Every region in the country has certain words that reflect its history, its geography – and its personality. For instance, Southerners seem to me to be immediately open and friendly, even with strangers. “Y’all come!” they’ll say, which would appear to include all mankind. We New Englanders are more reserved about extending invitations, or anything else, and our language reflects it. In fact, as far as I can ascertain, New England does not possess any word or expression that is the equivalent of “Y’all come!” In our view, there are simply no circumstances in which we would want “Y’all” to come. Our tendency is to qualify our statements, minimize our emotional commitment and reduce the chance of error. In short, we New Englanders feel compelled to be careful.
In response to someone inquiring about our health, we’re apt to reply with such phrases as “Fair to middlin”, ‘Getten’ by”, or “Guess I’ll survive.” We might agree that it’s a nice day, but “We’ll pay for it tomorrow” or “It is unless it rains.” A bumper crop season is “fair,” an excellent job “will do” and “I might mosey on over to Jake’s house by and by.” We simply don’t want to be held to anything that can change due to circumstances beyond our control.
Also, we seem to have revulsion for any use of language that slops over with emotion or sentimentality. One hears about the local youth who graduated cum laude from M.I.T. as a “right smart” boy. That’s enough. “Pretty as a picture” is about the ultimate in feminine personal appearance. Instead of utilizing adjectives to describe a situation, person or thing, New Englanders feel more comfortable making simple, graphic comparisons. Somehow, that’s less emotional.
It’s as black, for instance, as a crow, ink or maybe the ace of spades.
It’s as clear as a bell, crystal, noonday – or mud.
It’s as fresh as a bird, a daisy, or paint.
It’s as clean as a hound’s tooth or a pig’s whistle.
Actually, I know about a clean that’s cleaner than even a hound’s tooth or a pig’s whistle. While having my hair cut some years ago, I asked my barber and friend, the late Bill Austin, a native of Peterborough, New Hampshire, if he knew a really clean joke I could tell during a talk I was scheduled to make that evening at the Peterborough Women’s Club.
“Sure, I got a clean one for you, Jud,” Bill said.
“It’s got to be really clean, though, Bill,” I warned.
“Clean! Well now this joke is so clean, Jud, you could tell it to your grandmother sitting on the john.”
Now that’s clean!