It seems Massachusetts residents might have a bit of a reputation problem.
The mental image of Boston is an enchanting one: cobblestone streets lined with the blue hydrangeas that capture droplets of morning dew. Perhaps there’s a seagull that glides along a chilled harbor breeze. Farther up north, the orchards are full of sweater-clad apple pickers, each with a cup of Dunkin in their hands. This image takes you all the way out of the airport, until you, an unsuspecting visitor in a Zipcar, get flipped the bird as someone cuts you off on Interstate 93.
Wondering why, as the observer of traffic laws and upholder of driving etiquette, you were the one to receive such obscenities? Why, of all the intoxicating glories of New England, you come across the hellscape that is driving in Massachusetts?
The Oxford Dictionary added “Masshole” to its roster in 2015 and defines it as a “contemptuous term for Massachusetts inhabitants,” though most of us know it with a specific meaning. Reserved for aggressive or clueless drivers who cause many of the transport pains in the state, the term applies to drivers who cut others off, turn without a signal, and stop abruptly for no apparent reason.
Are All Massachusetts Residents Massholes?
After reading about the reputation of us icy, sometimes abrasive, almost always too honest residents of the Commonwealth, you might consider returning your Red Sox shirt and canceling your Duck Boat tickets. Not so fast! The good news is that the term is somewhat subjective.
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New Englanders can’t seem to agree on who is most deserving of the brand. For example, author Matt Ridley referred to Massholes as the transplants who migrated up to New Hampshire. Farther up north in Maine, Masshole is used as a snide noun for the summer weekenders. In Massachusetts, it’s used for other drivers on the road or, interestingly, as a term of endearment.
Many residents abhor the term and consider it an egregious misunderstanding. They might have a point. Most drivers use their turn signals, just like many residents proudly enunciate their Rs (“Ha-vahd Yahd?” Just stop). Though we have the highest rate of at-fault accidents in the country, we’re not statistically the worst state to drive in. So what gives?
The Origin Story of the Masshole
The etymology is a portmanteau of the words “Massachusetts” with a common profanity we’re much too high-brow to include here. While respectable lexicons recently acknowledged the term, it had celebrity among New Englanders well before the 2010s.
It was first coined in 1989 by Ridley in his book Warts and All, a work chronicling the prior year’s presidential election. At the time, the 1988 campaign presented a former Massachusetts Governor. Coincidence?
Massachusetts residents have enjoyed and resented over 30 years of infamy for their legendarily gruff attitudes and/or poor driving skills.
Is ‘Masshole’ Offensive?
There are mixed opinions surrounding the term. Intended to be a curse spewed out by someone shaking their fist at you, many of us locals have put a positive spin on it. In a casual introduction, we might jovially refer to ourselves as a “Certifiable Masshole.” Heck, some of us use it to excuse terrible driving (“No, I forgot to use my blinker, why? Because I’m a Masshole, that’s why”).
Henry Labonte, owner of Labonte’s driving school in Massachusetts, was once quoted in the Boston Globe saying, “You want to call me a Masshole? I don’t care. I’m proud to be a Masshole.” He might as well be our spokesman, as that tends to be the resounding interpretation of the term. If you think someone’s a Masshole, you’re probably right.
In a more laidback state, Massachusetts residents might seem a little on edge. We’re all about time. If a driver is inclined to take their time on the road, someone with a Massachusetts license plate is probably driving a foot away from their bumper. The key word here is patience, and like everywhere, some of us have none of it.
To Say, or Not to Say?
If you want to make friends during your stay in Boston, I advise not slapping anyone on the back while playfully calling them a Masshole. It comes across as a sort of pet name, and most of us will laugh it off, but others might feel affronted. Ultimately, it’s still a derogatory stereotype.
Take the high road. Instead, look at our blunt honesty as a form of respect; at least we’ll never lie to you. Consider our impatience as a virtue of saving time; we don’t want to waste yours and definitely not ours. Lastly, think of our driving as, well, kind of cute.
If you find yourself fuming with one of us, don’t call us a Masshole. There are plenty of more creative insults out there. We might even teach you a few of them.