"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of "The Collector" series, The Killing Kind, and Red Right Hand.

"A refreshingly new voice in noir." --Ed Kurtz, author of Nothing You Can Do and The Rib From Which I Remake the World.

"A glorious boilermaker of noir and East Coast gothic. The action is taut as a sprung snare and Bagley tightens the screws with every page." -- Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase and Blood Standard.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Maine Writers' Lexicon

As a service to anyone who wants to write fiction set in Maine, I have put together an informal guide to help you understand the way we talk in this neck of the woods. NOTE TO MAINE WRITERS: This list is by no means comprehensive, so post a comment to let me know if I've left anything out (or frigged it all up).

Allen’s Coffee Brandy: The unofficial Maine State Beverage—consumed with milk.
As if: An expression of disbelief.
Ayuh: Only Maine “humorists,” characters on Murder She Wrote or lobstermen born before 1960 ever use this.
Bean Hole Beans: They’re beans baked in a hole in the ground. Good eatin’.
Bean Supper: How churches and grange halls pay their oil bills.
Beano: It’s what we call bingo. No relation to the pills that stop you from farting.
Ben’s 100: Fly dope. It keeps the bugs from bugging you.
Blackflies: They’ll suck every last drop of blood out of you quicker than your Aunt Ethel can scarf down a loaded pizza.
Blue Tarp: A blue plastic tarp we use to cover things in our yard…wood piles, ATVs, the wife’s corpse. No one will ever look under your blue tarp.
Bottle Club: BYOB joints, usually with live country music. Not many of these left.
Bush Hog: If you have a piece of land overgrown with weeds, pricker bushes and small trees, you hire a guy to come in and bush hog it for you.
Canadians: Annoying and possessed of strange habits, but they spend money here.
Chowder: pronounced “chowdah”…clam, corn or fish. Forget that Manhattan-style crap.
Christless: adjective. As in, “I’ll knock your christless teeth out.”
Christly: adjective. As in, “That christly car broke down again.”
Chuck: verb. Throw, toss. As in, “Chuck me one of them beers.” See also, “Huck” and “Wing.”
Clean Fill Wanted: This sign is posted in the front yard of every third house, often for years at a time (var. Good Clean Fill Wanted).
The County: Aroostook County.
Cribbage: If we had an official State Card Game, this would be it.
Cunnin’: Adorable, precious. As in, “You seen my little nephew? He’s so cunnin’.” Also: “Wicked Cunnin’.”
Dooryard: This word is often misused for “driveway.” It is, in fact, the yard outside your door. Hence, “dooryard.”
Dubbin’: Doing this and that, a way to kill time. Also: “Dubbin’ Around”
Dynamites: Take a can of tomatoes, throw in some chopped celery, onions, a little hamburg and a few spices, heat it up and pour it over hot dog buns. Yeah, they’re as nasty as they sound.
East Bumfuck: A town that’s a wide spot in the road out in the middle of nowhere.
East Overshoe: This is the term you use if you want to say “East Bumfuck” but can’t because the pastor of your church is visiting.
Educated Idiot: Anybody who went to college or made the high school honor roll.
Ell: Connects the main part of your house to the woodshed or barn.
Fiddleheads: A type of fern that we pick in the spring. Boiled and served with butter or vinegar. Good eatin’.
Flatlander: Anyone from outside Maine, even if their home state has higher mountains. Flatlanders can never be trusted. Ever.
Frenchman: derogatory term for Canadians or anyone you think is dumb. As in, “Why’d you drop that hammer on your own foot? You a Frenchman?”
Frig: Interchangeable with “fuck.”
Frogs: see "Frenchman."
From Away: see "Flatlander."
Frost Heave: A big-ass bump in the road caused by the expansion of ice beneath the pavement. A frost heave can frig up your suspension somethin' awful.
Home Baptist: Someone who is a hard-shelled fundamentalist Christian, but can’t be bothered with church.
Hornpout: A small catfish.
Hot Top: Asphalt.
Huck: verb. To throw or toss. See also, “Chuck” and “Wing.”
I ‘bout ‘magine: An expression of disbelief (“I about imagine”).
Italian: A sandwich made on a long roll, filled with ham, turkey or salami, green peppers, onions, pickles, black olives, tomatoes and American cheese, doused with oil. Often pronounced "eye-talian."
Jackin’ Deer: Hunting deer at night by shining a spotlight in their eyes. The deer become entranced, making it easy to blow their brains out. Remember, it’s only poaching if the game wardens catch you.
Mainecare: Unreliable state-funded health insurance which guarantees most healthcare professionals will treat you like a second-class citizen.
Masshole: Anyone from Massachusetts.
Mill Rate: One of the things we get pissed about at town meetings, even though most of us don't understand what it is.
Moxie: The nastiest drink ever invented. It tastes like carbonated NyQuil.
Muckle: verb. To grab something. As in, “Muckle onto the other of that log, will ya?” Brought over by Scottish settlers.
Mud Season: April through mid-June.
Nippy: Chilly. "Kinda nippy" is any temperature between 25 and 32 degrees F.
Noseeums: Blood-sucking insects smaller than blackflies.
Nosuh: No. Only used by the same people who say “Ayuh.”
Numb: Stupid.
Numbnuts: Unbelievably stupid.
Old Orchard: A beach town north of Portland where all the Canadian tourists and fat Mainers who wear thongs go to play in the sun and surf.
On the County: On relief.
On the State: On welfare.
The Other Maine: Everything south of Augusta, where the rich and bossy people live.
Popple: A poplar tree.
Reef: verb. To pull on or yank something. As in, “That door sticks and you gotta reef on it.” See also “yard.”
Right-of-Way: A narrow road or someone’s right to cross your property to get to theirs (if it lacks road access).
Skidder: A virtually indestructible vehicle used in wood yards.
The Smell of Money: The sulfurous stench from a paper mill.
Smeltin’: The act of catching smelts. This involves standing knee deep in an ice-cold river late at night.
Smelts: Small freshwater fish caught in the early spring. Roll them in cornmeal and fry them up. Good eatin’.
Son-of-a-Whore: What you call someone who’s worse than a son-of-a-bitch.
Snow Machine: A snowmobile.
Spleeny: Wimpy, whiny, given to complaining.
Stove: verb. As in, “It stove the front of my truck in pretty good when I smacked into that tree.” Also an adverb. As in, “I ain’t paying ten buck for that splittin’ maul. The handle is all stove up.”
Summer Complaint: Tourists. See also, “Canadians,” “Flatlander” and “Masshole.”
Tree Hugger: Anyone who recycles or drives a fuel-efficient car.
Ugly: Grouchy. As in, “Don’t talk to him. He’s being ugly today.”
Uncle Henry's: A weekly swap-it-or-sell-it guide. Placing your ad is free. Uncle Henry’s is read by more Mainers than the Bible, Hustler magazine and all of Stephen King’s novels combined.
Uncunted: Undone, broken, gone to hell. As in, “I thought I had that transmission fixed, but she come all uncunted on me.” I have only heard this one used in the Midcoast and Downeast regions. Probably another legacy of British or Scottish settlers, as they do love the "C-word."
Up the Ying Yang: To have a lot of something. As in, “He’s got money up the ying yang.”
Upcountry: Everything north of Greenville.
Whoopie Pie: A sandwich of two big cakey chocolate cookies with a thick layer of lard-based vanilla frosting between them. Part of the reason we’re so fat. Good eatin’.
Wicked: Good, great, cool, nice, etc. Used in place of “really” or “very.”
Wing: verb. Throw, toss. See also “Chuck” and “Huck.”
Woodshed: Where we keep our wood and/or beat our kids.
Wung: verb. The past tense of “Wing.” As in, "I wung a brick through his friggin' window."
Yard: verb. To haul or yank on something.
Yessuh: Yes. See explanation for “Ayuh” and “Nosuh.”


