Something about Jersey

When we travel my husband and I like to pick out the accents and guess homelands of strangers.

We can ferret out Dutch in a snap (we’ve both spent time in Holland) and Brits and Aussies are easy to identify.

Hanging out at the Newark airport is especially fun. I scan the crowd for Parisians while my husband swears he can spot a West African.

Our visits to the Motherland (his nickname for New Jersey) offer a guilty pleasure as we listen in on conversations riding the train from New York and at the seaside grocery store.

Lately we’ve been working on our Jersey gestures.

In New Jersey talk is supplanted for the just-right gesture.

Humorist Jon Stewart showed his TV audiences the New Jersey pie-hold, which is used to shove a slice of pizza quickly into your pie-hole.

One hand gently folds the pizza, holding it close and primed for entry, while the other hand extends wide, ready to block an interception.

Another gesture requires no spoken translation.

We call it the “Whaaa?”

Here’s an illustration: when we left the Newark airport in a commuter van recently, it took our driver several minutes to extract us from the nest of cars dropping off passengers.

Rule is, drivers can’t leave their cars.

We watched as police officers walked over to each car and encouraged drivers to get moving and unsnarl the traffic.

One officer, a tall and beefy bloke, sprinted over to a car and exhibited the “Whaaa” in supreme form.

He extended his arms outward, elbows slightly bent, and mitts opened wide skyward, fingers slightly bowed.

His torso became a New Jersey question mark: Whaaa?

We instantly knew what it meant.

16 December 2014



About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
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