of Dialect.-- Among the native-born fishermen of New England,
particularly those of the rural districts of Cape Cod and Maine,
a very pure, forcible English dialect is spoken. The inhabitants
of this region retain the peculiar modes of expression in use
among their English ancestors, who came to this country two
hundred years or more ago. It is estimated that 80 per cent
of the inhabitants of Cape Cod at the present day are lineal
descendants of English ancestors who settled the towns of that
district between 1620 and 1750, and the percentage is probably
equally as great, if not larger, on the coast of Maine. As is
well known, very many of the English immigrants to these regions
were men of education and good family. As a consequence the
English of the shore population and of the fishermen belonging
to those districts is pure, idiomatic, and strong. Many provincial
words, or words which were common use in England two centuries
ago and are now marked as obsolete in the dictionaries, are
still in use among them. There is now in preparation, in connection
with the work of the United States Fish Commission, a dictionary
of words and phrases in use among the fishermen of the United
States, which, when published, will afford much material deserving
of the attention of the philogists. There are many expressive
words and phrases in use among the fishermen- the technical
language of their handicraft applied to the operations of daily
life- which are full of meaning to those who know enough of
fishing to understand them. Various names for tools and operations
connected with their trade have been coined by them which are
peculiar and hae never found place in the dictionaries. Slang
is, as might be expected, very popular, and the slang phrases
invented by the newspaper paragrapher, the negro minstrel, and
the actor in the variety theater are as current among them as
in the streets of our towns and villages. The ordinary professional
slang of seamen is also prevalent among them, its vocabulary
being greatly increased by slang used only by the fishermen
Nordhoff, in a collection of short stories published under the
title "Cape Cod and All Along Shore," has given excellent illustrations
of the Cape Cod dialect, particularly that of Chatham, Harwich,
and the neighboring towns, the truthfulness of which is all
the more apparent when compared with the dialect in Miss McLean's
"Cape Cod Folks." "Peter Gott, the Cape Ann Fishermen," a story
by Dr. Joseph Reynolds, is also a treasury of good old Cape
Ann language. The "Fisherman's Own Book," the "Fisherman's Memorial
and Record Book," and "The Fisherman's Song Book," three little
volumes published by Procter Brothers of Gloucester, contain
many verses in dialect.
lines by Hiram Rich, of Gloucester, represent a fairly satisfactory
attempt- perhaps the most successful yet made- to record the
dialect of the fishermen of the olden time:
year, come herrin'-time,
Through many kind o' weather,
The "Wren" an' me have come an' gone,
An' held our own together.
Do' know as she is good and new,
Do' know as I am, nuther;
But she is truer'n kit' an' kin,
Or any but a mother.
me now to stay ashore,
But while we've hand an' tiller,
She'll stick to me an' I to her,-
To leave the "Wren" would kill her.
My feet have worn the deck; ye see
How watches leave their traces,
An' write on oak an' pine as plain
As winters on our faces!
all is said an' done,
There's somethin' sort o' human
About a boat that takes at last
The place o' child and woman;
An' yet when I have seen some things-
Their mothers let me toss `em-
My boat, she seemed a barnacle
`Longside a bran-new blossom.
to me the breeze off-shore
Comes out upon the water,
As if it left the grave of her-
No wife to me nor daughter.
Lor! If I knowed where green or no
The turf is sweet above her,
I'd buy a bit o' ground there,-wide
As a gull's wings would cover.
We know the
tricks o' wind an'tide
That mean an' make disaster,
An' balk `em, too-the "Wren" an' me-
Off on the Ol' Man's Pastur'.
Day out an' in the blackfish there
Go wabblin' out an' under,
An' nights we watch the coasters creep.
From light to light in yonder.
An' then ag'in
we lay an' lay
Off Wonson's Cove or Oakses-
None go by our compass-light,
Nor we by other folkses.
Ashore, the ball-room winders shine
Till weary feet are warnin',
But here an' there's a sick-room light
That winks away till mornin'.
we go nigher in,
To hear the bells a-ringin',-
I aint no hand for sermons, you,
But singin's allers singin'.
The weathercocks- no two agree-
Like men they arg' an' differ,
While in the cuddy-way I set
An' take my pipe, an' whiff her.
P'ison? Mighty s-l-o-w;
It makes my dreamin' clearer,
Though waht I fill it with now-days
Is growin' dear 'n' dearer.
