In 1957 with only $5 in my pocket I left St. George, Maine, and hitchhiked to California.

In a small store by the highway somewhere near Uvalde, Texas, I conversed with the man behind the counter. Trying to imitate the Texan drawl, I said something about Texas. He replied with something about taxes. In an oblique manner, he was making fun of me. Not being a complete fool, I realized it. And since that day I have not tried to change the way I learned to talk at my grandmother’s knee.

This was brought to mind by a newspaper article that mentioned the contrived movie accents of actors before 1950. That accent was “among the weirdest ways of speaking in the history of the English language” and it vanished within a decade because it wasn’t entirely natural.

There is, however, another weird way of speaking. It is the accent employed by the people born on the coast of Maine before 1950 who try to talk like people “from away.”

It manifests itself when they try to pronounce the postvocalic r.

They feel that it keeps them from sounding provincial and hopefully lends them an aura of sophistication. Alas. Instead of masking a lack of education, it broadcasts it.


When my brother was in college down at Gorham, not needing to impress anyone, he talked naturally. Pearl Fickett, his English professor, insisted that he try to sound the -ing at the end of words. He said it made him sound like an explosion in a bedspring factory.

Around 1971, I taught with my friend Katey’s grandmother, Mrs. Burns, in the Friendship school.

Katey said of her father: “One of my father’s Harvard professors thought he was a foreign student.”

Katey’s father, Professor Burns, impressed me. I used to see him, dressed in bib overalls and a big straw hat, wandering about the Common Ground Fair, hoping that no one would suspect that he had a Harvard Ph.D in some obscure kind of mathematics and taught at one of our military academies. As a boy from Friendship, Maine, he had rock-solid credentials and really didn’t need to prove that he could pass for a native.

Isaac Asimov was an American writer and professor of biochemistry at Boston University. The other day I was re-reading one of Asimov’s “Foundation” books when I came across a chapter that amused me greatly. It concerned an ambassador from some planet where the highly educated all had Boston accents and only the lowest-born pronounced their rs. Asimov wrote the dialogues in eye dialect so we could see that there was no r in any of the words the ambassador said. Although – and get the significance of this – when the ambassador got excited he’d revert to type, and use an r.

Asimov, who was a very perceptive and funny genius, must have enjoyed that immensely – as have the millions of his fans who have read it since.


Many, many years ago I wrote a dialogue taking place in a town where the educated people talked like I did and the impoverished and uneducated talked like people from away.

I was motivated to do so when Marshall Dodge released his first famous “Bert and I” record of stories back in 1957. I had recently met him because he’d been hanging out here in town with one of the local girls. Her brother brought him up here from Yale. Marshall Dodge had listened to me intently at the Spruce Head dance hall. He was taller than I, and had to bend down to hear me over the noise. I remember it well.

The letter containing the dialogue I sent to Marshall Dodge was written years before we had computers, but if you were to dig around you’d probably find a hard copy in one of my old filing cabinets. At first I was flattered that a rich kid from away and a year my senior would be interested in anything I had to say. But when the “Bert and I” record came out, I realized that he was not interested in what I had to say but how I was saying it. For years, many radio friends thought I was putting on an accent in an effort to sound like Marshall Dodge. It annoyed me.

So I was not a fan of Marshall Dodge.

Until, more than twenty five years later, I discovered that the great Marshall Dodge had paved my way to standing on stages and simply talking.

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