New Jersey Patois

People in New Jersey were gratified to learn yesterday that one of the state’s signature expressions has found its way into the famed Oxford English Dictionary.

Here it is:

Fuhgeddaboudit: In representations of regional speech (associated especially with New York and New Jersey): ‘forget about it,’ used to indicate that a suggested scenario is unlikely or undesirable.”

That’s according to the OED. I have lived several years in New Jersey, and in my experience, the term also can mean what it sounds like, i.e., “Forget about it,” albeit with a frisson of hostility, which also is common in New Jersey dialogue.

My impression is that the term became popular in Mafia films and televisions shows, particularly “The Sopranos.”


Next year, if the OED compilers are looking for another, similar New Jersey expression, I would encourage them to check out this common term:

Whaddayouwant: This refrain traditionally is employed by employees of the state
Division of Motor Vehicles. It means, “Why don’t you go away and die?” and has been
adopted broadly by public employees and clerks at retail establishments.

Talking in New Jersey

Here are some additional constructions that can be useful to visitors to the Garden State.

Jersey: This is how many locals refer to the state. This reference is so well understand that no one confuses it with the other Jersey, one of the English Channel Islands. Confusion does arise among out-of-staters, who seem to believe state residents call their state “Joisey.” My guess is that an actor, possibly Joe Pesci, who was born in Newark, was instructed to use this incorrect pronunciation in one of the Mafia movies by director Martin Scorsese, who hails from Queens, New York, and may not know better.

Jersey Slide: This is a maneuver much favored by drivers on I-95, known as the Turnpike. Traditionally, the slide is a quick multi-lane change from the far left lane onto a freeway exit, but it can be employed for any quick crossing of two or more lanes, typically without the use of a turn signal.

Jughandle: This is a traffic innovation developed by Jersey engineers to help drivers make safer left turns on roads with heavy traffic. The jughandle (don’t ask me why it is one word) is a soft right that leads to a traffic signal at which the road can be crossed or a U-turn can be executed. Here is a descriptive sketch.

search.pngIt can take a little while to get used to driving on a road with jughandles, but they do make a certain amount of sense.

Benny: A term of derision popular with residents of the state’s coastal cities. “Bennies” are out-of-towners who vacation near the ocean and annoy local residents by taking up all the available parking spaces.

Down the shore: Bennies do not “go to the beach” in Jersey. They go “down the shore.”


New Jersey’s Most Common Words

By far, the most popular word in Jersey is fuck, which generally is used as a conversation filler and not necessarily with any concern for its vulgar definition. Another popular word is shithole, a local variation of “asshole,” the term of art in other states.

Yo is Jersey’s word for “hey.”

Here is a short conversation in Jersey-speak:

First Person: “Yo, let’s go down the shore!”

Second Person: “Fuck, yeah!”

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