Saturday, October 8, 2011

WBUR, Wicked Good Words and Auntie Nouritza

Wicked Good Words: From Johnnycakes to Jug Handles, a Roundup of America's ...By Mim Harrison

Sometime in September, WBUR interviewed (by phone) the author of the recently published book, WICKED GOOD WORDS, a book recording the regional use of words and expressions in the United States.  (Yes, we thought that with television, regionalisms would have gone "out the window", to use a regional expression!)  Marash Girl was pleased to recognize those expressions that were unique to New England.  (Rather, I should say that Marash Girl would have been ashamed not to recognize those expressions, as Marash Girl has lived in New England almost all of her life!)  She was so intrigued with the interview that she purchased the book and immediately began to read it.  Unfortunately Marash Girl left her copy of WICKED GOOD WORDS on an end table in Chatham without having finished reading the book.  Now all she has to rely on while writing this blog is her memory, so here goes.  

For Marash Girl, the two most intriguing expressions from New England were "package store" and "mooncusser".  Do you know what either of these expressions mean, or the history behind them?

Package Store:  No, in New England, this is NOT a UPS store.  Read on . . . After prohibition, because there was still a social stigma attached to drinking alcohol, folks were reluctant to have it known that they were purchasing even wine.  Thus men would head out the door, calling behind them, "I'm going to the package store!" and the obliging New England liquor stores would package up the alcohol -- be it wine, whiskey, or beer -- in plain paper wrapping, making honest men of the drinking New Englanders!

Mooncusser:  During the 18th and 19th Century, on dark nights along the rocky coast of New England, land pirates would head out to the beach (the rocky beach, that is) with lanterns to lure ships onto the rocks into certain destruction, and then, once the ships crashed onto the wrocks, he pirates would pillage the goods that the shipwrecks were carrying.  If the moon was out that night, the pirates could not commit their dark deed and therefore  they would cuss, or swear at,  the moon; hence the New England land pirate came to be known as a mooncusser.

Going beyond New England to Texas and Louisiana, Marash Girl found the expression "dirty rice".

"Dirty rice. A Cajun rice dish that involves chicken gizzards, and therefore gives the rice a brownish tinge.  That's your so-called dirt." (from Wicked Good Words)

The definition immediately brought to mind Auntie Nouritza, Marash Girl's mother-in-law's sister!  Marash Girl prided herself on making pilaf like her own mother (who was an Aintabtsi -- see earlier blogs on Aintab), but Auntie Nouritza prided herself on making pilaf that was pure white.  What was the difference?  Marash Girl made pilaf using turkey or chicken broth rather than water for the required liquid.  Then a young bride, Marash Girl proudly carried her freshly prepared pilaf to the table, perfect it was in flavor and color, only to have her new mother-in-law's eldest sister dismiss the pilaf with the words, Kirli Pilaf (Dirty Rice)!  Tough words for a new bride to hear!

If you want the Marash Girl's recipe for "Kirli" pilaf, please comment below, and Marash Girl may deign to share it with you!


  1. marashgirl's rice pilav, mixed with vermicelli, as taught her by her aintabzi mother, cooked in turkey juice, or chicken juice, is the best rice pilav i have ever eaten. aunt zabelle, as capable a woman as she was, never came close to the daily triumph of mother's and marashgirl's rice pilav. i am sorry for the inadequate palate of marashgirl's mother-in-law's sister. as someone once said, 'the poor are always with us'.

  2. @petersonIn answer to Peter's son -- Dad used to always tell the story of the Armenian evangelical preacher Bishop Krikorian (so called because he wore a white beard)-- When the potatoes were passed around the table (a rare treat for those of us who had rice pilaf every day), Bishop would pass the potatoes on without taking any, intoning the words, 'The poor are always with us! Pass the Pilaf!' has his book for sale, Wert, Miriam Taylor, Foreword by E. Morris Sider, Meshach Paul [M.P.] Krikorian, Meshach Paul Krikorian [Bishop] - Armenian Shepherd boy, survivor of atrocities, lover of all souls, lover of God, evangelist, preacher. His Life, His Early Writings, Reprint of his First Book -- The Spirit of the Shepherd. The Conquered of my life