I've long since given up writing about the fakeness of the term "nor'easter" (see "Nor'easter considered fake", 1/25/2004; "The storm is real, the word is still fake", 1/22/2005), partly because it's futile, and partly because it doesn't matter, and mostly because people are entitled to use phony dialect forms if they want — here as elsewhere, usage is et ius et norma loquendi.
But today's mail brought this note from George Hand, who seems to have been inspired by all the recent nor'easter-news to refer back my earlier posts on the subject (the first of which quotes Jan Freeman quoting him):
Edgar Comee had the right idea: "Edgar Comee, of Brunswick, Maine, waged a determined battle against use of the term "nor’easter" by the press, which usage he considered “a pretentious and altogether lamentable affectation” and "the odious, even loathsome, practice of landlubbers who would be seen as salty as the sea itself." His efforts, which included mailing hundreds of postcards, were profiled, just before his death at the age of 88, in The New Yorker."
By way of background, I grew up on Cape Cod in the forties and fifties when the regional Yankee accents were still alive and well (the "Cape Cod" accent is pretty well gone on Cape Cod but I heard it occasionally when I worked in the Brockton area during the '90s). A real Yankee, for whom a terminal "r" is almost as difficult as either of our surviving "th"s are for, say, Germans (my maternal grandparents were native German speakers and could never get any closer to it than a "d" sound), would pronounce the word either "nawtheastah" or "nahtheastah" (up country tended to favor the first; Plymouth County speakers including the Cape and Brockton, the latter).
You're right about the 19th literary affectation of phony New Englandisms. I remember the first time I picked up a Joseph Lincoln novel set on Cape Cod. A hoot! Also, tracing an accent back to Merrie Olde is specious in itself. The New England accent is a bunch of accents partly due to pre-TV linguistic isolation but also due to WHERE in England people came from. Plymouth County settlers came by way of Cornwall from God knows where while Mass Bay settlers came from the east coast of England where the accent was quite different. (They agree only on the inability to pronounce the "r" in north).
(The New Yorker item on Edgar Comee is here.)
[Because of the apostrophe, neither the Google n-grams search function nor Mark Davies' COHA corpus search tool will tell us anything about the history of nor'easter. One more example of why researchers need access to the actual data, not just to fun but limited search interfaces.
Jan Freeman did some more old-fashioned research back in 2003, and came up with this:
From 1975 to 1980, journalists used the nor'easter spelling only once in five mentions of such storms; in the past year, more than 80 percent of northeasters were spelled nor'easter. It's no more authentic than "nucular" for nuclear or "bicep" for biceps, but it would take a mighty wind, at this point, to blow nor'easter back into oblivion.
It would be nice to be able to extend her search.]