ACCENTS ON THE JERSEY SHORE.

I have not actually seen MTV’s show The Jersey Shore, but being a sentient American in the year 2012, I am of course aware of it, and I was amused by Dialect Blog’s post about it, pointing out that “Three out of eight of the original cast members are in fact from Staten Island, a working-class borough of New York City. Hence, their accents are more traditional New York than contemporary Jersey, exemplified by JS cast member Vinny Guadagnino” (whose non-rhotic accent you can enjoy in a clip provided in the post). I got there via Dave Wilton’s Wordorigins.org post, where Dave says he “can attest that this post is dead-on. The locals could spot the bennies easily, based largely on accent,” and adds an excursus on the word benny:

Benny is a mildly derogatory, Monmouth and Ocean County, New Jersey term for a tourist from upstate or New York. It’s fading from use now, but you’ll hear it occasionally. It even made an appearance on The Jersey Shore. … The origin of benny is uncertain. It could by from a New York term meaning “Jew,” but if so, it has lost all anti-Semitic connotation in the move south. Other explanations I’ve heard, but have no evidence for and which I suspect are etymythologies, are that the word is from people who come to the shore for the “benny-ficial rays of the sun” and from the fact that way back when, many people came to the beach bearing lunches packed in a shoe boxes from a Benny’s shoe store, which was somewhere up north.

I was reminded of grockles.

Comments

  1. For more on benny, see my 2010 On Language column.

  2. I always heard BENNY was Bayonne, Elizabeth, Newark, New York

  3. bradley: That’s a common folk etymology (supposedly based on train riders’ luggage tags), but there’s not a bit of evidence for it, as I discuss in the On Language column. It’s the “Port Out, Starboard Home” of the Jersey shore. I collected several similar acronymic explanations for a 2004 ADS-L post, including:
    * Bergen, Essex, Newark and New York
    * Bayonne, Edison, Newark, New York
    * Baltimore, Edison, Newark, New York
    * Be Extra Nasty to New Yorkers

  4. Color me non-sentient, then.

  5. I’ll color you lucky instead.

  6. Bones — an occasionally watchable though of course formulaic detective show, with a cultural anthropologist teamed up with an FBI stud to solve crimes — has an episode in which the super-logical, non-commensical “genius” anthropologist mistakes Jersey Shore for an actual documentary and then is excited when a murder takes place there because it gives her an opportunity to further observe the “Guido Tribe.” There are funny moments.
    For the record, I, like Hat, am sentient, but have never seen the show.

  7. If you’re interested in etymology, you may actually get something out of Jersey Shore – the characters have coined a number of phrases that are now widely understood by young people. I think “Grenade”, “the Robbery” and “GTL” would all be well understood, at least.

  8. My stab at the etymology of “bennie” as a Jewish reference: It derives from “b’nai” meaning “sons of” or “children of,” as commonly featured in the names of congregations (e.g.”B’nai Abraham”) or Jewish organizations (e.g. “B’nai Brith”).

  9. My stab at the etymology of “bennie” as a Jewish reference: It derives from “b’nai” meaning “sons of” or “children of,” as commonly featured in the names of congregations (e.g.”B’nai Abraham”) or Jewish organizations (e.g. “B’nai Brith”).

  10. Staten Island, a working-class borough of New York City
    That’s a bit of a generalization. W.G. Grace played cricket on Staten Island, at the Staten Island Cricket Club (mentioned in that novel Netherland). And then there’s Snug Harbor. I always rather liked Staten Island, and you can go to work on the ferry.

  11. the characters have coined a number of phrases that are now widely understood by young people. I think “Grenade”, “the Robbery” and “GTL” would all be well understood, at least.
    I am a young person and I have no clue what those phrases mean, nor do I think anyone I personally know would either. “Widely understood” might be a bit much.

  12. The first European name for New Zealand was Staten Landt, the name given to it by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman.
    I like the idea of changing the name to New Zealand. The Verrazano Bridge, linking Brooklyn with New Zealand has a nice ring to it.
    On the other hand “Did you know there are penguins breeding on Staten Island?” is also good.