I takes my comfort when it comes,
Then no lee-lurch can spill it,
An' if my net is empty, Lor'!
Why, how can growlin' fill it?
An' so we
jog the hours away,
The gulls they coo an' tattle,
Till on the hill the sundown red
Starts up the drowsin' cattle.
The seiners row their jiggers by;
I pull the slide half over,
An' shet the shore out, an' the smell
Of sea-weed sweeter'n clover.
sketch, quoted from a Boston newspaper, contains a fair example
of the fishermen's dialect:* [*The facts in the case are truthfully
described. The Rattler, while returning to Gloucester from a
voyage to Newfoundland, in January, 1867, was overtaken by a
furious gale in the vicinity of Cashe's Ledge. She was struck
by a heavy sea, thrown on her beam ends or rolled over, and
finally righted with the loss of both masts. She arrived in
Gloucester a few days later. ]
you, I see another fishermen has gone down,' said a rugged,
weather-beaten veteran of the sea to a reporter who, as was
his wont, had invaded the quarters of the old salt near Commercial
wharf. The speaker sat on an upturned keg, and had just finished
reading the account of the loss of the Maud S., which had gone
down near Half-Way Rock, off Portland Harbor, not long before.
Sometimes a vessel'll go down's easy's nothin','n' then agin
she'll live what you wouldn't say th' wus a ghost of a show.
Now, thar was the Rattler, pitchpoled over the shoals off Cape
Ann at midnight, some thirteen years ago, in a gale of wind,
`n' come right side up `n' got into port safe with every man
on board,' and the old man paused and patiently waited for the
preparatory `wall,' while a satisfied look overspread his face,
the captain continued:
the wust shoals on the New Englun coast is `bout twenty-two
league off Cape Ann, called Cashe's Shoals; yet fur all that
th'r ain't much said `bout `em, which I never could explain,
fur more vessels uv gone down thar than on any shoal of the
same size along the coast.'
are the shoals?'
sailin' either side a quarter `v a mile an' you're in sixty
or seventy fathom, but right on the shoals, which is only a
few rod across, the water ain't much over twenty feet deep.
Why, it's so shaller I've seen kelp growin' up on top o' the
water, an' when thar's a blow an' the big seas come rollin'
in thar's I've seen `em- a hundred feet choppin' down on the
bottom- I tell you it's cruel. No shop could live thar in a
storm, an' only smaller vessels can go over in calm weather.
Wall, the Rattler, as I was a speakin' of, wus comin' `long
down the coast from Newf'n'land loaded with frozen herrin'.
The night wus a black one, `n the cap'n was off his reck'nin'.
Leastways, fust thing any one knowned, a big sea lifted the
vessel an' pitched her forrard. She struck her nose on the bottom,
an' just then another big one struck her fair in the stern,
an' lifted it clean over the bow; her masts struck an' snapped
off; an' she went over the shoals an' floated in deep water
on the other side, fair an' square on her keel, with both masts
broke off to `ithin fifteen feet o' the deck.'
were the crew?'
were down below. They said it was all over afore they knew what
was up; they didn't sense it at all at first. They said, all
it was they was settin' thar `n then,' illustrating by a motion
of the hand toward the ceiling and back to the floor; `they
struck the deck `n then came down agin all in a heap on the
floor. They got up on the deck, kind of dazed like, an' thar
she wus, a complete wreck.'
the man at the helm?'
was lashed. But he said arterwerds, when he felt the old scraft
spinnin' over, he thought it was all over with him. He held
on ter the wheel fur dear life an' never lost his grip; but
I tell you that's a tremendous strain on a man.' And the old
captain clenched his large muscular hands as if he thought he,
too, for a time, was being subjected to the same strain. `He
wus pretty night gone; but they unlashed him, took him down
below, and did for all him they could. Arter they got into port,
he was laid up fur a long time, but finally come round all right.'
they manage to get into port with their vessel a wreck?'
a fair wind, the current was in their favor, an' they finally
fell in with a vessel that towed `em in all right. That was
the nar'rest `scape I ever heerd of fur a vessel.'
good angels were watching over the crew that night, sure. If
any one but you, captain, had told me that story I must say
I should have doubted it.'
you needn't doubt it, for it's gospel truth, an' the man who
owned the vessel was Andrew Leighton, of Glo'ster, an' the cap'n
who sailed her was named Bearse.' And then the veteran fish-dealer
brought down his clinched hand upon an ice-chest that stood
within reach with an emphasis that settled all debate more effectually
than the most successful gag-law ever put into practice by the
most astute politician."
