Phil’s relatives stared at him blankly when he declared we’ve been on screech these last few weeks.

“On screech?” Barry said. “What’s that?”

Barry and Vivian, who hail from Minnesota, and Barbara, from Georgia, said they had never heard the expression.

“It means you’re doing too much and you are stressed,” my husband explained.

I say “I’m on screech” so often I was surprised our guests were unfamiliar with it.

I Googled “on screech.”


Though there was no definition for that expression as such, Merriam-Webster defines screech as a high, shrill piercing cry, usually expressing  pain or terror. It also can mean howl, scream, shriek, shrill, squall, squeal, yell or yelp.

A slang definition offered online for screech as a verb: to act excessively, especially while on marijuana.

Not exactly what I was looking for, but interesting nonetheless.

Could “on screech” be an expression exclusive to Maine?

Our discussion last week reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a new neighbor who moved here from Washington state.

Earlier in the summer, I had told her we were going to our place on China Lake.


A few weeks later she approached me and asked if we had been at our “camp,” though she uttered the word with what I sensed was a bit of hesitation as if she were not sure she had used the right term.

She explained she had never heard “camp” used to describe such a place.

When people told her they were going up to camp, she envisioned a tent, or encampment of tents, like where drifters might congregate.

Similarly, Phil’s cousins Barry and Vivian said that in Minnesota, people refer to what we call camps as cabins, or less frequently, cottages.

Our friend Irv, in California, calls them cottages, as do characters on the 1950s television show “Perry Mason,” set and filmed in California.

Which gets me to thinking about other terms we Mainers use that may sound strange to those living elsewhere.


As kids we referred to the activity of descending the stairs into the basement of our house as “going down cellar.”

In elementary school, my friend Juline would report she was heading to the restroom by saying she was “going to the basement.” Not sure how that term came to be, but now that I think of it, other kids called it the basement, too.

Phil remembers rural Mainers years ago using “whan’t” instead of “wasn’t” or “weren’t,” as in “Whan’t that funny?”

Folks also referred to someone as “numb,” as opposed to “dumb.”

My maternal grandmother would exclaim, “I shan’t go there today,” rather than ” I shall not.”

She also, when talking on the telephone, would respond, “Ayuh, ayuh, ayuh,” to the person on the other end of the line. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just say, “Yup, yup, yup”?


In the 1960s, my friend Patty, on a hot summer day, would declare it was time to go buy a “sody,” or a “sody pop.” That’s an expression you don’t hear much anymore.

Boys in the neighborhood referred to puttering and performing menial chores as “dubbin’ around.”

Sometimes we didn’t even use words to communicate. Like when a car passed by, instead of waving we’d just tilt our heads backward.

This is all to say, I guess, that we Mainers had, and still have, a unique and inimitable way of being in the world.

Which is wicked good for us. We wouldn’t want to claim being from anywhere else. Like, from away.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 34 years. Her columns appear here Saturdays. She may be reached at For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to

Comments are no longer available on this story