‘”New York” as a second language’
I once worked with a fabulous art director named Jayne. (Hi, Jayne!) She was — and probably still is — not only visually talented, but verbally funny.
I forget now where she grew up, but she was living in New Jersey when we were working together and she was concerned that her daughter was picking up the accent.
“Mommy, Mommy,” the Little Cherub cried while playing on their outdoor deck. “I have a splintah!” It says something about Jayne’s devotion to good diction that she corrected her daughter’s pronunciation before extracting the “splin-ter.“
Speaking of accents, you may have a good idea of what a New York accent sounds like even if you’ve never spent time here in the City. (Note: New Yorkers never refer to their town as the Big Apple; it is “the City.” But, yes, some do refer to it as “New Yawk.”)
Well, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t the intonation that is the “tell” that gives away a New Yorker. Nope. It’s this little construction.
To speak like an authentic died-in-the-boroughs New Yorker, all you have to do is put a “So” on the front of a sentence, and an “or what?” on the end.
Normal person: “Are you going to park there?”
New Yorker: “So. Are you going to park there, or what?”
Normal person: “Are you going to eat that apple?”
New Yorker: “So. Are you gonna eat that apple, or what?”
Notice how, with these two simple additions — “so” and “or what?” — you have turned an innocent question into a query that is, well, slightly intimidating. Pure “New York.”
Here are some more:
Normal person: “Do you like this dress?”
New Yorker: “So. Do you like this dress, or what?”
Normal person: “Will you marry me?”
New Yorker: “So. Will you marry me, or what?”
Hmmm. In the New Yorker case, I guess she’d better.
Now I could go on, but I bet you’d like to try some of your own. Oh okay. I can’t help myself. Here’s one more:
Normal person: “Is that your mother?”
New Yorker: “So. Is that your mother, or what?”
New York City. October 2022