Deciphering Vineyard Lingo

Photo by Alison Shaw

As in any centric community, we have our own lingo. Here are a few of the more common terms on the Vineyard’s linguistic road map:

Up-Island/down-Island: A reference to either the prevailing winds or to increasing longitude, “up” is west and “down” is east. Culturally, “up-Island” refers to the more rural towns of West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah, and “down-Island” to Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. But it’s relative: Edgartown being the easternmost town, some Edgartonians refer to the rest of the Island as “up-Island.”

The Blinker/ The 4-way Stop/The Roundabout: Possibly the most hotly debated intersection in the history of American motoring. Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road meets Barnes Road near the center of the Island. For many years, this intersection was marked (and referred to) by a blinker — red lights flashing one way, yellow the other. Some years back, for safety and traffic-flow reasons, this was replaced – despite a great deal of hollering and upset – by a 4-way stop sign. As of this writing, a roundabout is being constructed here, much to the outrage of some vocal Island residents. Given historical precedent, locals will refer to this area as “The Blinker” until the 22nd century.

Five Corners: The most congested intersection on the Vineyard. State Road turns into Beach Road near where the VH ferry traffic spills out. The worst backup occurs from Oak Bluffs along Beach Road into Vineyard Haven. It’s a nightmare.

The Triangle: The second-most congested intersection on the Island, where Beach Road cuddles up to the Vineyard Haven-Edgartown Road and turns into Edgartown’s Upper Main Street.

The Fork: A fork in the road in southeastern Edgartown. The North Fork goes east and the South Fork also goes, pretty much, east. Both forks will lead you to the broad open sand-plains of Katama and South Beach.

The Bridge: the drawbridge that spans the opening of the Lagoon, at the VH/OB border.

Big Bridge/ Little Bridge: Two (non-draw) bridges along the sweep of Edgartown’s State Beach (one of them is on the OB/Edgartown border). These bridges, spanning man-made channels, are here partly to allow Sengekontacket to drain, but mostly so kids can jump off ’em.

Chop: Look at a map of the Vineyard. See how it is sort of a lumpy triangle with 2 apexes? Those are West Chop and East Chop. Culturally, they are each known for a particular kind of well-heeled seasonal community. It would be indiscreet of us to comment further.

Chappy: Chappaquidick, a rural sub-island that is intermittently attached to the Vineyard along a stretch of South Beach. Someday, maybe, people will stop associating it with Ted Kennedy.

Cottage City/The Campground: Cottage City was the original name of Oak Bluffs, back when it was a summer Methodist Revival colony. The Methodists set up tents on platforms and camped around a Tabernacle. The tents were eventually replaced by “gingerbread cottages” – cozy little houses painted brightly and embellished with rococo decorations, as per the Victorian sense of cute. The town itself grew and thrived, to be renamed Oak Bluffs; the dozens and dozens of “gingerbread cottages” remained; they are collectively called The Campground in honor of their roots.

OB: Oak Bluffs, the only town that is sometimes referred to in speech by its initials. (VH is often used for written shorthand, but rarely spoken; same with MV)

Circuit Ave: Oak Bluffs’ Main Street. (Vineyard Haven and Edgartown both have Main Streets called, interestingly, “Main Street.” The up-Island towns are not town enough to require the equivalent of a Main Street.) Just to confuse matters (or visitors), locals in OB often refer to Circuit Ave as “Main Street.”

Vineyard Haven/Tisbury: There is a town called Tisbury, nestled within which is a seaside village called Vineyard Haven. The two terms are used almost-but-not-quite interchangeably; locals grow up knowing intuitively when to use which.

West Tisbury/North Tisbury: In 1892 or so, the original Tisbury split in two. The little harbor-side hamlet of Vineyard Haven and its environs kept the original name of Tisbury; the larger, agricultural segment was renamed West Tisbury. A populous segment of northern West Tisbury came to be (and often still is) called North Tisbury — making North Tisbury southwest of Tisbury. (Note: The term “North Tisbury” is being displaced by the term “Middle Town.”)

The Grange/The Ag Hall: The County Fair is held in West Tisbury each August. For most of its history it took place at The Grange Hall, which was always referred to as the Ag Hall (short for Agricultural Society, which sponsored the fair). The surrounding property, by extension, was called the Fairgrounds. Around the turn of the Millennium, a huge barn was brought down from northern New England and, entirely with volunteer help, reassembled in a large field about half a mile from the Fairgrounds. This became the new site of the Fair. Accordingly, the reassembled barn was titled The New Ag Hall, and the grounds, The Fairgrounds. For clarity, common usage has led (more or less) to the Old Ag Hall being known as The Grange and the New Ag Hall being known simply as The Ag Hall.

Beetlebung Corner: From West Tisbury you can get to “central” Chilmark three ways: North Road, Middle Road, and South Road. They all meet up at (or near) Beetlebung Corner (North Road is actually a bit to the north, along Menemsha Crossroads). The word Beetlebung harkens back to the Island’s whaling days and is a marriage of “Beetle”,  (a common wooden mallet) used to pound a “Bung” (a wooden stopper) into a barrel. The tree from which the wood for these was harvested came to be known as the Beetlebung.

Aquinnah/Gay Head: The indigenous Wampanoags named the western chunk of the Island Aquinnah. White people renamed it Gay Head, to reflect the brightly colored clay cliffs making up the headland. A few decades ago, the Wampanoag Tribe succeeded in returning it to its original name, although a number of things (like the cliffs themselves) are still known as Gay Head.

An “Island car”: A frequently old, beat-up jalopy (whether it be Land Rover or car-mutt) that nobody in their right mind would ever drive on off-Island highways. Many Island cars are Island cars. However, regular cars will work just fine for all the places described in this lexicon.

The Vineyard Shuffle: The widespread custom of renting out one’s house to summer people and living somewhere cheaper for a couple of months. Alternatively, many off-Island-based owners rent their homes out to locals for the off-season and then move into them for the summer months, thus causing the locals to “shuffle” for the summer.

Native: You are only a native if you were born on the Island. If you grow up here and live here year-round as an adult for at least 5 years, you might be considered a local or even an Islander (see below), but even if you were born on the ferry in the middle of Vineyard Sound, you are not a native, no matter how many of your ancestors may have been natives.

Islander: A much-disputed term. Some people hold that you are only a real Islander if you are a native. Some might allow that you are an Islander if, regardless of your birthplace, you’ve tucked in here so thoroughly that the Vineyard is where you intend to die. Others apply the term “Islander” to long-term year-rounders, regardless of their provenance, as long as they make themselves useful.

Wash-ashore: You, if you voluntarily moved here to live year-round

Summer dink: You, if you are just visiting and require the help of this lexicon.

The stupidest intersection on Martha’s Vineyard: While I’ve never heard anybody call it that, there is a “road experience” beside the hospital, the navigation of which separates Islanders from visitors. From a bird’s eye perspective, when heading from Vineyard Haven to OB, the main road runs straight alongside the hospital, and a second road splits off at an almost perfect 90-degree angle to the left. Legally, however, that left-hand turn is the main road; if you continue straight, you’re technically turning right, off the main road and onto a side road. This means cars traveling from VH to OB have the right-of-way to make a left-hand turn (which is physically, but not legally, a turn) in front of oncoming traffic, which has to stop for them. Considerate local drivers will signal to the VH-bound drivers waiting at the stop sign whether they are going legally straight (physically left) or legally right (physically straight), so that the VH-bound drivers know if it is safe to proceed “into” oncoming traffic.