Tawking the Tawk


‘”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.

My boss Harvey, the master of New Yorkese. Read about him in the ever-popular and hilarious “Harvey and the Grilled Half Goat Head”

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?”

Nope, not a golden delicious apple, but a prize gourd. Prize or no prize, I’m not gonna eat it

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?”

The Child sent me photos while she tried on wedding dresses

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.

And so she did: pick that dress and get married in it. Twice. Get the deets on both weddings in “Runaway Bride” and “Two Weddings are Better than One”

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?”

No “or what?” about it. That’s my mother all right

New York City. October 2022



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9 thoughts on “Tawking the Tawk

  1. A class in Brooklyn taught people to speak nonbrooklynese. Opening sentence: Class, repeat: “There is a flaw in the floor.”
    Class Response: “There is a floor in the flaw.”
    And so it went….
    So, do you get it, or what?

  2. Our pastor at church is from South Jersey and has an impressive accent. He sounds very much like the Vizzini character from The Princess Bride movie. You can imagine our surprise during his first homily!

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