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Mastering Boston Slang

A guide to some of the region’s quirky expressions

Travel to any part of this large and varied country and you’ll find words and expressions peculiar to that area. Kentuckians often call a seesaw a “ridy-bob.” West Virginians call playground slides “slicky slides.” Folks in Illinois sometimes refer to a potluck supper as a “scramble dinner.” And in Vermont, a soft-serve ice cream cone is called a “creemee.’

But nowhere are you likely to find more peculiar slang words than in Boston. Ask newcomers to town and they’re liable to tell you it’s similar to having to master another language. Order a milk shake and you’ll probably get a drink of frothed milk and syrup (no ice cream included). And those chocolate sprinkles you want on your sundae at JP Licks? They’re called jimmies.

To come to the rescue of the uninitiated, we commandeered several students who have been here a while to help translate—so when you hear the word “packie” or “bubbler” now, you’ll no longer be in the dark.

Alan Wong can be reached at alanwong@bu.edu. Jason Kimball can be reached at jk16@bu.edu.


3 Comments on Mastering Boston Slang

  • LarryO on 10.02.2017 at 10:44 am

    A wicked good video, but some explanations for a few of the words mentioned in the beginning were left out.
    Packie = Package Store, i.e. a Liquor Store
    Frappe = A milkshake everywhere else in the country
    Some more …
    The Pike = The Massachusetts Turnpike (i.e. I-90)
    The Expressway = The section of I-93 south of Boston, or the Distressway
    Sub = submarine sandwich, grinder, hoagie
    The B’s = Boston Bruins
    The C’s (or the Celts) = Boston Celtics
    The Sox = The Boston Red Sox
    The Pat’s = The New England Patriots
    GOAT = Tom Brady

    Welcome to Bawstin!

  • Ignatz on 10.03.2017 at 8:23 am

    Tonic = carbonated beverage / soft drink. “I need a tonic to go with my sub”

  • Norm Thibeault on 10.12.2017 at 10:43 am

    I finally got around to watching this video. Well-done. I’m originally from Rhode Island so knew most of these expressions. I remember coming to Boston as an undergrad at Northeastern and asking a server for a “cabinet.” Unsure of what I was requesting, she pointed to an actual wooden cabinet on the wall. In RI, a “cabinet” is a milkshake.

    Norm Thibeault
    Boston’s NPR News Station

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