“What’s the accent like?” an old friend back in California asked when I moved to Rhode Island two years ago. I pondered this for a moment and replied that it seemed to be a cross between a Boston and a New York accent, thinking of old films I’d seen, but I couldn’t quite imitate it. I was left to provide examples, which vary from Warwick to Cranston.
For instance, I recently met a young woman named Shovel. Imagine parents naming their daughter after a garden tool. She explained that she spells her name with s-h, rather than c-h. Midway through our conversation it occurred to me her name was Cheryl.
A neighbor with a quick wit and sense of humor asked me if I’d been to the Wickford Yacht Show. Now wait a minute, I thought to myself. It seemed like an awfully small marina to fit even one yacht, and I said as much. Puzzled, my neighbor paused, then e-n-u-n-c-i-a-t-e-d, “No, the Yacht Show!”
“Oh, the Art Show!” I said, as it dawned on me.
“That’s what I said,” he repeated, and emphasized, a bit indignantly, “the Yacht Show!”
As we gazed across the bay one day from her front porch, my friend and I noticed a black cloud looming in the distance. There were no smoke stacks so we feared it was a fire. “Is that East Greenwich?” I wondered aloud.
“No, it’s Father.”
“Father Who?” I asked, alarmed.
“No, ‘farther’,” she corrected herself, sounding a bit like a pirate or maybe a leprechaun in her effort to pronounce the r.
Thus was my education in the Rhode Island R Rule: if an r appears at the end of a word, drop it, (e.g., “beeyah”) then insert it at the end of another word ending in a vowel sound later on during the conversation (e.g., “idear.”) Example: “A beeyah sounds like a good idear.” It’s a bit like Pig Latin.
The next thing to master was the New England regional dialect.
When we were still new to the area, we went to an Italian restaurant, as common as the Catholic Churches and Dunkin Donuts shops that dot every corner (“connah.”) My husband ordered an eggplant Parmesan sandwich. “Would you like that on a grindah?” asked the young employee behind the counter. Mentally, I added the missing r at the end of the word and deciphered it (grinder) then quickly whispered the west coast translation to my husband (“sub.”)
Before our cross country move I’d only heard of Manhattan, red, or New England, white, clam chowder (that is, chowdah.) At a seafood restaurant we were offered “cleayah chowdah.” It was what was *not* added, the waitress explained, that made it clear.
Last week, as I entered Stop and Shop, a man smiled and asked, “Carriage?” An image of Jane Austen’s horse and buggy appeared in a lovely thought cloud above my head. Then I realized he was offering me his shopping cart.
Ice cream sprinkles are “jimmies,” a slice of French bread with cold tomato paste is a “pizza strip,” and a baked stuffed clam is a “stuffie,” a delicacy I never knew I’d been missing in my life! Deep fried dough doesn’t just mean Dunkin Donuts, but clam cakes, and even doughboys. In fact, the first time I dined at Iggy’s, I was intrigued by the smiling mascot on the restaurant sign. I thought he looked like a potato chip, or perhaps a minced clam, before I figured out he was a doughboy.
At Jigger’s Diner I fell in love with Jonny cakes, and ordered a coffee cabinet because it sounds cooler than ordering a coffee shake.
I’ve even sampled Fluff at Mousie’s Deli because I just had to know.
But what exactly is scrod? Why not just call it cod? (Or is it even cod?)
For my trip back “home” to California I’ve squirreled away some packages of Autocrat Coffee and Del’s Lemonade mix for my suitcase. Now I’m wondering if I can get a lobstah roll through TSA at the airport in my carry-on bag...
Now living in Buttonwoods, Erin O’Brien, a retired teacher, is gaining a Rhode Island education.