Capt. Eddie in the comic “Non Sequitur” recently delivered this line to an obnoxious customer at Flo’s Offshore Diner: “We resahve the right to refuse sahvice to jackahsses, and to see how many napkins we can cram up theah noses.”
Capt. Eddie is the local character who gives color to “Non Sequitur.” A cat rides on his shoulder, the way a parrot rides on a pirate’s shoulder, and Capt. Eddie is always embarking on outlandish adventures, relating them afterward with his Maine accent. I’ve long loved the comic strip, and I gained a new appreciation for Capt. Eddie’s style of speech when we visited Maine and I learned to talk like a “Mainah.”
My handbook for my exploration of Maine dialect was “The Maine Dictionary” by John McDonald. I bought it during a brief trip ashore at the lilliputian town of Brooksville, where a creek gushed recent rain into the harbor — direct recycling of water from the sky to the sea — and a small weathered building across the harbor resembled what I pictured in my mind to be Capt. Eddie’s fishing shack. The only attraction in town was a small general store, where I bought some local craft beers, and in a corner of the store I found the Maine dictionary.
I love local dialect lexicons. I bought a similar book in Munising, Mich., in 2010 called “The Yooper Dictionary” and my first, “Dictionary For Yankees and Other Uneducated People” on vacation in 1975. The latter described the need for the book when Nawthern officers entered a Southern bar and said, “We want a bottle!” The barman, a spy for the South, rushed off, and soon the Southerners gave them their bottle in the form of the Civil War. “The Maine Dictionary” is, thus, the latest in a small, humorous corner of my reference collection.
The most obvious aspect of Maine talk is the dropping of “r’s” called non-rhotic speech. We Midwesterners, for example, might stop by Bar Harbor while visiting Acadia National Park, but Mainahs visit Bah Hahbah on the way to the pahk. Other examples, all taken from page 13 in my dictionary, are “bahk,” which is what you find on a tree; “bahbah,” someone who cuts hair; and “bahkah,” “loud-mouthed fellahs at the county fairs that do their best to get you to spend all your hard-earned money trying to win some worthless item for your wife or girlfriend — maybe both!” As important as the non-rhotic pronunciation is how you use your mouth. Suck in you your mouth as you tahk, and speak from the back of your mouth, almost with a guttural feel.
This definition intrigued me because I wonder if it has its basis in truth. “Fir-low” is defined as “Enlightened practice at the State Prison in Warren where cons are occasionally let out so they can go home for a weekend of R&R.” It’s followed by this story: The author said during dinner at a friend’s house they heard gunshots next door, and the host said it was the Bartlett brothers home on fir-low from Warren, who had been drinking all day and were playing with their guns. “That can’t be part of their fir-low agreement,” the author said, and his host said, “Well, why don’t you go over there and tell them.”
My favorite definition is that for “No’wayah.” After I bought the book, I showed it to a Michigan mother and daughter who were sailing with us and who had befriended a couple from Bahston, the latter teaching the former to speak prahpahly, and the Bahston couple agreed that the book was right on target as one of the Michigan women read:
“ … if you get a Mainer to help you get a mooring to secure your new boat, he’ll go up the quarry and get a two-ton granite slab. Then he’ll have a hole drilled in the slab and he’ll have a steel ring bolted on to it. Then he’ll go buy fifty feet of two-inch galvanized chain and about thirty feet of one-inch nylon rope. Next he’ll have the granite, chain and rope moved into place at low tide with a work scow. Then he’ll fasten your boat to the mooring with the rope. When he’s all done, he’ll stand there on the bow and say, ‘They-ah. She wun go no-wayah.’”
- American Indians
- C. History
- Civil War
- D. Books
- E. Clothing
- Historical Clothing
- Historical Festivals
- Musical Instruments
- Ohio History
- Old West
- Revolutionary War
- World War II