  13. J.W. Brewer says:

    I don’t know about its current presence on Staten Island, but cricket in New York City these days is not really a toffs’ game but is rather played almost exclusively by immigrants of West Indian or South Asian extraction (or maybe both – there are supposedly in excess of 100,000 Indo-Guyanese and Indo-Trinidadians out in the farther reaches of Queens), generally in fairly non-posh parts of the city.

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    I am struck by the omission of “the” from the Jerseyism “down the shore” and the parallelism to the UK-ism “down the pub.” What’s up with this syntactic phenomenon?

  15. J.W. Brewer says:

    Um, make that the omission of “to.” More usual syntax would be to say one is going down to the shore/pub, but in these idiomatic contexts the “to” is apparently superfluous.

  16. I don’t know about its current presence on Staten Island, but cricket in New York City these days is not really a toffs’ game but is rather played almost exclusively by immigrants of West Indian or South Asian extraction
    Just as it was in that novel Netherland.
    Staten Island, a working-class borough of New York City…That’s a bit of a generalization.
    Yeah, but a fairly common one.
    I think “Grenade”, “the Robbery” and “GTL” would all be well understood [by young people], at least.
    Is 28 young? Because the only one of those terms I’m aware of I learned in that episode of Bones I mentioned — the deplorable grenade. Essentially when guys go out on the prowl and one ends up taking one for the team so his buddies can hook up with the hotter chicks in whatever group they’ve run into, that good soldier has jumped on a grenade. Yuck.

  17. John Emerson says:

    NYC’s Norwegian neighborhood is on Staten Island. They perform their colorful native dances for tourists and sell them lefse and herring.

  18. Is 28 young?
    Back when I was 21 I would have said that 28 is not young.

  19. I first read about the verb “grockle” here on Language Hat. I started to use it in conversation, which always required a definition on first hearing. Now several of my friends use the term. It must fill a gap. I have no idea if it will spread or die out.

  20. JW, cricket was never a toffs’ game. Even in England it’s played by everyone. Well, everyone except women. Even WG Grace’s sisters were only fielders, not batspersons or bowlers, whereas WG was playing for his county from the age of 9 or something, so it wasn’t a question of strength.

  21. In Scotland, golf (I am told) has no class associations.
    Of course, cricket has no class associations in the U.S. either. But that’s because as soon as one starts to explain the fielding positions, Americans immediately die of laughter, which prevents them from actually learning how to play.

  22. “In Scotland, golf (I am told) has no class associations.” Aye, even your uncle Eck would play.

  23. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think I initially mistook the reference to W.G. Grace to be a reference to W.R. Grace, 19th century NYC businessman/philanthropist/politician/perhaps-arguable-toff, esp since cricket-playing was in context supposed to rebut the characterization of SI as “working-class.” In terms of the class valence of SI, I work in a building in lower Manhattan right across from the ferry terminal so it’s an extraordinarily easy commute from SI. A quite substantial percentage of our secretaries live on SI. At any given moment, the number of our lawyers (out of 300-400 total) who live on SI tends to range between zero or one. There are some quite expensive houses on SI with presumably high-earning people who live there, but a different set of high-earning people than those who high-earning Manhattanites identify with (which, I hasten to add, probably says more about the snobbery of the latter than the non-poshness of the former).

  24. There is also Mt. Garbage, the highest elevation on the Atlantic Seaboard, and once the largest man-made structure in the world. But I usually think of S.I. as “the only Republican borough”.

  25. The Wu-Tang Clan have taught me most of what I know about Staten Island, or as they call it “Shaolin Land.” Of course, that’s not very much. Anyone who hasn’t should hear “C.R.E.A.M.” “Ice Cream,” “Liquid Swords” and “Nutmeg,”"One” or “Apollo Kids” from Ghostface Killah. Ghostface’s stuff is almost impenetrable but I can’t get enough of it.
    “From the slums of Shaolin.”

