I could not sit idly by last week as University of Pennsylvania researchers announced findings that the Philadelphia accent may very well be fading.
So as a NewsWorks colleague set out to determine exactly what that meant, I took it upon myself to defend the oft-mocked accent, and explain why, no matter how the city changes, its residents will likely always say “wooder.”
The full essay is below, and you can read the original on NewsWorks.
I drink wooder, and I take it very seriously.
There are no quotation marks around my wooder, and I don’t get a smirk on my face when I ask for a glass of it with iyce at a restaurant. My wooder is not ironic or sarcastic.
I’m from Philadelphya and that’s how we talk. There’s really not a lot more to it.
Research from the University of Pennsylvania says the infamous Philly accent, the one no non-native actor has ever really been able to capture and no transplant has ever really been able to perfect, is fading. I suppose that’s inevitable. We can’t really expect a bunch of out-of-towners to move here, rename neighborhoods (oh hey, Newbold — and North, South, East, West, Olde and New Kensingtons) and not influence the language, right? That’s just the way things go.
For the record, research indicates our wooder isn’t actually going anywhere. It’s stuff like cow and now — or cal and nal if you’re talking to a lifer — that are in danger of “northernization.”
I’ve been defending the Philly accent since college, when I got to Temple. Despite the university’s relatively local reach, I found very few Philadelphyins and a whole bunch of people who thought I talked funny.
Do I giggle when you tell me you have to do a load of warsh? No. So please, keep a straight face when I ask, “jeet yet,” and I’ll pretend it’s not funny that you’re pahking the cah.
The thing is, I’ve never heard anyone poke fun at the Boston accent. Or that old-timey New York City accent that’s really just become the default accent when someone wants to sound “urban.”
Defending the Philly accent, for me, is about defending Philadelphyins. It’s part of my identity. An identity that also includes a college degree, civic contributions, an unhealthy obsession with all 100 or so neighborhoods and, yes, appearances on public radio.
So ‘scyooz me fer a sec when I get juss a tad irritated when people start talking about (or celebrating) the demise of part of my identity. And the identity of countless others whose accent is walking, talking proof of their devotion to this city.
For those who hate it, the accent is synonymous with Philly oldheads — resistant to change, wary of outsiders and standing in the way of bike lanes and progress in general. But I use that accent at my neighborhood civic association meetings. I use it at my job, which I have a college degree for. I use it to yell — ok, curse — at drivers. From my bicycle.
And I’m not the only one.
We may lose a few strong vowels (I call ’em vals) or two, but the Philly accent is not going anywhere anytime soon. Because if you think that lady walking up Pasheeyunk Avenue is going to stop saying Ac-a-me just because her neighbor pronounces it Acme, then you must not be a full-fledged Philadelphyin yet.
Because only a true Philadelphyin, old or new, knows that no matter who lives here or where they’re from originally, the pipes will always be full of wooder, and the tap will always be preferable to a bottle.
And even when oldheads and newbies can’t get along, they’ll always have “jawn.”