I grew up thinking I didn’t have an accent. People from Queens have an accent. I grew up in Somers. There’s no such thing as a Somers accent!
But then I went to Ithaca College, and lots of conversations followed this script:
Me: saying something
Other person: Huh?
Me: repeating something.
Other person: What?
Me: repeating something again, faster and with great frustration.
Other person: WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?
Me: spelling the important words.
Other person: Oh! You mean [corrected pronunciation]
My favorite example of this was a discussion about a club called The Haunt, in downtown Ithaca. The closest approximation of what I called it is probably Hawnt. I still don’t understand why it was that big of an issue to understand what I was saying when I asked “Are we going to The Hawnt tonight?” Still, I got teased about the way I said words like haunt, awful, terrible, and coffee, enough that I started concentrating on neutralizing the way I talked. Or tawked, depending on where you’re from.
By the time I moved to Rochester, I felt confident that I was pretty much devoid of accent. But, apparently, the idioms were still there.
At Wegmans. A woman is standing a few feet away from the nearest checkout line.
Me: Are you on line?
Me: Are you waiting on line?
Her: I’m not on the computer.
Context clues, people! Context clues! Obviously, I wasn’t asking her if she was surfing the ‘net in the middle of a grocery store (this was pre-smart phone days). And before you get all “It’s in line, not on line,” I would like to point out that I’ve heard news anchors downstate say “on line.” Downstate people spend a lot more time waiting on line at stores, movie theatres, etc., than upstate people do, due to population density and an infrastructure that was never intended to handle that level of density, so I think they should win on how to describe the experience. Even though I’ve switched to saying in line to avoid constant conversations like the one above, I’m not saying I think it’s correct. I’m just trying to blend. It doesn’t mean I like it.
Also, when ever I said “tag sale” when I first moved up here, people would crinkle up their forehead and look at me like I just landed from Jupiter. Not all “yard sales” take place in a yard. In fact, most people hold tag sales in their garage/driveway, not on the yard, so “yard sale” doesn’t even make sense! But most people do use some sort of sticker/tag system to price the things at their household sales, therefore tag sale makes perfect sense. But, again, blending. . . sigh.
And then there are the Rochesterisms. I didn’t know how to say any of the neighboring towns when I first moved up here.
- Chili is pronounced Chai-lie, and has an annual Chili Chil-E festival.
- The town of Avon is pronounced more like Ah-von than Avon.
- Ginna, home of the Ginna Nuclear Generating Station, is pronounced /ɡɨˈneɪ/ gi-nay, with the g as in give (according to Wikipedia, because I had no idea how to write it out phonetically)
- Charlotte is Char-lot and there’s even a jingle for a local appliance store that goes “Charlotte! You’ll save a lot!” And it rhymes perfectly. Which means I can no longer pronounce Charlotte, NC correctly anymore without thinking about it first.
There are, however, some things I won’t budge on:
- It’s not pop. It’s soda. I’m sorry. It just is.
- It’s tin foil. I know it’s not actually made from tin anymore, but aluminum foil just takes too long to say, and when you’re asking someone to get you some tin foil, it’s usually an oh, crap! I need to put this food away, but said food is on my hands and I don’t want to open the drawer and get food fingerprints everywhere situation. Time is of the essence. Shorthand is helpful. Besides, Coca-Cola isn’t actually made with cocaine anymore, but we still call it Coke (which is a soda, by the way).
- A-u-n-t = ant not ahnt. Saying ahnt makes you sound like you’re from Connecticut.*
- It’s not Or-ange, it’s Are-ange. And yeah, I know that Or-ange is the same spelling as the actual word, but lots of words aren’t pronounced as they are spelled. Like Aunt.
But J says Or-ange, and teases me all the time about my pronunciation. We had another discussion about it last night:
Me: O-R-A-N-G-E really is pronounced Are-ange. Otherwise the joke doesn’t make sense.
J: The Orange you glad I didn’t say banana again joke?
J: That joke is not a style guide.
*Not that there’s anything wrong with being from Connecticut. Some of my best friends are from Connecticut. I’m just joking around. But, please note the way it’s spelled and the fact that it’s not pronounced ConneCt-ticut? See, my O-R-A-N-G-E argument has some teeth, J. It really does.