A Linguistic Holdout in Menemsha Refutes “Nor’easter”
Updated: Oct 28, 2021
March 22, 2018: As the fourth northeaster in as many weeks bore down on us, the weather people and newspaper headline writers (with the local exception of the Vineyard Gazette) once again inundated us with “nor’easter.”
It was nor’easter this and nor’easter that. I might be able to accept this bastardization on an occasional basis but the wholesale replacement of northeast is just plain wrong. More than that, it is an example of the sloppy silliness that infects a great deal of reporting. And if one dopey reporter is going to stand next to a busy highway while a few snowflakes fall, or a seawall in Scituate as waves roll in (the required Scituate "live" shot) constantly referring to a nor’easter, rest assured most will follow suit.
This week I found a way to strike back.
Recently, the folks at WCAI, the local NPR radio station for the Cape and Islands, asked me to do some reporting from the Island. Although I know nothing about radio I agreed to give it a shot. They handed me a digital recorder, a microphone, and headphones and showed me how to turn the recorder on.
Will Rogers, I ain't. So I figured I would start slow and interview Everett Poole on the subject of nor’easters. If anyone could speak authoritatively on the subject it is Everett.
He is the quintessential Islander. Resourceful and a man of many talents, he is a retired fish dealer, former Chilmark selectman, and next month the 87-year-old will moderate his forty-first Chilmark annual town meeting.
I caught up to Everett in his chandlery where he sells marine supplies and provides a haven for locals who want to discuss most anything. Chuck Hodgkinson was there when I arrived. Chuck is an assistant to more boards than I can name, a fisherman, and a good guy, so I felt comfortable about proceeding with my interview request.
Everett balked at first but I explained that he was hindering my new career opportunity and he relented. But first he had to light his pipe — helps the thought process, I guess. Or maybe he figured he’d escape under a cloud of smoke if it didn’t work out well — or asphyxiate me.
I put on my headphones, held the microphone in front of Everett trying to remember not to hold it too close, and asked my questions. It all went well until I realized I’d plugged the mic into the headphone outlet and vice versa.
Once Everett and Chuck had stopped laughing I proceeded with take-two. I am under no illusions. We are battling the tide. Nor’easter will persist in common usage with the exception of those who gather in a cluttered shop in Menemsha. As far as Everett is concerned there is only one way to describe a winter storm with winds out of the northeast.
“I call it a no’theaster. Because that’s what it is. And that’s how you say it, and that's how you spell it or write it.”
Check out this essay on WCAI: "On Good Authority: There's No Such Thing as a Nor'easter"