“Jersey” or “Jersey?”

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About a week ago, my wife and I went to a fancy grocery store and splurged on an expensive bottle of half-and-half. As we were putting away our haul, I read the description on the back of the bottle and exclaimed, “This comes from real Jersey cows!”

My wife looked at me skeptically. Discerning the cause of her confusion, I replied, “Not New Jersey. The Isle of Jersey. Between Britain and France.”

This exchange seems unfair, in retrospect. Jersey (the American Jersey) has many wonderful small farms and artisanal food producers. But it does raise the question of why Northeasterners have taken to truncating “New Jersey” to an informal name matching its Channel Island namesake. Why don’t do this with the majority of other “New” place names?

There probably are other “New” places in America which have lost their modifier in the local parlance, but I can’t think of any prominent examples. To state the obvious, were I to refer to New York, New Hampshire or New England as, respectively, “York,” “Hampshire,” or (most ridiculously) “England,” nobody would have the foggiest idea of what I’d be referencing. Yet “Jersey,” probably due to familiarity, seems perfectly natural.

It strikes me that many place names are shortened for ease of articulation. I doubt it’s coincidental that many-syllabled “Indianapolis” and “Philadelphia” become “Indy” and “Philly,” while nobody calls “Denver” “Denny.” But “New Jersey” isn’t more difficult to say than “New Hampshire” or “New Bedford” and, at any rate, “New” wouldn’t be the problem if it were called “New Jerseyatophalikios.” So why is “Jersey” unique?

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About Ben Trawick-Smith

Ben Trawick-Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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14 Responses to “Jersey” or “Jersey?”

  1. marc leavitt says:

    Ben:

    As a native of New Jersey, referring to the state as “Jersey” is one of those issues we learn to grit our teeth about as we suffer. It ranks right up there with the cliched response when I tell someone that I’m from New Jersey: “Oh, you’re from Joysey!”

    No one born in the state calls it “Jersey,” and no one calls it “Joisey.” People from other states who move here to live are sometimes guilty of both, but more out of innocence than malice. People from North (New) Jersey, particularly natives of Jersey City and Bayonne, are prone to ta “Juhsey” pronunciation, due to their proximity to Brooklyn, but no one in Central or South (New) Jersey is guilty of using the non-rhotic “Joysey.”

    One other state, however, suffers from the dropped “New”; Whenever I tell people how much I love New Mexico, the response is almost invariably along the lines of, “I love Mexico too. What part did you visit?

  2. Mike Ellwood says:

    You are aware, of course, that Jersey cows are a breed of cows, which probably did originate in Jersey in the Channel Islands, but can probably end up almost anywhere, although I’d hope they’d only be fed on best meadow grass, at least in the summer months.

    They (along with Guernsey are famous, at least in Britain, for producing the creamiest of milk, known here as “Gold Top”, with usually about 5% cream, as opposed to 4% with normal “full-cream” or “whole milk”. (I won’t go into the arguments about the health or otherwise of full-cream versus the artificially denatured skimmed-milk (:-) – no bias there ), but it might be worth mentioning that Jersey and Guernsey cows are supposed to produce more A2 beta casein proteins in their milk, which arguably may have fewer issues for people who would otherwise be milk-intolerant. Your milkage may vary).

  3. ===Dan says:

    Unfortunately, I’m unable to find a YouTube clip of Joe Piscopo on Saturday Night Live doing the “are you from Joisey” bit they seemed to play to death in the 1980s.

  4. Ben Zimmer says:

    I dug into the historical reasons for the “Jersey” nickname a few years ago in a response to a reader of the New York Times “On Language” column:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/29/magazine/29onlanguage.html

    • Wow, that answers a lot. All of the compounding didn’t occur to me, but it’s true that “New Hampshire,” for instance, doesn’t have Jersey’s formalized “Shore,” “City,” or “South” to reinforce a shortened form.

  5. Joe Clark says:

    Get the question mark out from inside the quotes in the hed. You can’t pretend to be an expert on usage yet commit easy mistakes like that one.

    • Jane Doe says:

      OMG, why is it necessary to be so nasty? How about a private e-mail in which you gently make the point instead of clobbering BTS over the head publicly?

  6. Steve Griffin says:

    In some restaurants the server will ask me if I want new potatoes. It takes all the restraint I can summon to stop myself from asking why I wouldn’t.

  7. Ngamudgi says:

    A few years ago there was a film entitled “Jersey Girl”. Despite the name, it was set in the US. You have solved the mystery.

  8. You’ve made some really good points there. I looked
    on the web for additional information about the issue and found most individuals
    will go along with your views on this site.

  9. M says:

    Ben, that article makes perfect sense to me. I’m a native of Central Jersey, and can’t recall a single time that I said I was from “Central New Jersey.” Now that I live out of the state I refer to my home as Jersey more often than not.

    I think Marc almost proves the point by saying no one born in the state Jersey (I do) and then going on to parenthesize the “New” in every subsequent instance.

  10. Kevin Steton says:

    An outstanding share!I every time used to read article in news papers but now as I am a user of web so from now I am using net for articles, thanks to your articles.

  11. James Donovan says:

    Many interesting comments on this page. Born in New Jersey, 1953, I have lived in Bayonne, Cranford, New Brunswick, Flemington, and Elizabeth.

    There are some people with accents in Hudson County, however it is a media exaggeration such as a Boston accent “Pahk the cahr in Harvahd Yarhd.”

    So Joisey is BS. It is someone’s idea to pigeonhole people–People who move to Manhattan from the Mid-West and all of a sudden become New Yorkers.

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