“A Bawstin Lexicon”

How to speak with a Bawstin Accent

It’s not so bzah when you know how

by John Powers, Boston Globe

towns2.gif towns.gif

HOLLYWOOD ALWAYS GETS IT WRONG. They have the guy from Boston sounding like Cliff Robertson imitating Jack Kennedy aboard PT 109. Or else he’s like Jeremy Irons doing Claus von Bulow. People never grasp the broad a – not that it’s that hahd. Just open your mouth and say ah, like the doctah tells you.

The Boston accent is merely the King’s English (from East Anglia, in fact) marinated in conned beef and cabbidge for 150 yeahs or so and doused with clam sauce from the Nawth End. They cahn’t understand it in Alabamer. They hahdly understand it in Wistah.

My first day in college, I showed up at the dawm sporting a broken nose. “What happened to you?” wondered my roommate from Beverly Hills. “Ran into a pahked cah,” I said. He ran off to fetch our other roommate, from the Cleveland suburbs. “Tell him what you just told me,” he said.

It’s a mattah of the broad a and the silent r, which is the essence of tawkin Bawstin. The rnayah, who comes from Hyde Pahk, tawks Bawstin. So do Mike Eruzione, Ernie Boch, Larry DiCahrah, and Mimi Powiz, my sistah. Howie Cah does not tawk Bawstin. Neither do the guvnah, Red Owahback, or the Kennedys.

Not that the accent is difficult to acquire. Henry Higgins could have taught Eliza Doolittle to tawk Bawstin in a mattah of owahs. The Bawstin version of “The Rain in Spain” is as follows: My ahnt takes her bahth at hah-pahst foah.

A Bawstin Lexicon

ah The letter between “q” and s.”
ahdery Runs through the middle of th city. Ahftah foah o’clock, it’s clogged with cahs.
ahnt Sistah of your fathah or muthah. Also: are not.
bah Serves beah and hahd likkah: The train to Noo Yok has a bah cah.
bayah Ferocious brown or black animal
beah Malt beverage; e.g., Gansett.
bon As in: Where were you bon? I was bon in J.P.
Bawstin cream pie A frosted layih cake.
Broons Professional hockey team, named after bayahs.
Buljah President of the state Senate. Likes the guvnah; does not like Howie Cah.
bzah Strange, odd: The Stuart case was bzah.
cahdnal Oversees the Ahchdiasis of Bawstin. If speaker is over 50, refers Richard Cushing.
Chahlie He may ride forever ‘neath the streets of Bawstin. Last seen rumblin’ through Leechmeah; now needs 80 cents to get off the train.
Chahlz The rivah; take the MTA across.
chowdah Clams, milk, buttah. Only a Noo Yokka (e.g., a chowdahead) puts tomatoes in it.
con Stahchy veggie that comes on a cob. The Pilgrims stole the Indian’s seed con to get through the wintah of 1621.
connah Where streets intersect, e.g., Fields, Uphams.
Dappah The city councilah most likely to drop by at your wake.
Dot Short fir Dotchestah. Mahky Mahk, the rappah, grew up neah Dot Ave.
Emeffay The Museum of Fine Ahts
Evacuation Day When the redcoats left. Same date as St Patrick’s Day, a legal holiday if you work in City Hall.
fah Not neals heah: Chiner is fah from Needum.
fayah What life is not.
fok What you eat pahster with.
frappe Milk, ice cream, and syrup mixed together. Take out the ice cream, and it’s a milkshake.
fyah Blaze: The Great Fyah of 1872 reduced a lahge paht of Bawstin to cindahs.
gahbidge What they used to dump in the hahbah.
Gahden What they’re tearing down this yeah.
guvnah Chief executive of the commonwealth.
hahbah What the Sonsalibidy dumped the tea into in 1773. To find it, walk east until your hat floats.
hahlakwin A blend of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream, served at pahties.
Hahshbahgah Attorney general; the man who would be gavnah.
Hahvid Country day school across the rivah. The guvnah went thene. So did Hahshbahgah. Not the mayah, though.
hahf-ahst Done without regahd to detail.
heah Done with the eahs: Listen, my children, and you shall heah/Of the midnight ride of Paul Reveah. Also: not thayah.
hoss Equine quadruped. Runs at Suffick.
Howahya How are you?
Ianeah Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
khakis What you staht the cah with.
mayah Chief executive of the city. Used to be Irish, before the Irish moved to Milton. James Michael Curley was the mayah of the pooah.
Mutheragawd! Favorite expletive of a fawmah mayah.
nawtheastah A multiday stawm that blows in from the wottah. In February, a blizzid.
NINA No Irish Need Apply. Employment signs remembered bitterly by third generation Irish who never saw one.
Noo Yok Sinkhole of America, 240 miles south of Tremont Street. Everyone at BU comes from Noo Yok.
Oah Greatest Broon evah. Woah Numbah Foah. Also: what the Hahvid crew rows with.
oddah I’m Mahtha. Can I take yiz oddah?
owah Sixty minutes. Also: belonging to us.
pahk Cahn’t do it in Hahvid Yahd. Not downtown, eithah. Maybe in Glosta.
pahkah One who pahks a cah.
pahker What you wayah in the wintah.
pahlah Where the sofer is.
pahm Fried cutlet, covered with cheese and tomato sauce.
Pahselz Coach of the professional football team neah Patuckit. Moah populah than the guvnah – this yeah.
pahster Spaghetti, ziti, etc., served with veal pahm.
paht Neighborhood of the city: What paht of Bawstin ah you from? Dot? Rozzie? Eastie?
pahty A social gathering. Also: Democratic or Republican.
pastah The rectah of a parish, like St Mahgrit’s or Sacred Haht.
pickchahs Canvases by Sahjent et al. hanging in the Emeffay.
pichahs They throw fastballs at Fenway.
retahded Silly: Making Nancy Kerrigan wear her Olympic medal at Disney World wasn’t just “corny”; it was retahded.
Rawjah He throws the fastest fastballs at Fenway.
Reveah He rode through Ahlington on a hoss, shouting “To ahms!” Lived in the Nawth End. Also: the city just above Bawstin on the wottah.
shuah Of course.
Seltz Local professional basketball team. Plays on a pahkay floah at the Gahden.
shot Not tall. The mayah is shot.
squayah Intersection with a bus stop, a smoke shop, and a Brigham’s; e.g., Cleary, Oak, Maverick, Codman.
speekah Tip O’Neill, back when the Democrats ran things. Now refers to Chahlie Flaherty up the State House. Mistahspeekah, to you.
Sssta (variant) I know the ansah, Sistah Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Call on me.
tamorrah The day ahftah today.
tonic Coke, Sprite, etc. Not to be confused with tonic wottah, which goes with gin.
waw An ahmed conflict As in: “If they mean to have a waw, let it begin heah.”
wof A peeah, jutting into the hahbah; e g., Rowes, India, Long.
wottah A blend of hydrogen and oxygen. Also: a street next to Milk.
Yankee Descendant of the folks who stole the Indians’ seed con.
yeah A 365-day period. The Red Sox always make us wait until the next one.
yiz You, plural. As in: “Ah yiz goin’ down the Cape tamorrah?”
________
Posted: 19 May, 1995

  • Michaela

    Excellent article. I lived in Bawstin for a while, but being an immigrant, couldn’t get that accent. And I was reminded every now and then by mean people.