A recent email from Karen in Massachusetts asks a good question that has been asked many times and in many ways.
She writes: "John, I know a lot about Maine word usage. I know about “pucker brush,” “cunning” and “numb.” But there’s one word I’d like to know more about. You can't go too far in Maine before hearing the word “ayuh.” I'm just curious, John, does anyone know where this uniquely Maine word - “ayuh” came from?
Thanks for the email, Karen. Questions like yours about Maine's unique word for expressing an affirmative have been asked many times. But as the maple syrup people say, "it all boils down to one thing" - but at the moment, unfortunately, I can't remember just what that one thing is.
All seriousness aside, Karen, most experts agree that Maine's 'ayuh' probably came to us from early Scottish settlers.
The late John Gould said 'ayuh' is the one word that only true Mainers can say and use properly. So why does every flat-lander who crosses the Piscataqua River feel the need to say it a few dozen times a day during his or her visit? Who knows?
As for its origin Gould said that years ago a Scot - wanting to respond in the ffirmative - might use the customary Scottish 'aye,' and then out of deference to his non-Scottish audience he might add “yes” or “yuh” Gould speculates that over the years aye-yes became Maine's signature word - ayuh.
Alice from Maryland emailed: “John we’ve had a place in western Maine for years and every year it’s the same thing. When we go to the country store in town for groceries we always see the same people sitting in the same places doing the same thing – drinking undrinkable coffee. Who are these people, John and why don’t they have anything better to do?
Thanks for the email Alice. I can’t answer without more details but the scene you describe is repeated in every Maine town with a quaint store. They’re all just doing what they know they do best and doing it very well.
Lawrence from Cranston, R.I. writes: "John, Is it true that the holiday Labor Day was first observed over 100 years ago here in Maine?"
Thanks for the email, Lawrence. There is absolutely no proof that Labor Day was first dreamed-up here in Maine - but such minor details have never stopped us from making up stories about where Labor Day came from.
You have to understand that for almost 100 years now Maine has been a tourist Mecca. During that time we've looked for clever ways to manage our summer visitor population. According to our admittedly shaky historical sources - Labor Day was first created in Maine as a friendly reminder to tardy tourists that summer was over and it was time to haul up the boat, lock up the cottage and go back home.
Henry from New London, Conn. writes: "John, Maine used to have a sign at its gateway in Kittery that read: "Maine: The way life should be." If that is so, what's wrong with Connecticut?"
We are limited by space constraints, Henry, so I couldn't begin to say what's wrong with Connecticut. (Just kidding)
That saying: Maine: The way life should be, does not imply, Henry, that there's anything wrong with the other 49 states and a life lived in those states is not worth living. OK, maybe it does.