Thoughts on Up and Downs and Overs and Outs
Jud’s New England Journal
For January 2013
Welcome to the January 2013 edition of
Jud’s New England Journal, the rather
curious monthly musings of Judson Hale,
the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, N.H.
Thoughts On Up and Downs
and Overs and Outs
From southern Maine, you must go “up”
to Bangor but “down” to Eastport. Confusing? Well, not to New Englanders…..
The New England language is probably easier to learn that one of the numerous New England accents. But like English itself, there are few rules. As soon as you’ve
identified a rule, you discover more exceptions than examples. For instance, you might hear a Maine man say he intends to go gunnin’ for partridge that afternoon. You figure gunnin’ is used instead of huntin’. But it isn’t. If you’re after deer instead of partridge, then you’re deer-huntin ! We seldom eat venison either. Eat a lot of deer meat, though. Or take that simple little word “lot”. There are in New England plenty of wood lots, four-acres 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 be a patch, but you cannot describe a field of grain with that word.
The smallest of words may be the most difficult for outsiders to place correctly. When I was growing up in Maine, we used to have four principle directions: up river, down state, over to home, and from away. From Boston we went out to Prout’s Neck (near Portland, Maine). But from Prout’s Neck, we went up to inland Vanceboro, whence we went over to McAdam, Canada, or down to Calais. St. Stephens is just across the international border from Calais, but we went to St. Stephens.
When it comes to tos, ups, downs, overs, and outs, if you depend upon north-south logic, you’ll be wrong about half the time. For instance, everyone knows one goes down the coast of Maine when sailing northeast, up the coast when sailing southwest. The term “Down East” obviously originates from sailing downwind with the prevailing westerlies when traveling from Massachsetts ports to those along the Maine coast. However, one can indeed go up to Bangor from Massachusetts. Correctly.
“Up” is a hard-working little word. It is added to brought, banged, warmed, tumbled, let, picked, dressed, turned, and countless others. Also you find, up and did it, up and coming, up and around, and even what are you up to? Banks in Maine have drive-up tellers. (Connecticut banks have drive-in tellers.) You can shine up to someone but that’s not quite the same as taking a shine to that someone.
“Take” is used in many situations, too. I can take another job, take after someone, or 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” can also be added for seemingly no reason at all — such as, “I’ll take and give him a good lesson.”
Well, on that note, I guess I better up and end this right about now.