I have in my hands an advance copy of the new Rebecca Rule book, Headin' for the Rhubarb: A New Hampshire Dictionary (well, kinda). It looks like another hit for Becky—writer and storyteller extraordinaire and all-around great person. We will officially release her book this Friday at MainStreet BookEnds in Warner (16 East Main Street) at 7 p.m. It is just two short days away, but I have the power to provide an even earlier sneak peak. Here, in an excerpt from the book's opening, Becky provides an overview of the New Hampshire accent:
The native New Hampshire accent combines the stretched As of Maaassachusetts, the dropped Rs of Maine, and the hint of oi and ew so pronounced in Vermont expressions like “Boi gawd, that’s some hansome kew.” (Translation: Golly gosh, that’s a good looking Holstein).We drop some consonants and add others.
Why? Because that’s the way it’s always been done. (The preceding, by the way, is one our favorite expressions, also used to explain the inefficiencies of town and state government.) A distinguishing characteristic is the migrating R. It travels from one word to another. Idea becomes idear while supper turns to suppa and mother morphs into muhtha, as in “Beans and brown bread for suppa? Good idear, Muhtha.”
Someone from away might say: Lisa Miner drove her Ford pickup to Norman’s House of Pizza and Seafood, where she enjoyed a meal of lobster with drawn butter, buns, and corn. We’d say: Liser Mina drove her Fo-ahd pickup to Nahmin’s House of Peetzer and Seafood, where she enjoyed a meal of lobstah with drawn buttah, buns, and con. Note how the R in Miner hopped to the end of Lisa and the one in Norman slid over into pizza, rounding those words out nicely.
Note also, that the R in Ford disappeared, allowing two syllables in place of one.We enjoy syllables, which is why words that have just one in some parts of the country get stretched into two around he-ah, as in grossry sto-ah or Budweiser be-ah. Again, reluctant to waste a thing, we borrow the extra syllable from elsewhere, which is why grocery turns to grossry. It’s tit for tat. Tricky, but not hahd to figure once you see the pattun. For example, Gs.We drop them from the ends of words ending in ing, but leave them alone otherwise. “Maggie dug the hole, all right, but in the diggin’ strained a muscle in her back, and she’s been complainin’ ever since.”
The accent varies from region to region, town to town, family to family, person to person. People from away say, “Nobody talks like that anymore.” They say, “The old New Hampshire is long gone.” Granted, nobody uses all the pronunciations or expressions cited here. Nobody ever did. But a good many of them live on in the language of people from small towns—or big towns that used to be small.The accent is strong among members of historical societies, women’s clubs, men’s clubs, and farm bureaus. It comes right back at me when I speak to retired teachers, septage haulers, elk farmers, Lions Club members, Blue Cross retirees, health-care professionals, and caregivers. I hear it at assisted-living facilities and grand hotels. I even hear it at schools. As one little girl said, “You talk just like my nana.” And a little bit like you, too, I thought.The old New Hampshire is not long gone.You just have to know where to look and listen for it. The accent lives on even as it changes. Language is always changing; that’s what makes it so frickin’ innerestin’. One thing for shoe-uh, our particular incarnation is hahd to imitate.
This book is not intended to teach you how to talk like a native. Fritz Wetherbee put out a CD for that purpose. It’s called Speak N’Hamsha Like a Native. Fritz, a seventh-generation native and television personality, knows his stuff.You are welcome to go ahead and try the accent, but many have tried before, and hardly anybody gets it right. Hollywood actors do French accents, Russian accents, Jamaican and Minnesotan accents like nobody’s business. But when they try ours, it sounds like a cross between Texas and County Cork (pronounced County Cock). Even Fritz will admit, you kinda hafta be bawn to it.
Not that a lot of actors even attempt the New Hampshire accent; they primarily attempt to talk like Mainers. From Hollywood, evidently, northern New England appears to be one big state, heavily forested and populated primarily by moose and lobstuh. Folks from away—I do not tell a lie—have said to me: “Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont—pretty much all the same. Right?”
A dissertation on the differences among the northern New England states, that’s a whole nutha book. (Whole nutha—now there’s a New Hampshire expression. I wouldn’t have thought of it, except my daughter, who is much smarter than me—has been since she was 13 years old—once said, “Muhtha, nutha is not a word.”
“’Scuse, me,” I said. “I meant to say, whole nuth-err.”
“Muhtha,” she said, “nuth-err is not a word either.”
Smart-ass, I thought. But I didn’t say it because she’s bigger than me (and meaner).
Generally speaking, the New Hampshire cadence is swifter than the Maine drawl. Gawd, those Mainuhs take a long time to plow through a story. Although, if you recorded a Mainuh at 33 1⁄3 rpms and played him back at 78, you’d get something like a New Hampshire accent. Our enunciation is more British than the Mainuh’s, but less British than those Maaassachusetts fellows with their Haarvaard gutturals and shiny caahs in well-maintained yaahds. Plus we spend less time talking about lobstuh, beans, bluebrys, podaydahs, and maple syrup than folks in neighboring states. We enjoy all those northern New England delicacies, but we’re not obsessed with ’em. Politics? Maybe.Taxes? Definitely. I’ve been practicing the New Hampshire accent, listening to it, and collecting New Hampshire expressions all my life (so far).
In Part One of this book, which makes up the bulk of it, you’ll find words, sayings, pronunciations, examples, and stories.That’s the Dictionary section. In the Gazetteer section, you’ll find place names and references, so if you end up in Boscawen or Westmoreland, you’ll have some idea where you are and how to say so. I’ve included a few stories and a little history in that section as well. Couldn’t resist.You know that old theory about how the Earth rests on the shell of a giant turtle? And that turtle’s standing on the shell of another.The child asks: “What’s holding up that second turtle?” And the sage says, “It’s turtles all the way down.” For me, it’s stories all the way down.
No doubt I’ve missed some biggies in the language department and made some glaring mistakes, but maybe you’ll write me a letter, send an e-mail, or give me a call to let me know so I can make corrections in the next edition (should there be one). Thanks in advance for that. Of course, there’s no such thing as pure New Hampshire talk. Naturally, there’s spillage back and forth over the borders of other New England states.Who knows—some of the expressions that I think are exclusively New Hampshire might pop up in West Virginia, Nebraska, or California. People travel and so does the language. In other words, no guarantees.
If you’re from New Hampshire, maybe you’ll recognize yourself, your relations, or your neighbors. If you’re from away, maybe these explanations will help you understand the state, its language, and its people a little better. Maybe then you won’t make the mistake of strutting into a general store and asking for a large frost heave to go.