The Oxford English Dictionary added the word Masshole to its roster on Wednesday, formalizing a term well known to frustrated drivers throughout the Northeast.
A piece of “coarse slang” defined as “a term of contempt for a native or inhabitant of the state of Massachusetts,” Masshole was one of nearly 500 words added to the dictionary on Wednesday, along with twerk, sext, hyperlocal, freegan, fratty, and fo’ shizzle.
Christian Purdy, publicity director for the Oxford University Press-USA, said editors choose new words based on how often they are used online and in print.
“Slang enters the popular lexicon,” he said. “When it gets to certain point of usage, you have to define it.”
Purdy said he could not speak about Masshole specfically or provide data on its use.
The word’s history stretches beyond bouts of New England road rage. It appears in Matt Ridley’s “Warts and All: The Men Who Would Be Bush,” a book about the 1988 presidential election, and Richard Russo’s Pulitzer-winning “Empire Falls,” where it describes “hordes of visitors who poured into Maine.”
Even the Boston Globe has played a role in its coinage. The OED entry cites a 1996 Globe article about a course for bad drivers, called “Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving,” as evidence of the term’s use. The story begins by asking readers to consider what they would do if they were approaching an intersection on Mass. Ave. full of pedestrians as the light turns yellow. The first option? “Floor it, weave around pedestrians and flip a finger as you do.” Neither of the other choices is any better.
The article goes on to explain Masshole as a term used by out-of-towners to describe the state’s “misunderstood” drivers. It’s an issue that has been debated elsewhere in the Globe’s pages, too, including in a 2013 article that asked if Boston driving was so bad as to deserve its own lingo.
Erin Courtney, a spokeswoman for the Maine Turnpike Association, said that while she tends to shy away from using the term herself, Masshole is commonly used in Maine, and the first thing that comes to mind is bad driving. In her laid-back state, she said, it’s often applied to “aggressive” drivers: people who are rushing or tailgating.
While the term does have a negative connotation, she said, more broadly it’s just a nickname for the state’s frequent weekend visitors from the south. “Hopefully people can find the humor in it and not take it personally,” she said.
Henry Labonte, who owns Labonte’s Auto School in North Attleboro, takes issue with the word’s designation as a term of contempt.
“You want to call me a Masshole? I don’t care,” he said. “I’m proud to be a Masshole.”
At 68, Labonte has lived in Massachusetts his whole life and has never been anywhere better, listing the Red Sox and the Celtics among things that make it the best state in the nation.
Not everyone was so enthusiastic to weigh in. The State Police Office of Media Relations declined to comment, and representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Perhaps a bumper sticker from the website www.masshole.net puts it best: “If you drove like a Masshole, you’d be home by now.”
Stephanie McFeeters can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @mcfeeters.