September 06, 2015

New England Folklore in the Media: Witches, Slang, and the Bridgewater Triangle

There has been some interesting stuff about New England folklore in the media this week.

First off, The New Yorker has a lengthy article about the Salem witch trials. Author Stacy Schiff writes very evocatively, as this paragraph demonstrates:

In isolated settlements, in smoky, fire-lit homes, New Englanders lived very much in the dark, where one listens more acutely, feels most passionately, and imagines most vividly, where the sacred and the occult thrive. The seventeenth-century sky was crow black, pitch-black, Bible black, so black that it could be difficult at night to keep to the path, so black that a line of trees might freely migrate to another location, or that you might find yourself pursued by a rabid black hog, leaving you to crawl home on all fours, bloody and disoriented...

Schiff gives a good overview of the trials, with particular emphasis on the Mather family and on George Burroughs, the ex-Salem minister who was supposedly the ringleader of all the witches.

Illustration from The New Yorker

I'm not sure why the magazine decided to run "Inside the Salem Witch Trials" right now, but I'm glad they did. Most magazines make us wait until Halloween for articles like this.

On a lighter note, Slate published a map showing the top slang words in each state. In New England, the words are:

  • Connecticut - glawackus (a legendary monster)
  • Massachusetts - wicked (very)
  • New Hampshire - poky (eerie or scary)
  • Maine - ayuh (in the affirmative)
  • Rhode Island - cabinet (a milkshake)
  • Vermont - cremee (soft serve ice cream)

I am more familiar with some of these than others. Since I am from Massachusetts the word "wicked" is obviously part of my vocabulary, and I was aware of "ayuh,""cabinet," and "cremee." Maybe these words are used often by residents of their respective states, so I can understand why they might be the top slang words in those states.

I'm not so sure about "glawackus." I know what a glawackus is (a legendary creature that terrorized Glastonbury in the mid-20th century), but is it really the top slang word in Connecticut? And I'm confused by "poky" as the top slang word from New Hampshire. I just don't think I've ever heard it used to mean scary, only to mean slow.

The authors explain how they made the map:

First, we called up some linguists who helped us make an initial list of unique words that are in one way or another associated with a particular state. That got us off to a coruscant start (linguists!). Next we researched online message board discussions about zany terms that have gained popularity in different states. We also surveyed friends and colleagues on the words they most associate with their home states and polled Slate readers on Facebook. Ultimately, we built up groupings of anywhere from five to 10 viable options for each state and then, well, argued a lot. The competition was fierce, the results certain to be controversial.

There are currently 476 comments on the article, so I think they have struck a wicked big nerve.

Last but not least, you can watch a documentary tonight (September 5) about one of New England's strangest areas, the Bridgewater Triangle. It airs on Destination America at 10:00 pm and is called America's Bermuda Triangle. It is an edited version of local filmmaker Aaron Cadieux's film The Bridgewater Triangle, which I reviewed last year. The original is informative and spooky, so don't miss this chance to learn about a giant paranormal hot-spot right in our backyard.


bairdduvessa said...

i never heard or cabinet or the connecticut one ever, i am wicked confused

Patrick Bagley said...

Other than Maine humorist Tim Sample, no one here has said "ayuh" since the 1970s.

Peter Muise said...

Bairdduvessa and Patrick - Thanks for the wicked good comments! I think this list is probably designed just to generate controversy and discussion. ("Glawackus" is probably almost never used in Connecticut conversation, except by sometimes by weirdo folklore types like myself.) I had a co-worker from Maine who would say "ayuh" as a joke sometimes, but wouldn't use it in regular conversation. Sadlu I do think mass media has eroded a lot of the regional slang that used to differentiate the states.