'Wicked Good Words': A Road Trip Through Regional Sayings

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How do you know if someone is a true New Englander? There might be a way to immediately tell and it is not just by the accent.

Some dead giveaways to impostors - if he or she thinks a "spa" is a place to relax or if "wicked" is something bad. Then that person must be an off-islander.

Regionalism in language, using words like spa, which here means a drugstore and wicked which means super, are unique to New England. Our dozens of quirky regionalisms have some solid history behind them as well.

Mim Harrison writes about those regionalisms and their history in her new book, "Wicked Good Words."

Harrison, whose father is from Boston, grew up hearing our local accent. And she says her interest stems from one word close to home.

"It wasn't so much the word, but the way it was pronounced, it was my mother's name which is as a young child I kept thinking 'what a odd name she has,' my father calls her Masser," Harrison says. "Then I realized years later that it was the way a Western New Yorker would say as Martha."

Another colloquialism is "packy." Harrison explains that it was a throw-back to the days right after Prohibition.

"People were still a little reluctant to admit the fact that they wanted to go buy some liquor," Harrison says. "So if they talked about a package store it was a kind of a code for the fact that you would get your liquor in this plain paper package when you took it out."

Check out other local turns of phrase in "Wicked Good Words."

This program aired on August 12, 2011.

Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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