of Marblehead Fishermen.-- The first settlers of Marblehead
came from the south of England, and many of them from the Guernsey
and other channel island, and the peculiarities of the dialects
of their ancestors are still observable in this old town. Roads,
in his History of Marblehead, says:
and quick was their pronunciation, and so strange were the idioms
characterizing their speech, that a native of the town was known
wherever he went. Nor was this peculiarity confined to any class
or condition of men residing in the town. All shared it alike,
of whatever rank or condition in life. The words were clipped
off very shortly, and in some sectinos were was a slight difference
in the dialect noticeable. The `Cuny Lane' people always dropped
the `h' in speaking, and their vernacular was much like that
of a cockney Englishman, in addition to that which betrayed
them `to the manner born.'
a family in the olden time escaped with a correct pronunciation
of its name. The name of Crowninshield became `Grounsel;' Orne
was transformed to `Horne;' Trefry was variously pronounced
`Duvy,' `Tevy', `Trevye,' and `Trefroy;' Quiner became `Coonier;'
Florence was clipped to `Flurry,' and Trasher was abbreviated
were many of the inhabitants to the cognomen by which they were
known that in some instances they did not recognize their own
names when called by them. An instance of this kind is related
in the `Life and Letters of Judge Story,' who was a native of
the town. Once while he was trying a case in the circuit court,
in Boston, the clerk called out the name of one of the jury
as Michael Treffrey (it being so spelt). No answer was given.
Again he was called, and still there was silence. `It is very
strange,' said the clerk, `I saw that man here not two minutes
ago.' `Where does he come from?' asked the judge. `Marblehead,
may it please your honor,' said the clerk. `If that's the case,'
said the judge,'let me see the list.' The clerk handed it up
to him. He looked at the name a minute and, handing back the
list, said,'Call Mike Trevye,' (throwing the accent on the last
syllable). `Mike Trevye,' called the clerk. `Here,' answered
a gruff voice. `Why did you not answer before?' asked the clerk.
`Treffrey is no way to pronounce my name,' said the juryman;
`my name is Mike Trevye, as the judge knows.'
anecdote to the same purpose is related in the work: `On one
occasion, when some of our fishermen were in court to settle
a mutiny which had taken place on the Grand Banks (of Newfoundland
), one, on being called to state what he knew, said that the
skipper and one of his shipmates had what he called a `jor of
ile.' The presiding judge in vain endeavored to get a more intelligible
answer, and finally Judge Story was called upon, as usual, to
act as interpreter to his townsman, which he did, telling the
court that a `jor of ile' in the Marblehead dialect was `a jaw,
a while,' which, being interpreted, meant that the two men abused
each other grossly for some time.
the dialect once so general among the people is now almost extinct,
there are many words used occasionally to know the meaning of
which would puzzle a stranger. Often when any of the natives
feel cold or chilly they will say they are `crimmy.' If they
lose their way in the dark and become confused or bewildered,
they will say that they were `pixilated.' In speaking of the
ceiling of a room many of the older people still call it `planchment.'
When a lady on examining a piece of sewing finds that it is
carelessly or improperly done, it is not unusual for her to
call the work a `frouch.' When food has been improperly cooked
it is spoken of as `cautch.' When very angry for any reason
it is a common occurrence to hear some one exclaim, `Squeal
`im up!' `Squeal something at him!' or `He ought to be squealed
up!' which being interpreted means, `Throw something at him!'
`He ought to be stoned!' `Stone him!' A crumb or small peice
of anything is called a `grummet,' and a sulky or ill-natured
person is said to be `grouty'."
of Grand Manan.-- A writer in the Gloucester Telegraph of
July 16, 1870, says: "The fishermen of Grand Manan have a patois
of their own. When one of them speaks of his `brush' you do
not at first suspect that he refers to his hair. His boots are
`stompers,' while his knife is a `throater,' and his apron is
a `barvil.' His hook is a `dragon,' and his boats `pinkies,'
`pogies,' and `jiggers.' He counts time by the tide, and covenants
with the parson to marry him to Suke about `slack water.' The
various preparations of flour and meal are known as `fish-smother,'
`duff,' and `joe-floggers'; hard bread and apples are `grunt.'
He applies `she to everything, from his wife to a cart-wheel