I have traveled to many parts of this country, mostly
along the eastern seaboard, I have lived my entire
life in New York, in case you couldnít tell. I was
raised in New York City, first on the Lower East Side
of Manhattan, where as a young Jew growing up in the
tenements, I got my mandatory training as a comedian.
Then, later on, we moved to the seashore community of
Rockaway Beach, where I acquired the skills of a beach
bum, something that may come in handy when I
eventually move to Florida, which is a fate I
apparently cannot escape. Try as you might, sometimes
you cannot avoid your destiny. The majority of my life
has been spent on the Island of Long, nestled between
the Long Island Sound and the Great South Bay of the
Atlantic Ocean. I learned nothing of value, by the
way, from this part of my life, having acquired all
the skills I am apparently capable of before I arrived
on these rocky shores.
I never gave much consideration to what kind of an
accent I possess as my use of language changed with my
environment. When I went to college in Brooklyn, I
acquired the popular phrases of the day. Such as,
"Might" and "Might ever" which
could mean the same thing or the opposite depending on
the context it was said in and the tone of voice. The
sarcastic tone would mean that you meant the opposite
of what you were saying. I know itís confusing which
is why you had to be there. Since most of you
werenít, youíre just going to have to take my word
for it. I havenít steered you wrong yet, at least
not that you know of. Besides, I wouldnít lie to you
unless, of course, it got me somewhere. Though people
throughout the world associate Brooklyn, NY with
certain abuses of the English language, such as
pronouncing words that begin with the letter
"T" as if it were in fact a "D" (dems
and dos for them and those) and adding an unnecessary
"se" to words that end in "ou"
such as "youse guys." Another classic
example of Brooklynese that is typically portrayed in
movies and on TV is to pronounce words with "oi"
in them as if they were "er" such as
"Iíll berl you in earl." And of course, we
mustnít forget the classic line, "Meet me at
toirdy-toid and toid" (thirty-third and third).
Sorry to disappoint those of you who believe this
stereotype, but frankly, in all my years of living,
working, and going to school in Brooklyn, I never
heard anyone ever utter such phrases. Oh yeah, and
they donít grab their crotches and yell, "Frigginí
A," or "I got your salami right here!"
Alas, Joe Pesci, the quintessential Brooklynite, is
actually from New Jersey, where they do really talk
That isnít to say that New Yorkers and
Brooklynites do not have their own peccadilloes when
it comes to speechifying. My late wife, Diane, who was
Brooklyn born and bred, used to deny having any
accent, but I always loved to tease her about the way
she said certain words. Especially plural words that
end in "S." She used to pronounce them as if
they ended in a "Z" instead. For example,
she would love to eat cheese and crackerz. I also
loved the way she pronounced the word ears, though I
am not sure I will be able to spell it so you will get
the proper inflection. She had sort of a Bostonian
elongated sound to the e and an h to the r so it came
out like eayehz. So, if I was committing the cardinal
sin of scratching the inside of my ear in public, she
would lambaste me with, "Get your fingehz out of
you eayehz. I wish we had sound here so you could hear
my dead-on impression. Actually you can hear it at the
Web page. Now my parents and their cronies who come
from the East Side of New York City use the
"z" ending for only two "s" words
that I am aware of. And they elongate it a bit, too,
but just a tad. They pronounce the words bus and gas
as buuzz, and gaazz. My two lovely daughters were
raised on Long Island but to hear them tell it you
would think they were born in the Chemlawn plant
because they came from Lawn-Guy-Land. What can you
expect from two Jewish American Queens? They skipped
the princess stage and went right to the top.
I never really fully understood the regional
differences in American speech until the first time I
went to Saginaw, MI in December 1999 to meet CheyAnna
(a.k.a. Carol OíConnor) for the first time. We met
in a chat room for single middle-aged people who were
dissatisfied with the available pool of potential
mates in the local area who were vacuous, empty-headed
bimbos and bimborinos, who lacked the verbal skills to
fill out a rebate ticket for a box of Skittles, and
who had all the charm and appeal of a pregnant possum
at Christmastime. In other words, we were desperate.
However the fates put us together, it was my first
time in Michigan and the furthest west of New York
that I had ever traveled. Prior to this, my furthest
venture toward the setting sun took me only as far as
western Pennsylvania. So now I was practically in gold
The first time I ate in CheyAnnaís home, she
offered me a beverage. As I recall the conversation,
it went something like this.
