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How About a Game of Meehonkey? (minicast)

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In what part of the country would you be likely to hear momicking, meehonkey, and quamish?

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Time for another linguistic mystery. In what part of the country would you be likely to hear older folks using the following phrases?

“He sure was mommucking his little brother.”

And: “Why, those kids used to play meehonkey every afternoon!”

And: “Ohhhhhhh, I was quamished in the stomach.”

Give up? The place you’re likely to hear the words mommucking, meehonkey, and quamished is called Ocracoke. It’s just off the North Carolina coast — one of the Outer Banks barrier islands.

Settled by the British in the early 1700s, Ocracoke’s small, relatively isolated community developed its own distinctive dialect. One of the dialect’s most striking features is its pronunciation. In the so-called “Ocracoke brogue,” the expression “high tide” sounds more like “hoi toid.”

On the island, you’ll also hear some words that you won’t find in many other places. Mommuck means to “harass” or “bother.” Quamish means “queasy.” And old-timers on Ocracoke remember playing the island’s special version of hide-and-seek. They call it meehonkey.

You can hear some audio clips of Outer Banks English from the North Carolina State’s Language and Linguistics Program.

And for a great introduction to the topic, check out Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks, by linguists Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes.

And here you’ll find video of O’cokers, as they call themselves, in conversation.

What regional expressions have caught your ear lately? Email us at words@waywordradio.org.

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