, pronounced North Redding, but to locals it’s Noth Reading. Peabody, pronounced Pea-biddy by everyone except out of staters.
Pelham, pronounced Pellum by everyone. Pepperell, pronounced Pepp-rill by everyone. Quincy, oh I suppose you’re supposed to say Quin-sea, but we all say Quin-zee. Rehoboth, pronounced Ree-ho-bith by everyone.
Salisbury, as in its namesake steak, pronounced Sauls-bree by everyone. Scituate, pronounced sitch-uh-wit. Out-of-staters often call this “sk-too-it” thinking it’s probably named after some Native American chief, as some of our communities are.
Sherborn, one of the state’s wealthiest communities. We call it Shur-bourhn (it’s really hard to spell that second syllable the way we pronounce it, but think of the ‘r” as a “w”), anyway, the swells call it Shur-bin.
By the way, the "r" in that first syllable may be the only "r" in the entire English language that we Bay Staters pronounce. Somerset, pronounced Summa-set. Somerville, pronounced Summa-vill. We Bay Staters never did have much use for r’s.
Stoneham, here’s where we show you how flexible and tolerant we can be. You can call it Stone-um, or Stone-ham. A lot depends on how you use it, and I’m an authority because I grew up there. I grew up in Stone-um, but I graduated (just barely) from Stone-ham High. A news report on radio or TV might go like this: “Stone-um police report that…” or “Meanwhile, in Stone-ham, police report that…" If you visit, you MUST play mini golf at Hago Harrington’s Miniature Golf Course on Main Street, Route 28. I spent my childhood there. A family treat was to get Chinese food from The China Moon restaurant, which still shares the parking lot.
Stoughton, pronounced Stote-inby everyone. Swampscott, pronounced Swom-skit. We don’t have much use for p’s, either. Watertown, pronounced just as it looks, except locals call it Wattatown. Wellesley, pronounced Wells-lee. Another affluent community some call Swells-lee.
Wenham, Wennum, always Wennum. Woburn, pronounced Woo-bern, except by Bay Staters, to whom it’s Woo-bin. Worcester, pronounced Wuss (as in, “he’s a wuss”)-ter, but we call it Wuss-ta, although there are some of us who talk funny and call it Wiss-ta
Now that you can properly pronounce some of our cities and towns, let me teach you some words and phrases that, once you hear them, will make your light go on. Or as we like to say here in The Bay State, “light dawns on Mahblehead." So, here we go.
Speaking Conversational Massachusetts
Afta-owiz…we’re closed; it’s “after hours.” Lo-wa-fotty…the affectionate way we refer to our back yards. A phrase that, in some parts of the country, has morphed into “lower forty.” Hahtathematta…getting to the point of the discussion, or the “heart of the matter.”
Fawthasake ofaht…it may defy understanding, but we do it “for the sake of art.” Hahd wyid…our love of the Red Sox is “hard wired” into our brains. Cah…what you pahk in Hahvid Yahd. Some call it an auto, my grandparents called it the machine.
Conna…the confluence of two streets; corner. Cuber…a Communist island 90 miles off Florider’s coast. Cuttafaht…something you don’t want to do in polite company, cut a fart. Dawkta peppa…oh, c’mon. I don’t have to interpret Dr. Pepper do I?
Afahm…what Old McDonald had. Hahd likka…some of our supermarkets sell beer and wine, but not “hard liquor.” Seeuz…it’s where America shops. Odda Suppa…when you take your evening meal at a restaurant, you “order supper.”
Hahd psyda…we have some great microbreweries that produce “hard cider.” A bawddle owadda…what you might awda from a street venda on a hawt summa day. Fotty fo-wa…what comes after fotty three.
Hahpiz bizzah…in 1967 they had a popular cover version of Simon & Garfunkle’s The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). Oh yeah, it’s also a leading women’s fashion magazine that’s been around since 1867. I stood in line for hours to get a first edition.
Bah Hahba…another good vacation venue, Bar Harbor (it’s in Maine). Ha-fowwa…30 minutes. Most Bay Staters pronounce half as hahf, rather than haff. Pahteepoopa…there’s one at every party…the party pooper.
Wotts…no, they’re not caused by frogs. Warts are skin growths caused by various viruses. Chahlz rivva…A scenic urban/rural river that runs through Boston offering a panoramic view of the Boston skyline, the M.I.T campus and Boston’s famed Back Bay section. It was made famous in 1966 by The Standells in their hit song entitled Deeyahty Wotta. (deeyahty is said wicked fast).
Deehahty Wotta…The 1966 Standells hit, Dirty Water, referencing the Charles River. It’s where the Hahvid crew team practices and competes. It’s also the song fans hear over the PA system as they depart Fenway Park after a Red Sox victory.
Hahvid…Harvard University. Fahmiz…The folks who work the fahms. Ahnild Ahboretum…Arnold Arboretum of Hahvid University is the oldest public arboretum in North America and one of the world's leading centers for the study of plants. You can even visit.
Fossed hot aya…If you buy a house here, it might have a forced hot air heating system. Noo-yeahz eve pahtee…You might have a New Year’s Eve party in your new house. Fahmiz Mahkit…In the summer and fall, local growers bring their produce, preserves, honey, breads and other locally grown and made agricultural products to sell at a Farmer’s Market.
H’wah-ya…Customary greeting, “How are you.” Some of us pronounce Hawaii that way. Cumblin Fahms…A regional convenience store/gas station chain, Cumberland Farms often has the lowest gas prices in its immediate area. Yaw…This versatile word can mean your as in, “Is that yaw cah,” or you’re, as in, “Yaw outa yaw mind.”
Well, it’s a start, and I truly hope this has been helpful and will make your visit to our great state less traumatic, er, more enjoyable. We’ve got a lot to see and do, and we’re nice people to those who aren’t wearing NY Yankees gear. Maybe someday we’ll bump into each other rounding the conna.