Clair Dickson said...

That's great! Very amusing read for a Michigander... and we got our own dialect over this way.

We say pop instead of soda to start.

Anonymous said...

Ah, memories....I still use Masshole down here.

Victor Gischler said...

Now I want to write a Maine novel just so I can use all that.

But in Louisiana a blue tarp is something that goes on your roof after a hurricane comes through and kicks the shit out of your town.


Ellen said...

"Uncunted"?? That's a new one on me, Patrick.

In my family, we use "christer" as the noun of "christly." And what about "jeezly" which is one of my favorites. "Joe's out in the dooryard friggin' around with his jeezly truck again!"

pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow. Maine truly is another country. Portland had me fooled.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Ellen: I only heard that one when I lived in Friendship and worked in Rockland and Camden. And I'm embarassed that I left out "jeezly." That's a good one.

Patti: See? You went to the Other Maine.

Clair: I met someone from Michigan once. Couldn't understand a damn thing he said. Nah, that didn't really happen. Although...a lot of people had a hard time understanding me when I visited Alabama a few years ago and I don't even have a Maine accent.

Anon: I try not to use that one myself, but sometimes it just fits...especially on I-295 during the summer.

Victor: You play in your own backyard, dammit. I couldn't handle the competition.

Lyman Feero said...

Both grandmother's used the term "Slum Gullion" to refer to any casserole that was made from leftovers in the fridge i.e. Tuna fish, Mac and Cheese, and hotdog chunks all mixed together. I must admit though, Grammy Feero made some God awful slum gullion, while Grammy Rogers resembled actual casseroles.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Sounds even less appealing than Bubble and Squeak.

Dawn Potter said...

I've always suspected Walt W. had spent some time in Maine before writing "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed." You might mention that even though a dooryard isn't a driveway, you plow it in the winter anyway so by summertime it has that special dry, driven-on, churned-up-mud look that separates it from the rest of the regular yard.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Sure, because you have to shove all that snow somewhere. Come spring, you're picking up all those chunks of sod the plow gouged out.

I should also have included "frying pan toss," like the one in your poem about the Harmony fair.

Anonymous said...

Next time you're in OOB (Old Orchard) pick up a compass and you'll find that it is actually south of Portland. And I've always called the other Maine northern Mass. From northern mass you can head downeast by driving up rt 1. But you don't truly get downeast until you're north of Schoodic. Also, I guess you didn't include the term from here because no-one is truly from here-or at least they shouldn't admit to it. I was born and raised here, my mom's mom is from here, my dad's mom is also from here, but both of there fathers were summer folk from away. Granted, there must have been some fence hoppin' on both side from here back in the day. Don't get me wrong, both my grandmothers were the finestkind. However, since my grandfathers weren't born here, I'm from away.

georgejungle said...

I arrived here looking for the origin of muckle. It was used in my house as a kid meaning to grab on. I never hear anyone use it here in Vermont. My father was born in Sanford Maine. Oh by the way you're the flatlander. You left out christin. I don't think I have ever heard uncunted used before. What a great addition to my vocabulary! As in "Jesus H. Cristin fuck, my christin log truck broke again! Ayuh it's all uncunted. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!