On Kellyanne Conway, Or: Hoagiemouth As A Lifestyle Choice
BY JOEY SWEENEY
Hoagiemouth was always hoagiemouth — that is, the currently preferred descriptive noun and adjective for the Philadelphia/South Jersey regional accent — but it was only a few years ago that many of us tacitly agreed that it should be called that. Like the term “philebrity” (n., a well-known person in and around Philadelphia, where there are no celebrities), this website you are reading right now didn’t make it up, but we did popularize it. And like that portmanteau, for each embrace of it we make, we also encounter a misgiving.
Hoagiemouth has had a notable run in these last few years, from MSNBC having at least two hoagiemouths on staff (Chris Matthews and Steve Schmidt) to any number of Tina Fey bits, some funnier than others. (Notable how both of these examples stem from Comcast-owned media properties, but for the moment, let’s not ponder what this might mean.) But today, in this very, very, weird moment, there is one hoagiemouth who towers over all other hoagiemouths, and that is Kellyanne Conway. In fact, she’s such a hoagiemouth that it’s impossible to even say her name without sounding like you, too, speak hoagiemouth: The nag of the nnnnn’s, the awnn of Con—, the eyyyy of —way. The only thing missing is the yewe’s and the yeowe’s that make up the hoagiemouth musical scale.
In her present capacity as Counselor To The President — a cabinet level position, by the way, invented by none other than Nixon — Conway is now both perhaps the most notable and most notably shameful (or shameless) human being to ever carry the linguistic flourish of hoagiemouth. And that’s saying something. Born in Camden and raised in Atco, NJ, educated in the Catholic schools of the region, Conway’s hoagiemouth is as deep and as strong as the Delaware River.
And as it happens, it simultaneously serves her well even as it makes her sound like a complete idiot. I say this, in the interest of full disclosure, as a hoagiemouth survivor. For I too was raised as a hoagiemouth, and spent as much time as I could as an adolescent bending my own speaking patterns and vowel sounds to imitate proper, region-less American English. (Funny thing, though: As I get older, I find it’s creeping back — something which I can only regard as a knowing taunt from death itself. From whence we are born, we shall return.)
But I digress. Conway’s hoagiemouth does her the favor of making her seem relatable when, with each passing day, she reveals more and more that she’s not. On top of that, Conway’s hoagiemouth is as thoroughly weaponized as an embittered Irish mother’s; the harangue, the argument, is in fact its most natural métier. Its championing achievement may have been on Sunday, when even as Conway paused, mid-battle, for one last gulp of air before uttering the phrase “awlturrnadiv FACKS,” she knew that her hoagiemouth was, in its way, slaying the kindly old dragon that we call Truth.
All of which has led me to wonder: Did Conway ever have that moment that I imagine many in the hoagiemouth tribe have, when you fully hear yourself, maybe for the first time ever, and weigh the options: Do I sound like an idiot? If I do, is this the kind of idiot I want to sound like? Will I benefit from this accent in my professional life? Could I live with myself if I abandoned this linguistic birthright? Is hoagiemouth a lifestyle choice?
Increasingly, I am coming to the conclusion that I think it is. If it wasn’t, people who aren’t white would have it. And for the most part, they don’t. Rather, hoagiemouth is the secret linguistic handshake of the white working class Philadelphia diaspora. Hoagiemouth is the mouth music of the unions and the FOP and the little old ladies hanging out their screen doors who can be as sweet as they can be mean, if provoked. Hoagiemouth is white flight, flying all over Delco and Montco and South Jersey and — look! — is now flying right back into Philly with a newfound Kardashian blahhh! In this moment, it may turn out that hoagiemouth is America’s new, unlikely, strange language. And Conway is speaking it, with terrifying results.