For instance, you might hear a Maine man say he intends to go gunnin’ for partridge that afternoon. You might figure gunnin’ is used in place of huntin’—but it isn’t. If you’re after deer instead of partridge, then you’re deer-huntin’. We seldom eat venison, either. We do eat a lot of deer meat, though. Or take that simple little word lot. There are, in New England, plenty of wood lots, four-acre lots, and even barn lots. However, there are no corn, potato, or oat lots. A pasture is generally considered to be a large, untilled area, often with several groupings of trees scattered here and there. But these trees do not constitute a wood lot. The stand of trees in a wood lot is bigger and thicker. A field of potatoes may also be a patch, but you cannot describe a field of grain with that word.
The smallest words may be the most difficult for outsiders to place correctly. In Maine, where I was raised, we had four directions: up river, down state, over to home, and from away. We went up to Boston, and from Boston we went out to Prouts Neck (near Portland, Maine). But from Prouts Neck we went up to inland Vanceboro (my hometown), whence we went over to McAdam, Canada, or down to Calais. Saint Stephen is just across the international border from Calais, but we went to Saint Stephen.
Every town in New England has its own set of tos, ups, downs, overs, and outs in relation to the rest of New England. And if you depend upon north-south logic, you’ll be wrong about half the time. For instance, everyone knows that one goes down the coast of Maine when one is sailing northeast, and up the coast when sailing southwest. The term “down east” originates from sailing downwind with the prevailing westerlies when traveling from Massachusetts ports to those along the Maine coast. However, one can go up to Bangor from Massachusetts. Correctly.
Up is a hardworking little word. It is added to brought, banged, warmed, let, picked, dressed, turned, and countless others. You also find up and did it, up and coming, up and around, and even “What are you upto?” Banks in Maine have drive-up tellers. (Connecticut banks have drive-in tellers.) You can shine up to someone, but that isn’t quite the same as taking a shine to someone.
Take is used in many situations, too. I can take another job, take after someone in the family, and take sick (during which time I ought to take it easy). A person can take off another person, meaning “mimic,” or take him down a peg. Take also can be added for seemingly no reason at all—as in “I’ll take and give him a good lesson.”
Well, with that I guess I’ll take a break till next month.
This has been the January 2017 edition of Jud’s New England Journal, the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor in chief of Yankee magazine, published in Dublin, New Hampshire, since September 1935, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac, now celebrating its 225th year.