Who on earth calls Dorchester “The Chest”?
Apparently, we “locals” do— if you believe the author and publishers of a “Newcomer’s Handbook for Moving and Living in Boston.” The book— now in its eighth edition— is billed as “the #1 relocation guide for moving to Boston!”
In the book’s brief entry about Dorchester, author Kyle Therese Cranston opens her review thusly: “Known to locals as ‘Dot’ or ‘the Chest,’ Dorchester is Boston’s largest neighborhood in terms of population and size.” Later in her summary, Cranston declares, “While newcomers will definitely want to stay clear of certain areas of the Chest…”
Ok, stop right there. Of course, we are insulted and generally offended by this vaguely racist, ignorant warning. But, hey, we’re used to that from insipid, mass-produced “guide books” that have sometimes been known to skip Dorchester and Mattapan altogether.
Let’s get to the heart of this outrage: “The Chest!” Really, now! Welcome to Dorchester, the must-follow Twitter feed that keeps so many of us in the loop and on our toes about all things Dot, flagged this ridiculousness last week. Hilarity ensued in true Twitter fashion.
“I’m going to poke my eye out. NEVER have I EVER heard anyone call it the Chest. JFC,” tweeted Dorchester Debutante.
“Please stop #thechest,” demanded Ya Mama. Lindsay Crudele chimed in: “Guys, stop trying to make ‘The Chest’ happen.”
And on it went for, well, a day.
Not content to let Dot’s Twitter contingent enjoy a monopoly on ridiculing foolish guide book writers, the Reporter’s editor— me— elected to put this question to the 12,000-plus members of the Facebook page “Originally from Dorchester.”
“We all generally refer to the hometown as Dot, but did anyone ever refer to Dorchester by the nickname ‘The Chest?’... I’ve been covering Dot for about three decades now and have never heard this used in ANY part of Dorchester. But, if anyone out there in OFD land has a different take, I’d love to hear it.”
The reaction was swift and, occasionally, brutal. Over 300 people commented over several days— and not one indicated that anyone had ever even thought of calling our beloved Dorchester by… that name.
Variations of the comment “NEVER” or “Nevah” predominated among the ex-pat community— but the OFD critique was even sharper and more unforgiving than team Twitter.
“Never heard of it- fake news,” declared Steve Vining.
“I’m 71 and I never heard of that,” chimed in Pat Devlin Hennessy.
“Whoever wrote that got some bad information or someone was playing a prank on them,” conjured Frank Hagan.
There was plenty of shade thrown in the direction of ‘hipster’ millennials— who, of course, really are ruining everything, including Dorchester nicknames.
“Song of lies,” cried Kelly Connolly Shaw. “That book was probably written by someone who moved to Boston to go to college in the ‘90s, now lives in a condo in Southie and eats Caesar salad wraps at a Red Sox game.”
Other members were not content to merely speculate. Cheryl Little, OFD, reached out to the author demanding to know her source of the aforementioned torso-reference.
‘We, the people of OFD… have taken a poll. None of us has ever heard of it referred to as The Chest. There are members ranging in age from their teens to their 70s. Where did you get your info?’ Little inquired.
The response, via Little: “Hi Cheryl. I had some friends who lived there while I was working on the book and that’s what they called it.”
Judy Higgins-Parker summed up the feelings of most when she concluded: “The idea that someone not from Dot can rename Dot… is just ludicrous….Besides, ‘the Chest’ is just plain ugly.”
Ah, but, maybe some good might come of this “Chest” debacle after all: The OFD thread— aside from generating some truly hilarious insults— took a contemplative turn after a while. Some, it turns out, have never heard of the oft-used modern monicker “Dot Rat”— which has been popularized on t-shirts and websites for decades now. Others aren't too fond of it.
The consensus is that the term started in the 1960s and referred to a certain fashion of the day. Others think it might have spread across the neighborhood from Port Norfolk, where some referred to one another as “Port Rats.”
Rick Thureson commented: “I’m from Dorchester and proud of it but I don’t like the ‘rat’ part as people from outside our area see it as snitches, aka rats.” Maryellen Culhane Whitley agreed: “I’m a Dot Brat! I don’t like the rat thing either.”
So there you have it! Thanks, friends of Kyle Therese Cranston— you’ve single-handedly thrust The Chest into existence and sparked an existential debate about a long-standing identity crisis that we didn’t even know was a thing. Well done!
The conversation continues online!