Summer’s coming to a close, which means cars full of college students will pour into the city and unload hordes of freshman, colorful T-maps clutched in their hands. They’ll mispronounce “Faneuil Hall’’ and joke about where to “pahk the cah on Hahvahd Yahd,’’ believing that phrase makes them a true Bostonian.
But no Boston native really says that, so where did it come from? On the day that students are literally—albeit very, very briefly—parking on Harvard Yard to move into their dorm rooms, The Boston Globe dove down the dropped-“r’’ rabbit hole.
According to the Globe, linguist and journalist Ben Zimmer, who’s been collecting early examples of the “Harvard “Yard’’ phrase, has seen it in writing as early as 1946. It was referred to as the “Famous Harvard Accent Test.’’
Harvard had its own accent, the Globe explains, distinct from Boston’s, though similar in its lack of “r’’s. It was a mash-up of accents from New England prep schools, Greater Boston Irish-Americans, and Midwesterners.
How did the dialect lines get blurred between Harvard’s gates and Boston’s boundaries? What other New England-explanation could there be: It has something to do with John F. Kennedy. Of course.
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