  26. Yeah, but I think there are artists there now, JW. After that starts it’s less than ten years before the lawyers move in and the secretaries and their parents move out.
    You’re right that WG Grace was there to rebut the working-class thing. There is an English upper-class side to cricket, much more so than in football (soccer), possibly because what remains of the upper-class plays Rugby Union more than soccer. The MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club, i.e. the England team & its governing body & gents’ club) is pretty stuffy if not solely upper class. Then there’s the Eton & Harrow annual match at Lord’s, the MCC’s cricket ground; and the old ‘Gentlemen’ vs ‘Players’ (pros) matches. But every village, school and university in England & Wales has its own cricket team, and the county and national sides have nothing to do with class, as far as I know.
    WR Grace has (had?) a swoopy-based black-glass skyscraper on 42nd Street, between 5th & 6th Aves. I think they nearly went out of business in the 80s because of asbestos lawsuits.

  27. Incidentally, here’s why no white man in his right mind would want to join the MCC. Red & yellow outfits.

  28. I like “etymythologies”.

  29. Common feet problems: with pics and video clips, this website could undeniably be one of the greatest in its niche
    Damned by faint praise.

  30. The Wu-Tang Clan have taught me most of what I know about Staten Island
    Yeah, but I think there are artists there now, JW. After that starts it’s less than ten years before the lawyers move in and the secretaries and their parents move out.
    Heh. Talk about talking past each other!
    To speak to Crown’s point, I haven’t heard of any (non-hip-hop) artist hotbeds in SI, but that’s not speaking much.

  31. I think that Americans would be more likely to believe that cricket is an upper-class to upper-middle-class sport like golf in America, and be surprised to hear that it is played non-professionally by ordinary people.

  32. What do you mean, John: that you doubt that it’s true, or merely that they would be surprised? I assure you that it’s true. Cricket is much more like baseball than golf. It’s also played informally by children, the British equivalent of having a basketball hoop on your garage door. It’s played in public parks, like a softball game, and a village side has a cricket ground, usually located in the middle of the village. I’ve never heard of a village or county team that has a social or political agenda or hierarchy, or that might exclude anyone on those grounds.

  33. Terry Collmann says:

    Ella Fitzgerald taught me most of what I know about Staten Island: also Delancey Street, Coney Island and Mott Street (or rather Rodgers and Hart as interpreted by Ella Fitzgerald did).
    Cricket, of course, began as a game for shepherds: one shepherd would stand in front of the wicket gate to the sheepfold, while another shepherd would throw a ball at the wicket gate to try to hit it. The “batsman” shepherd would have to defend his wicket by hitting the ball away with his shepherd’s crook.
    (All right, there’s no evidence for any of that at all, but it appeals to the romantic in me.)

  34. Terry Collmann says:

    Ella Fitzgerald taught me most of what I know about Staten Island: also Delancey Street, Coney Island and Mott Street (or rather Rodgers and Hart as interpreted by Ella Fitzgerald did).
    Cricket, of course, began as a game for shepherds: one shepherd would stand in front of the wicket gate to the sheepfold, while another shepherd would throw a ball at the wicket gate to try to hit it. The “batsman” shepherd would have to defend his wicket by hitting the ball away with his shepherd’s crook.
    (All right, there’s no evidence for any of that at all, but it appeals to the romantic in me.)

  35. Merely that they would be surprised, Mr. Lebowski. I’ll unpack what I meant to convey. I think that:
    1) Americans do not think of cricket as a working-class sport;
    2) Americans do think of cricket as an upper/upper-middle class sport, like golf in America;
    3) Americans would be surprised to hear that cricket is a classless sport.

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think at least via popular culture we Americans tend to think of English society as composed solely of Right Honourable Old Etonian toffs on the one hand, and chavs/spivs/soccer-hooligans-with-bad-teeth on the other. I suppose in reality the vast majority of the population must fall in between, but except for the occasional Monty Python bit making fun of chartered accountants and/or people from Luton (are those overlapping categories? I have no idea . . .), we don’t know much about them.

  37. I didn’t know about the shepherds.
    I think that croquet, and anything expensive like polo or ballooning, are more typically upper-class than golf, football or cricket. Rugby Union is somewhat upper- in England, but not at all in Wales.
    Having said that, I think the British obsession with class is a huge mistake and verging on sick. Left and right, they’re currently wallowing in Julian Fellowes: is he really upper class or is he just a social climber? Here’s the latest on that. Sick, sick, sick.

