11,000 readers tested their knowledge of Boston slang. Here’s where they disagree.

Wicked, pissa, or wicked pissa?

Boston,Ma- January 11, 2023- photo by Stan Grossfeld/ Globe Staff- Boston Celtics vs. San Francisco Warriors- Celtics fans cheer overtime victory.

Readers are flaunting their skills after testing their knowledge of Boston slang.

After more than 11,000 readers quizzed themselves last week we noticed two things. One, our readers are very proficient when it comes to the local slang. And two, there may be more than one way to use some of the words. In a question that asked readers to describe something as awesome, we provided multiple choice answer options of “wicked,” “pissa,” or “ripper.” Readers had little issue ruling out “ripper,” otherwise known as a massive party, but were somewhat split when it came to “pissa” and “wicked.” The results showed that 41% of readers answered “wicked,” and 56% answered “pissa,” with the remaining 3% answering “ripper.” So that got us thinking, is there more than one way to use these terms?


The short answer is yes. “Pissa” is commonly used to say something is good or awesome, often times it can be paired with “wicked” to make “wicked pissa,” also meaning “awesome” or “really awesome.” Similarly, “wicked” is commonly used in place of “very,” but is up for interpretation depending on your preference. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary describes the term as having originated as an adjective, an early and notable use of the term can be found in William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” It wasn’t until the late 20th century that “wicked” was used as an adverb, and for us New Englanders became slang for “very” and “awesome.”

We also wanted to know, how do you even speak with a Boston accent anyway?

To learn a little bit more about it, we spoke with accent and dialect coach Dr. David Alan Stern. Stern has worked with professional actors such as Terrence Mann, Julia Roberts, and Sally Field, as well as provided private coaching for individuals on improved speech and accent reduction.

Stern can perform and teach between 75 and 100 accents, which aside from being very impressive, helped explain what makes a Boston accent unique.

As Stern slipped in and out of Boston, British, New York, and Irish accents, he explained the basics behind the Boston accent. The part that people pick up right away is the pronunciation of certain vowels and he compared the general American accent and the Boston accent, saying that instead of making an “awe” sound, someone with a Boston accent would have an “ah” sound. However, it takes more than just the stereotypical vowel sounds to have a Boston accent.


Boston is a non-rhotic accent, meaning that the ‘”r” is not pronounced at the end of most words and syllables. This most likely stems from England, whereas the vowel structure previously mentioned most likely stems from Ireland.

“The problem with trying to sound like a Bostonian, if you’re not, is that if you just do the vowel changes you’re going to sound like you’re speaking your original accent with strange vowel pronunciation.”

As an accent coach, Stern focuses not only on the vowel pronunciations, but also the posture of the mouth including the way the tongue is placed, posture of the lips, and the tone.

What makes the Boston accent completely different from the British or general American accent is the way that speakers position the vibrations in the very back of the mouth and generally posture their tongue higher.

“So when I’m teaching an actor to sound like a Bostonian, the first thing we do is change the way that they’re moving their mouths, limit the degree to which the mouth opens in the back, increase certain movements of the lips in the front, and focus the sound in a different way.”

Nailing the accent, let alone knowing the slang and how to use it, can be difficult to master. Whether you consider yourself a Masshole or not, we can at least appreciate the complexity that is the Boston accent.