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In one of his recent “Looking at Language” columns Richard Lederer wrote about the most often used noun in the English language. You might wonder how much spare time someone would have to have in order to waste that time coming up with a procedure for counting the number of times a certain noun is used. Anyway, as it turns out, the noun “time” is the most often used noun in our language.
The list of the language’s most often used words, according to Lederer’s column, was determined by the folks at the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. The dictionary relied on what is called the Oxford English Corpus, which according to Lederer, is a research project about English in the 21st century.
The whole business got me to thinking about our use of language here in Maine and how Down East English – the dialect I’m most familiar with - will fare in the 21st century. What would a list of the words most often used in Down East Maine look like? Okay, I hear you, and I agree that some of the most popular Down East words can’t be printed in this wholesome family publication. We’ll just leave those words aside.
Most would agree that “ayuh” would have to top any list of popular Down East words. When you hear “aloha,” you think of Hawaii; when your hear “shalom,” you think of Israel; when you hear a crude expletive you assume there’s a Massachusetts driver in the vicinity. In the same way, when you hear “ayuh” you think Down East.
Although many people in other linguistic jurisdictions have attempted to use that word correctly, at this time, none has been able to do it right.
While we’re talking about “ayuh,” we should mention that it is sometimes confused with the phrase “Maine ayuh,” which refers to the sweet-smelling stuff we get to breathe everyday. It’s also sometimes confused with “ayuh-line,” which refers to the state highway that runs between Brewer and Calais.
Speaking of Calais (pronounced cah-liss) don’t ever make the mistake of asking a Down Easter if you’re on the road to “kah-LAY,” because he or she will have no idea what you’re talking about. We can’t even count the number of out-of-staters who’ve stopped on Route 1 somewhere around Ellsworth and asked someone: Is this the road to cah-LAY? and were greeted with a blank stare.
Other popular Down East words that would have to appear on any “most popular” list would have to include: bondo, dite, daow, hawd, tad, cunnin, I’talian. jeezly, pucker brush and traluh.
I don’t know which is more used than the other. That’s up to someone with more expertise – and certainly more time -- to determine.
If you have any words to add to the collection just e-mail me.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly
throughout New England. John’s e-mail address is
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