How to speak like an ESVA local: 30 words and phrases heard on VA's Eastern Shore

Whether you’re a tourist visiting for a week or a come-here establishing a permanent residence on the ESVA, this handy guide will introduce you to some interesting words and phrases used by Shore folks, and you’ll be able to use them in conversations with locals (or with your friends and family to portray an ESVA identity). When you’re done reading this guide, you’ll be able to order a dozen raw arsters from The Shanty, ask a local seafood vendor about the price of a bag of nicks, or talk about the day’s catch of specks and hardheads at the bait and tackle shop. Read on and y’all will sound like locals in no time! If you’re interested in looking up more words and phrases heard on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, check out Entertaining Words from the Eastern Shore, a small book published in 1995 by Accomack resident Arthur King Fisher. It can be found at the libraries in Cape Charles, Accomac and Chincoteague.

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Across the bay (noun) = the land west of the ESVA that can be reached either by boat or car via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

Airish (adjective) = cold and windy; rhymes with parish

Aquaculture (noun) = the rearing of aquatic animals (i.e. clams & oysters) for food

Arsters (noun) = a local pronunciation of oysters

Been-here (noun) = someone whose family has been on the Shore for a long time; a from-here

Bunker (noun) = Atlantic menhaden

Buttons (noun) = the smallest size of harvested clams; they’re usually re-planted to grow into littlenecks; they measure less than ⅞ of an inch across the hinge

Cherry or cherrystone (noun) = the second largest size of harvested clams; usually 3 inches across the hinge

Chowder clam (noun) = the largest size of harvested clam; measures at least 4 inches across the hinge

Chunk (verb) = to throw; to throw away

Come-here (noun) = someone not from the ESVA

Doty (adjective) = senile; weak-minded due to old age

Drunkards (noun) = fruit flies

From-here (noun) = someone who was born and raised on the ESVA

Gussied-up (adjective) = dressed finely; dressed up for a special occasion

Hardhead (noun) = Atlantic croaker

Hog (noun) = a large fish that’s been reeled in

Horsehopper (noun) = what Tangier folks call a praying mantis

Jag (noun) = a large catch of oysters; a mortal jag is a load of oysters

Littleneck clam (noun) = the second smallest size of harvested clams; they’re between ⅞ and an inch across the hinge

Middleneck clam (noun) = the size of clam between littleneck and topneck; usually measures 1 inch across the hinge

Nick (noun) = a local word for clam, especially a little-neck clam

Nor’easters (noun) = storms originating as low pressure areas that form within 100 miles of the coast between North Carolina and Massachusetts. They’re usually accompanied by very heavy rain or snow and can cause severe coastal flooding, coastal erosion, hurricane-force winds, or blizzard conditions.

Rock or rockfish (noun) = striped bass

Speck (noun) = speckled trout

Stove-up (adjective) = suffering from ailment, exhaustion or injury; worn out

Topneck clam (noun) = the size of clam between middleneck and cherrystone; usually 2 inches across the hinge

Tump (noun) = a mound in the marsh

Tickly bender (noun) = a game Tangier folks played by racing across thawing ice on the Chesapeake Bay

Whole ‘nother (adjective) = entirely different


4 comments

  • Ryan,
    I am delighted to find your website and see the work you are doing!
    I was blessed to be raise on the Eastern Dhire, and now live near Charlottesville. One grandmother grew up on Tangier Island, and another on Godwin Island, or New Inlet, as she called it. I was always fascinated by the dialect, verbiage and vocal inflections of the Shore’s people. So glad to see it being preserved and presented in such an honorable way!

    Holli Lewis
  • This is priceless…I always knew they had there own vocabulary down here !!!! 😎😎😉😉😁😁

    Treena Sheffield
  • Thanks for commenting! If you’re interested in listening to some authentic Chincoteaguers talk about their lives on the island, you can find recorded interviews at https://espl.org/genealogy/primary-sources/chincoteague-oral-histories/. Once I begin to collect my own oral histories, I’ll share them on this website for everyone to access.

    Ryan Webb
  • Thanks for all the work you’ve done. As a former actor and drama major in college I am interested in the unique speech patterns of the Eastern Shore area. It would be nice to find some tape loops to actually hear the words. Thanks, and keep up the great work.

    Gil York

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