Boston, Strong?

I’m sure you’ve all heard the ubiquitous catchphrase for the past six months:  Boston Strong.  It’s been scribbled in graffiti on the sides of buildings, plastered on people’s T-shirts, and carved into a jack-o-lantern.  It’s a phrase that has come to signify the resilience of a group of people, even when they were at their weakest, and I respect that.  As a grammar nerd, I also respect the linguistics behind the phrase.

The word Boston is typically used as a proper noun, but here it is used as an adverb!  LANGUAGE!

The word Boston is typically used as a proper noun, but here it is used as an adverb! LANGUAGE!

And I mean, it’s a great sentiment, until you start seeing “Boston Strong” shirts for sale at every other corner tourist stand with exactly how much of the proceeds going to the One Fund?  I’m not certain, but I’d bet the amount is right around $0.  It also starts to lose its meaning when it’s applied to virtually everything that ever happened here, ever.  Even my trusty NPR was all over this story yesterday.  (In a nutshell:  the Baseball Gods decided that this was the year the Red Sox would win the World Series at home because the city really truly NEEDED IT.)  To some extent, I get it.  Big Papi ignited a fire under everyone’s tuckus after the bombings and made them all feel a little bit better by reclaiming the city.  If anyone’s going to get all sentimental about baseball, it’s me.  But this is a little ridiculous.  If Boston needed a championship title to stop feeling down on its luck, then St. Louis deserves to win the World Series every damn year.  And if that’s the case, then why didn’t Detroit (a.k.a. a DMZ) at least get the joy of winning the ALCS?  Speaking of, who won the World Series in 2001, just a month after the 9/11 attacks?  Oh, it wasn’t the Yankees, even though they played in it?  Well they must not have been feeling bad enough about themselves.

Somehow the Red Sox players themselves have come to represent this transient expression.  The lovable rough-and-tumble scamps have the fourth-highest combined salary in baseball, but they totally represent the grit of the common people.  From careful observations, I’ve been able to ascertain a few confusing reasons for this:  David Ortiz said the F-word after the bombing (going rogue!); they all wear their shirts partially unbuttoned with chains around their necks; Clay Buchholz looks like NASCAR’s number one fan and therefore truly represents the common folk.  Perhaps the most pervasive reasoning behind this representation is the facial hair.  Sure, if you feel that someone who makes 10 million dollars a year and looks like he glued armpit hair to his face represents you as a layperson, then I can totally see the connection.   I prefer to find a common denominator in other aspects of a person besides beards, but to each their own.

The phrase extends far beyond sports, though.  Bostonians will go out of their way to make sure that you know how tough they are.  Although the majority of people here are friendly and kind, for some inexplicable reason, they will insist until they are blue in the face that they are NOT NICE PEOPLE.  If they’ve ever been to the Midwest, they’ll have you know that they hated it because strangers would chit-chat with them at the grocery store.  (The nerve.)  If they grew up anywhere in Southie, they will remind you that that’s where the infamous mobster James Whitey Bulger lived.  While most of them know nothing about St. Louis, they will pretend that it’s a very quaint little place to live.  (Or they will say, “Where is that?”)

Well guess what, Boston?  I hate to burst your bubble, but I’ve never felt unwelcome or unsafe here.  Last weekend, two of my neighbors were arrested in connection with a drive-by shooting.  Yep, still don’t feel scared.  Back home?  I hardly dared to walk from my car to my apartment for fear of getting snatched.  A few blocks away from my Central West End apartment, a girl was killed at a stop sign in a nice neighborhood, in broad daylight.  Move to St. Louis and you will find out what grit and determination is.  It’s not people paying upwards of $1900 a month in rent (for a one-bedroom).  It’s not shopping on Newbury Street.  It’s not having the privilege of sending your children downtown on the train alone.  I’m not saying that Boston doesn’t have its rough spots.  Like any city, it does.  But I find a weird sort of pride in knowing that I am “stronger” than them, that my city is more unsafe but I still dared to live there.  (And in the fact that people in my city don’t walk around wearing designer clothes as their everyday apparel.)  But I’ll go ahead and let them think they’re tough – as any Bostonian would tell you, it’s not wise to argue with them.  They’re all (eight-dollar) beer-drinking hot-headed (Back Bay) city dwellers who will knock your head off (with words) if they get the chance.

It all comes down to civic pride, I guess.  I’m glad Bostonians are proud of their Red Stockings.  They should be.  I’m still proud of my Redbirds.  Hopefully now that the World Series is over, we can all go back to using “Boston Strong” only for events that actually embody its meaning.  Hopefully the win truly did bring peace and happiness to some people.  If, at the very least, it means they’ll all have less road rage for the next few weeks, I’ll take it.


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