That Philly accent: Tawk Like a Fluffyan

Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia
Credit: Photo by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia

When newborn Sean Monahan came home from the hospital 27 years ago, he settled into a snug abode on South Street. There, he grew as a true-blooded Philadelphian, until his parents decided that bringing up a baby on South Street in the late 1980s was probably not the best idea.

The Monahans soon moved to Bensalem and then Langhorne, Pa. There, he developed a true Philadelphian accent. He ate “hooooeegies” and drank “wudder” from the “spicket.”

In 2005, Monahan left for Wooster College in Ohio. But a funny thing happened: None of his classmates understood what in the heck he was saying.

“People thought I had a speech impediment,” he recalled.

So he flattened his “o” sounds and started asking for “wah-ter” to drink. Slowly, his “Fluffyan” accent disappeared. But this made him sad. Who was he, Monhanan thought, it he wasn’t “tawking” about “dem Phils” and going “danashor?”

He moved back to Philadelphia in 2009 to work for AmeriCorps and attend graduate school at Temple University. He proudly reclaimed his Philly accent and began uploading a series of “PhillyTawk” videos on YouTube. He explained and defined such words as “cawfly” – otherwise known as the beverage coffee – and “halss,” which is where people live. He used captions to help viewers from other parts of the country decipher the dialect.

But the video that spread the fastest and got the most views was “Sh** Philadelphians Say.” He paired up with his childhood friend Harry Lichtner and Lichtner’s comedy improv group. They shot the video at locations all over the city, expounding in rapid-fire segments about annoying tourists, wiz wit and jawns.

In fact, “jawn” is one of Monahan’s favorite regional words, which he describes it as an all-purpose noun.

“Absolutely anything can be a jawn,” said Monahan. “It’s even more flexible than the word ‘thing.’”

His “Sh** Philadelphians Say” video and the extended cut version have been viewed more than 80,000 times on YouTube. The total number of YouTube views for all his videos is more than 500,000 he said.

Not everyone is a fan, however. At least 30 percent of the comments from viewers are some version of “There’s no way these people are from Philly.” Monahan said he doesn’t mind, even when the comments get downright nasty.

“I think people get super defensive about how they talk,” he said. “And it’s not in the Philadelphian style to let things go.”

In September, Monahan left Philadelphia once again. He now lives in Providence, RI where he is earning his Ph.D in political science. But this time, he is proudly elongating his “o” sounds and “tawking” like a proud Philadelphian.

Kathryn Quigley is a journalism professor and freelance writer. She can be reached at Metro does not endorse the opinions of this author.


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