  38. J.W. Brewer says:

    It’s moments like these when I am reminded of the wisdom of the late Lester Bangs: “I would like to make a couple of things perfectly clear. 1. I do not know shit about the English class sytem. 2. I do not care shit about the English class system. I’ve _heard_ about it, understand. I’ve heard it has something to do with why Rod Stewart now makes music for housewives, and why Pete Townshend is so screwed up. I guess it also has something to do with another NME writer sneering to me, ‘Joe Strummer has a fucking middle-class education, man!’”

  39. I still miss Lester Bangs. I was shocked as hell when he died.

  40. I think there’s a distinction to be made between snobbery which seems to be a human failing and something I’ve encountered it all over the place, even in Norway, and class distinction, assigning everyone to some layer, which is British, maybe even just mostly English. It’s fun to look back on, from Jeeves to Downtown Abbey, but the problem is the applause only encourages them to perpetuate it, like damned performing seals.

  41. J.W.: It’s also what you Americans think of us New Yorkers: we are all either Donald Trump or Bowery bums. Not so (and there is a pretty expensive hotel on the Bowery a half-block from my pre-Old-Law-tenement building, way too pricey for me to afford dinner there, never mind a room).

  42. Trump or bums, you’re all wearing too much black.

  43. Not I, I have one black shirt, and it’s so washed out you can hardly call it black. But I understand the people who do: they are trying to avoid wardrobe malfunctions. For myself, I divide the colors into earth and sky colors, and always wear earth with earth or sky with sky, and I don’t go too far wrong. That and, of course, not to wear two colors of the same hue and different shades.

  44. I should say that I haven’t been to NY for nearly eight years, so I’ve no idea really if people still wear black from top to toe. I did notice some horrible black-satin-shirted men wearing dinner jackets at the Oscars, though. I hadn’t thought of the earth vs sky clothing, I’ll have to look out for that. I suppose the worst would be an upside-down outfit of earth shirts with sky trousers. I didn’t know I shouldn’t wear different shades of the same hue. I know you’re not supposed to wear brown shoes with a blue suit (nor vice versa, presumably), so sometimes I do it to show what a rebel I am. Most men in New York don’t, or didn’t, even own brown shoes.

  45. H.M. the Beast:
    Here’s Eric Flint in 1632, a novel about what happens when an American small town is picked up whole in 2000 and dropped into Thuringia in 1631. It’s the first wedding between a 17th-century German and a 21st-century American:
    For the German participants and onlookers, the wedding came as something of a promise. Or, perhaps, a reassurance. Although they now numbered well over half of this new society coming into existence, the Germans — former refugees, mercenaries, camp followers — were well aware of their subordinate position within it. They were still groping to understand, much less accept — much less feel they were accepted.
    The habit of centuries had shaped them. The acid of hereditary privilege had corroded their souls. Without even being aware they were doing it, the German newcomers automatically reacted to Americans as commoners to nobility. It didn’t matter what the Americans said. Words are cheap, especially the promises of aristocracy to their underlings.
    What mattered — what had always mattered, more than anything — was what people are. And the Americans, it was plain to see, were nobility. It was obvious in everything they said and did, and didn’t say and didn’t do. It shone through in their simple carriage.
    Had they been told, the Americans would have been mystified. Their own centuries had also shaped them, and healed an ancient wound. Every American, on some level, took a fundamental truth for granted. I am important. Precious. Human. My life is valuable.
    That attitude infused them, whether they knew it or not. And it was that unspoken, unconscious attitude which the German newcomers immediately sensed. They reacted automatically, just as Gretchen had instantly assumed that an American schoolteacher was really a duchess. Just as Rebecca had instantly assumed that a coal miner was an hidalgo.
    Ingrained habits, beaten into people by centuries of oppression and uncaring cruelty, cannot be removed by words alone. Deeds are also necessary, especially deeds which cut to the heart of the thing.
    Some people are really human. Most are not.
    Good blood. Bad blood. That simple, vicious dichotomy had ruled Europe for centuries. For more than a decade, now, it had turned central Europe into a charnel house. The nobility, as always when they bickered over the price of their meat, presented the butcher’s bill to the common folk. And why not? Those people don’t value life much anyway. They don’t feel pain the way we do.
    Good blood, bad blood. Today, in the clearest way possible, the Americans were making a pledge to their new brethren. We do not care. It means nothing to us.
    [Me again. That's the voice of civic nationalism.]

