Lou Learns Maine: The Origins of “Ayuh”
Since moving here, I've been reading up on Maine-specific things and one that is mentioned a lot is native Mainers' use of the made-up word, "ayuh".
At first, I thought this was similar to Minnesotans' "oh sure" or Canandians' "eh", a verbal filler that Mainers tack on to sentences for no apparent reason. But When Lori and Jeff demonstrated it for me, they did it as a casual affirmation on an inhale.
I was completely fascinated. I've never heard anyone make that sound and I was immediately hungry for more examples. I took my confusion to Instagram, where I asked my followers if they'd ever heard of this phenomenon. My poll prompted a 67% affirmative response and a direct message from my friend who said she'd heard Swedes do it all the time when she studied abroad in Stockholm.
After some deep research (read: a google search along the lines of "Swedish immigration to Maine"), I made a pretty cool discovery. As you may recall from history class in high school, the Homestead Act of 1862 created cheap land plots out west to motivate people to get moving that direction. What's lesser known is that this drew away from people settling in northern Maine, according to Maine Memory. Needing the area inhabited to help secure the northern border with Canada (ha!), Lincoln called on his American consul in Sweden, William Widgery Thomas, to promote immigration to the area.
Thomas looked around at the cold-loving, hardy, happy-to-rough-it Swedes and thought, "These guys would be perfect in northern Maine!" Fast forward a decade, and by 1872, over 553 Swedes had flocked to the area to start a new life. The Maine towns of New Sweden and Stockholm were established within 40 years.
Needless to say, the inhaled "ayuh" followed these adventurous Europeans to their new home and can now be heard in the outskirts of cities in Maine, popular mostly among the older generations in rural areas. I've become obsessed with this part of speech found nowhere else in America and I'm sure as hell going to do my part to try and bring it back.
ARE YOU WITH ME? (Here's where you shrug and go "ayuh, ayuh.")