At Large : That's not us talking
This is what makes columnists toss and turn at night.
An email like this one arrives: "You blew it again, Cabral. There is no such contraction as 'nor'easter.' The correct contraction for northeast is 'no'theast.' Nor' is used only when preceding west as in 'nor'west.'"
The author of this love note is Everett Poole, fish impresario, former Chilmark selectman, and current Chilmark town moderator, who in many immoderate moments over the years has jumped with both hip boots on something he's found in this newspaper, and especially on something I've written. Every time I put finger to keyboard, I'm aware that Everett, pipe fixed between his teeth, long-billed cap perched firmly on his gleaming head, will examine the result, ready to gaff me.
But, finally, he's overplayed his hand. Finally, he's played right into mine. Finally, he's taken the bait. Finally, I'm the one with the gaff.
Everett referred to a front page headline in the June 25 print edition of The Times, "Persistent nor'easter claims victim." The headline accompanied a news story and front page photograph of a sailboat thrown up on the beach east of R. M. Packer Company in Vineyard Haven. I often write headlines, but I didn't write that one. I had written "Persistent easterly claims victim", but in the late stages of production, someone substituted "nor'easter" for "easterly."
When I saw "nor'easter" in the morning in print, there wasn't anything to do about it. When I saw it on the website, I had it changed to "no'theaster." Everett is an ink on paper sort of fellow, so he didn't see the change on mvtimes.com. He figured he'd drag me gasping over the rail, club me, and shove me in the fish hold. Instead, he'll have to face it - and this will be hardest of all for him - we agree.
Indeed, wrong as he is to abuse me the way he has done, Everett is right, well almost right. There is no such contraction as "nor'easter", or to be precise, there is one that's often used, but it's not authentic, not in any sense of the word. It's pretentious, one of those silly affectations, like "board of governors" for the members of the Steamship Authority, as if they met every couple of months at the Federal Reserve in Washington to decide interest rates. It's a pronunciation whose users pretend to an unearned saltiness. It's falderal that's caught on.
Everett and I will have to fight stiff head winds and a roaring head tide to force a change in this settled "nor'easter" nonsense. Even as I type this, Microsoft Word says okay to "nor'easter" and underlines "no'theaster" in red. As historically, linguistically, and aurally baseless as "nor'easter" is, it's common among dilettantish New Englanders, writers, journalists, and poets, and it's accepted in dictionaries. You won't find "no'theaster" in the dictionary.
It's a non-word that no genuine New England salt like Everett ever uses. It's like Manhattan clam chowder, not chowder at all. It's like asking for scallops (sounds like gallops) when you want scallops (sounds like polyps). It's like sailing up-east. It's like me saying whuddup to my son. It's like saying hook up when you mean falling in love.