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Testing Boston Authenticity With 'Park The Car On Harvard Yard'

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Testing Boston Authenticity With 'Park The Car On Harvard Yard'

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Testing Boston Authenticity With 'Park The Car On Harvard Yard'

Testing Boston Authenticity With 'Park The Car On Harvard Yard'

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Boston Globe correspondent Eric Randall traces back the lineage of the phrase "park the car on Harvard Yard."

JOE GONZALES: Park your car at Harvard Yard.

ROSS HENDERSON: I parked my car on Harvard Yard.

LINDA PAOLERA: Park your car in Harvard Yard.

PETER VALERIE: Park your car in Harvard Yard. They occasionally will say, you have an accent.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Those are some real Boston residents - Joe Gonzales, Linda Paolera, Ross Henderson and Peter Valerie.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And they're using an often repeated sentence that is especially relevant today. Today is the day students at a certain school in Cambridge moved into their dorms, and for 20 minutes, they could genuinely...

ERIC RANDALL: Park the car on Harvard Yard.

SHAPIRO: That's Eric Randall. He wrote an article for the Boston Globe about the origins of that famous phrase and how it became a test of local authenticity.

CORNISH: Or rather, how long it's been making authentic locals testy.

SHAPIRO: Authentic locals like you, Audie.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

RANDALL: What I was most surprised by was how long back it stretches that it's been considered an irritating cliche to people with Boston accents.

CORNISH: Yeah, definitely.

SHAPIRO: Randall found references to the phrase in newspapers dating back to the 1940s and '50s.

RANDALL: I found one report of Girl Scouts going to a national jamboree and being sort of accosted with being asked to say this phrase back with their funky accents and rolling their eyes at it.

CORNISH: It seems to have been designed to highlight different regional accents, including those from New York and Baltimore.

RANDALL: So there were generic phrases, like, park the car behind the barn, which sounded different depending on what regional accent you had. And I guess the Harvard community had its own specific accent that was separate from the Boston accent which people think of these days as sort of the accent that Franklin Roosevelt or Katharine Hepburn spoke with.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE PHILADELPHIA STORY")

KATHARINE HEPBURN: (As Tracy Lord) You're just a mass of prejudices aren't you? You're so much thought and so little feeling, professor.

RANDALL: It's that old, affected Hollywood accent where they're trying to sound sort of British. And the Harvard accent was something you picked up at prep school or at Harvard to sound intellectual and educated and moneyed. So I think park the car on Harvard Yard was the campus equivalent of these other phrases.

SHAPIRO: Ben Zimmer has also looked into this. He's executive editor of vocabulary.com and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal. Here, he reads from a Boston Herald story from 1960.

BEN ZIMMER: (Reading) One of the chief irritants of our otherwise impeccably misspent life is the phrase park the car in Harvard Yard. It is supposed to be the distinguishing mark of the Bostonian. And whenever we venture into the terra incognita outside Dedham, all goes swimmingly until some yahoo asks us to mouth the grisly phrase.

CORNISH: So yeah, it's grating, and awfully geographically specific. And, outside the few minutes it takes to get your milk crates out of the car and into your door room...

SHAPIRO: You're not even allowed to pahk (ph)...

CORNISH: It's park. Just say park.

SHAPIRO: ...Park your car in Harvard Yard.

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