How do you know if you have a Boston accent?
Many years ago I discovered a great way to tell if you have a Boston accent. It took me a while to figure it out but I finally uncovered this simple formula. If you’re uncertain, if you’re not quite sure, if you need confirmation, then I’ve got the perfect way for you to settle it once and for all.
Do you have a Boston accent or don’t you?
Well, I suppose if you grew up in the Boston metro area, you probably have little use for my discovery. You’re probably a card carrying Boston accent champion.
But, what if you’re like me and grew up outside the city area? That’s when my discovery comes in handy.
Let me explain.
I grew up in southern New Hampshire, small town called Pelham, right on the Massachusetts-New Hampshire boarder, only 34 miles outside of Boston. Growing up I thought I had a New Hampshire accent. Or, as my cousins from Dorchester (section of Boston) called it — a “Cow-Hampshire” accent. Not sure why my home state got the “Cow-Hampshire” label … maybe a reference to the fact that — at the time — there were more cows than people living in New Hampshire. Or maybe my cousins felt New Hampshire is a great place to live — if you’re a cow?
I remember my Auntie from Dorchester visiting our home in New Hampshire. Here she is — proper Boston lady — up in the back woods of New Hampshire on the porch of our log cabin home on ten acres of land with a 300 foot long driveway, surrounded by wild furry creatures like squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits. Talk about out of your element. She probably felt as awkward as Daniel Boone at a disco dance contest! Anyway, I remember her getting very nervous as the sun started to set. She yelled out to my uncle, “Get me outta here before it gets dark! I don’t want to be up here in the middle of no-where at nighttime! Too scary — no people around!”
Of course, all that said with a hard core — sharp edge — Dorchester-Boston accent. I thought her full on accent was cool … “wish I talked like that!”
When I’d visit my cousins in Dorchester — or my grandmother in Somerville — or my other grandmother in Saugus — I’d hear comments like, “You ain’t from around here are ya? You sound like a hick?” This was straight up, no-nonsense feedback from the local neighborhood kids as they taught me new “city skills” like knocking off the local 7–11. Don’t get me wrong, the city kids weren’t any worse than me it’s just that back home in New Hampshire we didn’t have a 7–11 close by. In New Hampshire, if you wanted to rob something it had to be the neighbor’s house and that kind of activity is non-habit forming, just like jumping out of a plane without a parachute — you only do it once and then you’re dead. (Disclaimer: I’m joking about the 7–11 stuff!)
My cousins and their neighborhood friends from the Boston area had kickin accents. They carried on like members of a special club. And, the first rule of membership is you had to have the kickin accent. I wasn’t eligible. My goof-ball, back woods, Cow-Hampshire, “6 o’clock newscaster” accent didn’t cut it. I was an outsider, an out-of-towner, a foreigner. When I listened to them talk, I felt inadequate. Every time I opened my mouth to talk I felt like a misfit, like a guy attending a formal state dinner in his underwear.
So, up to age 21, I thought I had a plain old — straight up and down — Cow-Hampshire … oops, make that New Hampshire accent. But, I was wrong.
It wasn’t until I joined the Air Force and got stationed in California that I found out the truth about my accent. Yes, it was in the great state of California that I discovered a sure fire way to tell if someone has a Boston accent.
In early 1982, shortly after arriving on-station at Mather Air Force Base just outside of Sacramento in northern California, I made the discovery. Seemed like every time I talked, I’d hear the same reply. It didn’t matter what I said, the response was the same. It didn’t matter who I was talking to, the response was the same. I would start saying something and before I could even finish I’d hear –
“YOU SOUND JUST LIKE THE KENNEDYS!”
I would stand there stunned, thinking to myself, “Let me get this straight, you think I sound like the Kennedys? As in John F, Robert F and Bobby? No way! My cousins would laugh you out of the room if they heard you say that. I sound like a “good old boy” from Southern New Hampshire. I gotta show my passport to get in and out of Massachusetts. I don’t sound anything like the Kennedys!”
Finally, I would regroup and respond with something especially elegant like, “Huh? Are you talkin to me? The Kennedys? Me? You’re jokin right?”
And, my response would only make things worse, “Oh yeah! There it is again! I love your accent. Just like the Kennedys! Can you say that again? What you just said … say it again!”
After a while, things got really bad. I couldn’t get any message across — all they heard was the accent.
Me: My right arm has been severed. I’m in extreme pain. I’m bleeding to death. Could you please call for help!
The Other Person: Wow! I love your accent! You sound just like the Kennedys! Hey, Mary come here! You wouldn’t believe this guy’s accent! Sounds just like the Kennedys!
(Disclaimer: I made up this dialog. It didn’t really happen.)
Then after about six months of this kind of miscommunication, I discovered the truth. I woke up, the penny dropped, it finally dawned on me.
All these California folks were right! They were right all along. Why didn’t I listen. Why wasn’t I smart enough to pick it up straight away.
They were answering the question … “How do you know if you have a Boston accent?” They were giving me the answer. And here it is …
The one sure way to tell if you have a Boston accent is this …
If more than two people from California say, “You sound just like the Kennedys!” then you have a Boston accent.
So, for about two years, I had a Boston accent. The first 21 years of my life I had a New Hampshire accent, but for two years, while stationed in northern California with the Air Force, I was a bona fide member of the Kennedy clan — I had a real Boston accent. The people of California told me so.
Since leaving California in 1984, no one has ever told me I sound like the Kennedys so I must have lost my Boston accent. But, for those two magical years in California, I had one — a real, honest to God, authentic Boston accent!
So, if you’re not sure, take the test. Travel to California and start talking. Say anything, doesn’t matter. Then listen. Wait for confirmation.
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This article was originally published on ivesguy.com.