Lost In Translation II: A Maine Glossary

Hmmm. What, pray tell, are you talking about?
Hmmm. What, pray tell, are you talking about?

Sometime last week it was pouring rain as I left the office, just for something different. Since I’m constantly amazed and baffled by the changing conditions, I assume everyone else in my life is, so I documented the precipitation with a video to send to some friends via Snapchat.

Yes, I realize the use of that app makes me an awful product of the technological generation and everything that is wrong with first-world society. But I digress.

One of my friends from back home sent me a text later that night, after watching the video and hearing me bemoan another wet thing falling from the clouds, and she exclaimed that she’d almost forgotten what my voice sounded like, before asking whether I had an American accent yet.

A few months ago I wrote (in both the blog and a column) that one of my initial worries about moving to a region that (I presumed) saw little foreign tourist traffic was that people would struggle to understand what the hell I was saying in general conversation. For the most part it’s been pretty easy, because New Englanders do pronounce some vowels the same way I do. On top of that, I’m conscious of the fact that I do talk a little too fast sometimes and thus I need to speak a little more clearly for everyone’s benefit.

To answer my friend’s question? No, I definitely haven’t assimilated as far as to pick up an accent yet, but there have definitely been a couple of little changes here and there to ensure I don’t have to get flustered when I’m asked to repeat myself. Tom-ah-toes? Not any more, friend. Tom-ay-toes is what comes out of my mouth. I’ve been putting a little more effort into my Rs too, and there are a handful of vocabulary tweaks I’ve made so that I don’t draw either blank stares or bemused looks when I say “petrol” instead of “gas”, or get asked “what do you mean windscreen? You mean like a windshield?” And I’m going to have to step up my game so I don’t drop the “thongs” instead of “flip-flops” faux pas with summer coming up fast.

It does feel strange to be modifying my own speech to sound a little more “American”, and oftentimes I cringe inwardly, thinking that whoever I’m talking to must think I sound stupid for doing so. But then I realize those hard Rs and short As are what everyone is used to hearing, so it’s going to sound far more normal than the alternative coming out of my mouth.

In my defense though – and finally getting to the point of this here post – is that I’m not the only one that says parts of speech that make people stop and think (like “heaps”, or “reckon”, or the very rare “arvo”). I hate to say it, Mainers, but y’all have some curious sayings as well. In fact, I’ve been making a list, going from mild to wild.

“Wicked:”  This one’s a very New England piece of slang that’s synonymous with “very” or “really”. I made a vow on my first weekend here that I’d never surrender and say “wicked” in a genuine manner. Probably because I sound like a dickhead saying it.

 Example: “The haddock sandwich is wicked good here.” 

“From away”: This is probably the one I’ve heard most, because it basically sums me up. I’m not from here, therefore I’m from away. Makes sense right? It’s pretty succinct.

Example: “You’ve never seen a frost heave? You must be from away.”

“Ayuh”: This one is my personal favorite and I wish I had the accent to carry it off. I read this for years in Maine-made literary giant Stephen King’s books and always wondered if it was actually a thing. It means “yes”.

Example: “Is ‘ayuh’ really a word that people say?” “Ayuh.”

“You can’t get there from here!” This still kinda baffles me, but my understanding is that a) it’s very Maine and b) it means “there’s no real easy way to get there” or “that’s way the hell in the middle of nowhere”. I bet tourists hear that all summer long up here too.

Example: (I’m not confident making an example because it’s probably going to be brutally inaccurate and I’ll be kicked out of Maine for getting it wrong.)

“Stove up”: A true Mainah told me this one last weekend and I reckon it’s the weirdest one I’ve heard. From what I can gather, it means to get banged up in a car accident. I did a quick Google search and I guess it can also apply to other crashes, like you might have when skiing. I dunno.

Example: “She stove up the truck when she skidded off the Interstate.” (Like I said…I dunno.)

“Cunning/so cunning/wicked cunning”: Apparently this is a way of saying “cute”. Kinda sounds the opposite of that though right?

Example: “Look at that squirrel! HOW CUNNING.” (I’m probably the only person in Maine or the wider US who thinks squirrels are cute.)

 “Fatass in a glass”: This might be my other favorite, and I’m thankful that I’m mildly lactose intolerant or else I’d probably be more game to try it. As I’ve mentioned before, Maine’s unofficial state beverage is a cheap coffee brandy called Allen’s. The Washington Post once called it “an ideal food for crime”. Fatass in a glass appears to be both the name of a mixture of Allen’s and milk, and the result if you drink too much. NICE.

Example: “I feel like ending up in the Kennebec Journal police log tomorrow, as well as early onset diabetes and buying some larger sweatpants. How about some fatass in a glass for lunch?”

Good, right? And if you want further reading or insight into what the traditional Mainah accent is like, I found this site useful when I was double-checking to make sure I was getting the wording right for this post. It’s a pissah.

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5 thoughts on “Lost In Translation II: A Maine Glossary

  1. Definitely toe-may-toes and gas instead of petrol. But pretty much everything else you mentioned is a “New England” thing. I haven’t heard any of those other sayings and I’ve been in the States all my life. (Mostly out West). “Wicked” tends to be a Massachusetts saying; Boston in particular. I’m surprised it made it so far north. Funny, I heard “ayuh” from Stephen King books, also.

    Hope you’re continuing to enjoy your time here. I wish Australia had a similar diversity program, at least for a year or two with the chance to become permanent. Most of the Aussie females I’ve met have been drop-dead gorgeous.

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