Local Talk

Short Stack and I were out the door early this morning and though he didn’t know it, it was motivated more by me wanting him to see his next birthday rather than getting the jump on a beautiful, late Spring day. He hasn’t quite developed the survival instinct about waking his mother up earlier than she wishes, so I, who already bare the scars, decided to intervene and remove him from the premises before he came tottering in to ask her yet another question in that whisper/not-a-whisper that three year olds seem to have perfected.

Other than my own vision being blurry around the edges with the half vaporized dreams of sleep, the day looked crisp and warm and I was happy to get a chance to go and enjoy it with my son. A long walk to the beach, down said beach and then up to a beautiful expanse of grass that overlooks the bay, left him happy but understandably tired. When he started inquiring about breakfast, I knew that he wasn’t making it back to the house under his own power and in one fluid motion, *WHOOSH*, up on my shoulders he went. I’m used to carrying him like this and although he’s getting bigger by the day, I enjoy it very much as he hugs my head and points out items of interest with a pudgy finger.

“Look Dad! A butterfly! Can we catch it?”

As I hefted my chatty load up the last hill and away form the beach, we happened to pass an elderly islander who was on her own morning jaunt.

She greeted us with a smile and approving nod to my wiggling burden. “Well, that’s a mighty fine perch, isn’t it?” She spoke through that smile only old, white haired women can flash, but the smile I came back with was spurred on by more than just a friendly salutation. It was the way she said “perch”


This is spoken with the lips extended into an almost kiss when you say the “u” sound.

THAT is how a real Mainer says it. Or, I should say, “Mainahh.” Actually, it extends far beyond the borders of Maine. My Grandmother lived in the flatlands of New Hampshire and I vividly remember the first time she encountered the word “Nerd.”

“Neauuuurd? What on eauuurth is a Neauuurd?”

What is commonly referred to as the “Down East” accent was widely heard in my youth, but is disappearing at mind numbing speed today. Words such as Yassah (yes sir), proppah (proper) and my personal favorite, “wicked pissah, meaning a mighty good time and/or a bad storm and/or someone full of moxie and nerve… um… neauuuurve, are drifting away into the past and being replaced by the bland, universal TV speak that we’re bombarded with, daily.

I have an ear for accents, both conscious and unconscious. I perk up when I hear one and can’t help trying to guess where the speaker is from. I suppose that makes me a bit like the jerk at the embassy ball in “My Fair Lady,” though I do not, in fact, “know everyone in Europe” or teach linguistics, but there is a reason I pay close attention. For me, accents are contagious.

When I am thrown into an environment with foreign or heavily accented speakers, my speech starts to bend and twist in an effort to match. I can’t stop it and it drives me nuts at times.

In England, I sound like a Brit.
In France, I start sounding French.
In Massachusetts, I sound like a Kennedy
In Germany… I sound like a Brit again… I don’t know why. This one REALLY bugs me, especially since I can speak some german.

Action Girl hails from central Vermont and as such, speaks crisp, soft English through mostly closed teeth. When I’ve been visiting old relatives from the coast of New England, she quickly points out my changed speech patterns.

“Please stop! You’re not from Danvers, Mass!”

“That’s pronounced ‘Daanvzz’” I helpfully quip. That usually wins me a flash of “the look” which I attempt to deflect with a toothy grin and quick retreat.

In my head, I can hear both of my Grandmother’s voices with their accents, dropped consonants and drawn out vowels, but my memory is the only place to regularly encounter them. Outside of the pale and pathetic comedians impostering these old linguistics and spinning them into a form of kitsch, you need to hand around with the disappearing generation if you need your yankee-talk fix. I have to say, I love it. It makes me feel like I’m home.

Oddly enough, Short Stack seems to be picking it up here and there, though I don’t know if it has a chance of sticking. Every once in a while, he’ll be telling us something and out will slip my Grandmother, or my friend Jeff or old George, the lobsterman, gone now for over twenty years. Short Stack will be yammering away, as per usual, about the interesting bug he’s spotted or whatever and say something such as, “Well…. That’s rathahh funny, innit?”

There is no way I would ever correct him in this situation.

Someday, the accents will be gone, buried beneath the tidal wave of perfectly quaffed anchor men, gritty action heroes and infomercials, but until then, I’ll try my best to enjoy each one ‘till at last, the bowl is empty.

As we walked home, we spotted a white lilac, decked out in its full springtime glory. My diminutive shoulder monkey pointed to them with enthusiasm and declared that we should get some for Mom. Balancing my son around my neck and snipping off a few branched with my pocketknife, we quickly had our bounty clutched in his happy, little hands as he chirped his monologue the rest of the way home.

