Berlin Dictionary | Only in New England
Photo/Art by John P. SchmelzerAs a native of Berlin, New Hampshire, Rachelle Beaudoin knows the difference between fesses and foufounes. She jokes about life behind the “Granite Curtain” and watches for “swamp donkeys” on the road at night. Every town has its own inside jokes and local lore, a secret language that natives speak fluently and visitors can only guess at. It’s a big part of what makes a place feel like home.
It’s that feeling that Beaudoin, an artist now living in Peterborough, New Hampshire, hoped to capture when she started compiling The Berlin Dictionary in April 2009. She put a call out for definitions and ended up with hundreds of entries from more than 70 contributors. The result is a tongue-in-cheek opus that pokes fun at everything from local landmarks (Alcohol Springs: a sandpit that’s a good place “to target practice, light fireworks, and burn tires”) to French Canadian slang (tatones: “boobs”) and even local fashion (UCBU jacket: an electric-blue windbreaker given away by the United Brotherhood Credit Union that everyone in Berlin wears because “it’s wrong to turn down a free jacket”).
Beaudoin isn’t surprised by the number of people who lined up to roast their hometown. Berlin could use a good laugh; long known as “the City That Trees Built,” Berlin’s last pulp mill closed in 2006. The dictionary gave residents a way to define what they love about Berlin, and to ignore the town’s challenges for a little while. “It’s written in a way that people could laugh at it and feel pride also,” Beaudoin explains.
So far it’s been a success. Residents have taken the ribbing in stride. Beaudoin was a little worried that her definition of the “Berlin ‘do” (“a hairstyle for women popular in Berlin for much longer than in the rest of the United States”) might offend, but even that went over fine: “They’d have the book at salons and old ladies would be reading it and laughing while they were having their hair set.”