CheyAnna: "What would you like to drink?"
Irv: "Iíd like a soda if you have any."
CheyAnna: "Whatís the matter? Donít you
Irv: "I feel fine. Why do you ask?"
CheyAnna: "Because you asked for soda."
Irv: "O.K. I should have been more specific. I
meant a diet soda like Diet Coke or Seven-Up. What do
you drink with lunch?
Irv: "My pop is in Florida. (This was
beginning to sound like an old Abbott and Costello
routine like "Whoís on First?")
CheyAnna: "No, here we call it pop."
Irv: "Then what is a soda, and why did ask if
I wasnít feeling well?"
CheyAnna: "Because here soda is short for
bicarbonate of soda like, sometimes used as stomach
antacid like Alka Seltzer or Bromo.
Irv: "I see. I had no idea I would need an New
York to Michigan dictionary or I would have purchased
one on Amazon before I left."
Because of this and other subtle differences in
what we call things and how we speak, I was beginning
to understand that New York and Michigan were two
states separated by a common language. The only prior
similar experience that I had was when Diane and I
took my kids to Disney World in Orlando, FL in 1988.
We were ordering food at a Damonís restaurant and
Diane told the young waitress that my daughter, Elana,
will have the childrenís special, the frankfurters.
The waitress was dumbfounded and had no idea what we
wanted. I, of course, thought the problem was
Dianeís Brooklyn accent when, a la Joe Pesci, she
pronounced it "frankfuterz." Alas, that was
not the problem. After a grueling interrogation, it
turns out that this young Orlando born and bred lass
had never heard of the term frankfurters, though I
though that was the common name for that particular
sausage considering that it was allegedly invented in
Frankfurt, Germany. When we changed the order to hot
dogs, as it was listed in the menu, she immediately
understood our translation. I asked her what else she
calls them and she replied, "Wieners."
I suppose I should not have been surprised at the
regional differences in our language because even
within our own state they have different names for
things. When I was in college, my friends and I did
some traveling around New York state and went as far
as Buffalo in the western corner of the state. You may
have heard of this place which is famous for its
wings. They are small. kinda like chicken wings, but
spicy and served with a ranch dressing. Anyway, as we
were traveling north from New York City, I began to
see signs advertising something called "Red Hots"
all along the highway. As we left the New York
metropolitan region, wherever we went there were signs
for these red hots. I had no idea what they were as
they seemed to be associated with roadside stands.
When I was a kid, Red Hots were tiny red candies that
tasted like peppery cinnamon. Surely they could not be
serving that as a meal, could they? Finally, while
stopping for one of our mandatory bathroom and gas
breaks, I asked the attendant what a red hot was and
he informed me that it was a hot dog. Go figure. I
lived in New York all of my life and never heard a hot
dog referred to as a red hot. But then again, those
weird people from upstate New York also put mustard on
their hamburgers while we downstaters would never do
such a thing. It would be a desecration of good meat.
Speaking of sandwiches, I also learned that our
traditional hero sandwich( a long Italian roll stuffed
with meat and cheeses or sausage, peppers, meatballs,
mozzarella, etc.) goes by different names in different
areas. It has also been called a hoagie, grinder,
torpedo, submarine sandwich, and probably a host of
others that I have not yet heard about. A popular
sandwich in the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area of New York
is called Beef on Weck. It took me more than thirty
years to find out that it is a roast beef sandwich on
a Kaiser roll, since we donít have any "weck"
in our delis downstate.
I have since learned that a big Ivy League college(
I have also since forgotten which one) conducted a
study as to which parts of the country say pop and
which say soda. They confirmed that if you live on
either coast of the United States, you are more likely
to order a soda with your burger and fries, and if you
are from the middle states you are a pop drinker. Then
there is the South. It seems if you are from the South
or even visiting the South, no matter what type of
carbonated beverage you are drinking, son, you are
drinking a Coke. I am sure the Pepsi people are not
too thrilled with that.
My pop lives in Florida, and for the purposes of
that survey, Florida is in the South. (In reality,
since 90% of the people who live in Florida are from
either New York or Michigan it cannot be considered a
southern state even if it is located in the South.) So
when we go down to visit my folks, instead of popping
open a pop, or sipping a soda, I guess weíll all be
doing Coke. Since Iíll be going down there next week
to visit, Iíll be sure to say high to the folks for
And THAT, was my two-cents plain!
the artist formerly known as ŰŅŰ
Copyright Irving Eisenberg