Some Hammonton phrases I’ve heard through the years
Some people like to collect things. It might be baseball cards, dolls, classic cars or whatever makes them feel good.
Writers like to collect phrases—particularly when those phrases are part of the identity of a place.
Hammonton is where I have lived for most of my 50 years, and where I’ve been a writer for more than 25 of those years.
So it’s only logical my favorite phrases are Hammonton phrases.
What do I mean by “Hammonton phrases?” Let’s begin with one we’ve all heard—and maybe used ourselves. I once wrote an entire column about this one, so it’s a good starting point.
“Must be nice.” If you look closely, you’ll notice that there is actually nothing complimentary in this phrase, even though it is used when a compliment would normally be used.
Here’s how the exchange would go between people from other areas:
“Hey, Joe, did you get a new boat?”
“I did. Just picked it up yesterday.”
“Well, lots of luck with it.”
Here’s how the same exchange goes in Hammonton:
“Hey Joe, did you get a new boat?”
“I did. Just picked it up yesterday.”
“Must be nice.”
See the difference in tone a single change in phrase makes? Jealousy is an ugly emotion, and “must be nice” is the phrase that always shows that emotion is bubbling right under the surface with a local person.
There are plenty of other local phrases that I have encountered and added to my vast collection of local sayings. They won’t all fit in one column, but I can give you a few other examples.
“I may have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night.” What’s outstanding about this phrase is the way the person who says it kind of puts themselves down in the beginning, admitting that they might have been born at night as a way of saying they aren’t clued into everything that is going on (usually something shady). Then they bounce back quickly, defending their ability to figure stuff out by stating they weren’t born last night.
This phrase is often used when some nefarious local government scheme is beginning to unravel, and the public is beginning to catch on, despite the best efforts of the people who contrived said scheme to keep it quiet.
“Only the spoon knows what’s at the bottom of the pot.” This phrase is nearly always associated with money in my mind, but it can just as easily refer to any situation where the only one who knows the real story is the person who is directly involved with it.
“In Hammonton, everybody knows the truth, but nobody wants to hear it.” This is the classic disconnect. It’s one thing to be ignorant; when bad things happened, you can just say you didn’t know. It’s quite another to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to problems, difficulties, the truth, etc. The problems are never solved because people ignore them.
She was a [insert local name here] who married a [insert local name here]. Hammontonians followed genealogy long before websites like ancestry.com existed. The difference between looking up who married whom online and the local conversation about that same topic is that in Hammonton, all the names in the conversation are from within the town’s borders. Side topics include: street each person lived on originally and after they were married; where they worked; and how many first and second cousins from the original married couple still live here.
“It’s better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.” You don’t really need me to define this one for you, do you?
“In Hammonton, ‘no’ isn’t an answer. It’s just an obstacle.” See above.
The last Hammonton phrase featured in this column is one my personal favorites:
“If Walt Disney would have come to Hammonton, he would have never left.” An oldie but a goodie. I’ve always taken it to mean that the person uttering this phrase means that the town is filled with a lot of characters—like the cartoon characters Walt Disney put in all his famous films and later, his theme parks.
Maybe you’ve encountered a couple of these characters while living or working in Hammonton?
If you have, you may have noticed them use a few of the phrases from my collection listed here.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.