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February 7, 2008

Slang of the Week: bang a uey/Uey (verb phrase)
make a u-turn (regional: Boston)

When Mike saw his girlfriend walking with another man, he banged a uey on Mass Ave to follow them.

Non-celebrity quote
“If I need to turn around, I don't bang a Uey. I drive along a little further and make a legal left onto a road, and I don't scoop out the end of the road.”
-Tim, posting on

Bang a uey, an expression that comes out of Boston, gets its strange spelling from its connection with the U in u-turn, but is pronounced “YOU-wee.” Why do Bostonians feel the need to have a special way of saying that? I suspect it’s a necessity. While difficult driving conditions exist around the world, Boston has fewer street signs and more one-way streets than most places.

Though bang a uey is still going strong, many regional terms are not. Some Boston neighborhoods still have the traditional spas (a local convenience store, often family run), but more and more, when a spa opens, it offers pedicures and skin treatments. Tonic, meaning carbonated beverage, is being supplanted by the synonym soda. (Neither of those are used in the Midwest, by the way, where people call it pop and think of tonic as something you drink with gin.)

You can still find “frappes” (milkshakes) on some local menus, but twenty years ago, you could walk into a McDonald’s in Boston and the menu would have a handwritten “frappe” sign taped over the more universal “milkshake.” Apparently managers thought that locals would not be able to figure it out otherwise. Spuckies (submarine sandwiches) have fared less well; perhaps victims of the ubiquitous Subway chain, they are rare these days.

But while much of Boston’s special vocabulary seems to be headed the way of the dinosaur, the accent is still alive and well. Outsiders might think people only talk that way in movies, but the subway conductors still announce your arrival in Hah-vid Skway-yuh (also known as Harvard Square) and we are blessed with a mayor whose accent is so pronounced that even Bostonians can’t understand him.

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Cassell's Dictionary of Slang by Jonathan Green. This excellent resource is one of the most comprehensive dictionaries of English Slang from the US, UK and Australia.