Mom was thrilled, naturally, having eked out another half hour of uninterrupted sleep before Lulu Belle decided to start her day. She gratefully received the gift and put them in water as Short Stack pulled out toy trucks, preparing them for a hard day’s workout.

If Grandma were there, she would have told him that the flowers were “wondah-ful.”

All in all, it was an excellent way to spend a morning. In fact, I’d say that it was wicked good, indeed. Finest kind.

Right Grandma?


11 Responses

  1. oohh, I love accents, my brother’s a bit like you, he can pick up the various accents at will basically. I sometimes ask him to speak in Scots, love that one. My singing teacher’s also really good at this, he masters about 30 different Norwegian accents – just by knowing people from the various places – and that’s just an example, his English, Dutch, German, French and Italian are on about the same level. Amazing stuff!

    • In part, I blame/attribute my accent grabbing to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In addition to it being filled with craziness, the Pythons also enjoyed effecting accents from all over England and beyond. Michael Palin does a spot on Scot and Graham Chapman used to do a perfect Midlands. I confess, I love accents, I just wish that I had more of a choice when my brain decides to jump in and use one when I’m visiting abroad.


  2. I cant’ replicate accents unless I’m with the person making them: it’s a close proximity thing … or just being a smart ass … or something.
    My accent has definitely changed from living overseas. I don’t know how I speak anymore … other people have to tell me.

    • I can do it pretty much on command, but the list is shortened if I can’t get a sample to start with. They get jumbled in my poor brain. I have no doubt at this point though that if you tossed me in with a bunch of lisping Glaswegians, like it or not, I’d be right along with them.


  3. “diminuitive shoulder monkey” is classic!

  4. We get samples of the Maine accent in the comic section of our newspaper in the Wiley Miller strip “non sequitur “.

    I lived outside of Australia for 11 years in one stretch and when I went back home I had a north American accent. The interesting thing for me was to see how my fellow countrymen treated people from your neck of the woods. I’m pleased to report that as a faux American, I was treated very well and shown many kindnesses.

    • I like non sequitur quite a bit. Most of the time it leaves me nodding and going, “yup.” I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

      It’s good to hear that you got a warm reception when they though you were a Yank. That sort of thing makes me smile for sure. Years ago (before the reign of George II) I was traveling with friends in Germany and France. I found myself doing a lot of apologizing for my American-ness at not knowing the way to do various things or missing the importance of some European landmark. Finally, one of my German friends turned to me and told me to stop. “We like Americans, you know. You guys are WAY to hard on yourselves. You’re always welcome.”

      It was great to hear and though “W” has done a hell of a lot of damage in that regard, it gives me hope that that bridge can be rebuilt.


      • I think that one could pick just about any national stereotype and see something very ugly. I’ve seen Australians overseas behaving in ways that have made me feel very ashamed to come from the same country.

        Every country has it’s jerks that mess it up for everyone else. Bush was a doozy, but then again we had John Howard who was nothing more than a lickspittle to your dangerous and deluded moron.

        The sad thing about America is that the rest of the world is soooo fed up with the over the top jingoism that comes out of your mass media and for many people that’s the only contact they get from your country.

        I was studying design back when 9/11 happened and it shocked me to hear younger (therefore clueless) students say things like, “they got what was coming to them” and “they deserve it”.

        Needless to say, I spent a fair amount of time straightening them out. Explaining to them that what we see in the media is only a tiny distorted part of reality and if they had been to the States they’d have met plenty of really decent and intelligent people and no one deserves to die the way how some of those poor unfortunate innocent people did.

        One thing I’ll say about Aussies, is that in most cases, provided that they’re not drunk, just about anyone will get a fair hearing from them and will be treated as a friend.

  5. You are Maine’s Madonna! I’d love to hear you sound French by the way. I think I’d have a wicked pissah!

    planetross speaks like a Canadian, eh. He and the hundreds of Japanese students he taught. 🙂

    • Not bad, but the correct way of saying it would be “I think it’d be a wicked pissah!” The best one of all you could say is, “Your WICKED smaaat” Being called “wicked smart (with correct pronunciation) is actually a pejorative. Go figure.

      I don’t know why accents stick to me and frankly, it makes me feel like a goober sometimes. Why would a Frenchman be asking another Frenchman a question in english with a french accent?!?? Makes no damn sense. But, then again, neither do I sometimes.

      -Turkish Prawn

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