  46. Very interesting, John. I’ll have to read that.
    Oddly enough, when I wrote a comment on the Guardian article about Julian Fellowes, saying it was about time Britain got rid of its obsession with class, someone responded with ‘It ain’t gonna happen. You might as well tell the Germans to stop being efficient and the Americans to stop being patriotic’. A silly comparison that doesn’t work, but coincidental anyway.
    On the history of nationalism, I must just once again recommend Benedict (brother of Perry) Anderson’s book Imagined Communities. He’s a professor at Cornell, an expert on the Far East who grew up there, so he can make all sorts of world-wide comparisons. A page or two will give you enough to think about for weeks, it’s just wonderful.

  47. I second Mini’s recommendation of Imagined Communities; it is indeed wonderful and endlessly thought-provoking.

  48. Ordered!

  49. It arrived, to be read in the next few days.

  50. It may take longer than that, or are you like the historian Keith Thomas, who says he can “gut” a book in half-an-hour? I prefer to read the old-fashioned way.

  51. No, I just read quickly as a gift from the gods. But of course thinking may take far longer than reading, and is a far less conscious process.
    In any case, what I meant was “begun in the next few days”.

  52. Not only ordered but received — Kindle, baby! I still doubt I’ll finish before John, though.

  53. So far, two things have jumped out at me: the notion that most people in the world are monoglots (surely not) and the claim that there are no multinationals in book publishing (probably true in 1983, certainly not true in 2012, when there is hardly anything else).
    Still eagerly reading, though.

  54. the notion that most people in the world are monoglots (surely not)
    Why “surely not”? It’s possible that a majority of people know more than one language, but it doesn’t strike me as obvious. All those Chinese and Indian peasants certainly don’t know English, and I’m not sure why they’d need to know anything beyond the language in daily use in their village.

  55. Here’s the actual passage:

    In the sixteenth century the proportion of [Latin/vernacular] bilinguals within the total population of Europe was quite small; very likely no larger than the proportion in the world’s population today, and — proletarian internationalism notwithstanding — in the centuries to come. Then and now the bulk of mankind is monoglot.

    And yet the 2001 census of India, which asked people to list up to three languages in order of claimed proficiency, shows that about 25% of all Indians are bilingual or multilingual. In cities, the bilingualism tends to be with English (which is the now second most spoken language in India, far behind Hindi but well above Bengali); in rural parts, it tends to be the village variety and the regional standard. I don’t have data on Africa, but anecdotally it’s the same story.
    Of course, Anderson’s not a linguist, and even those who are disagree about whether two varieties are dialects or separate languages. In China, we can’t get any official data about the Han majority (about 92%), since they all speak Chinese — by definition.
    In any event, I forgot that you were one of those who take a strict interpretation of most.

  56. I don’t know how anyone could take 75% not to be either “the bulk” or “most,” on whatever interpretation. And in any event, not agreeing with your (surely minority) interpretation of “most” is hardly grounds for disparaging the author.

  57. Ahem. I didn’t disparage the author, I rejected two statements in his book. One is out of date, which is no fault of the author’s; the other is perhaps misleading in its comparison of Latin/vernacular bilinguals in 16th-century Europe to bilinguals worldwide in the 20th century. I very much doubt that at any time since the fall of Rome as much as 25% of Europeans could read and write in Latin.
    I also note that the fraction of bilingual Indians has been rising since at least 1931, which suggests that the prophetic part about humanity remaining monoglot is perhaps not so obvious as Anderson made it out to be.
    Making steady progress with the rest of the book….

  58. J.W. Brewer says:

    For some populations, however, bilingualism of the village-variety/regional-standard type may be a transitional phrase. Phase One: peasants etc. speak only the village variety; Phase Two: mass media plus compulsory primary education mean the peasants’ kids add the regional standard; Phase Three: local varieties are crowded out by the phenomena mentioned in Phase Two and only the regional standard remains – or at least the distance between the local variety and the regional standard becomes small enough that even splitters will view them as varieties of the same language rather than distinct languages.

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