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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Remembered Cheshire Dialect

Some South Cheshire Dialect - mostly dairy farming terms

Adland – headland – uncultivated area left at the end of a furrow where the mower / plough turns
Aind - hound - as in 'up comes 52 bloody ainds' in Blaster Bates' well-quoted monologue 'A Shower of Shit over Cheshire'
Atchen – acorn (nickname for Keith at primary school ‘atchen yed’)
Asker – newt (small amphibian like a damp torpid skink)
Avarous - avaricious
Backend – Autumn – hence ‘backender’ – a heifer or cow that will calve late in the year when feed is scarce but milk prices are high
Bear - no bears in Cheshire when I grew up either wild or for baiting - but a memory in the saying 'as brown as a bear's arse'
Beast - the first milk let down after calving - colostrum
Bletch - the dirty oil on a machine (e.g. bike chain), from Crewe Railway Workshops -originally in complaint about the state of locos sent up from the linked North Western Railway workshop in Northamptonshire at Bletchley
Bonk – bank – frequently used to describe farms, as raised areas were better drained sites for farm houses
Boozy – trough at the head of each cattle stall or tying
Bowk – bucket
Bread and cheese - local term for the earliest green shoots of the hawthorn in the Springtime - widely eaten by children (probably a good source of vitamen C)
Brook - stream
Bugger - omnipresent in conversation - same in rural New Zealand as illustrated by a recent Toyota light truck / utility / ute advertisement where the ute pulls out a tree stump that destroys the chook house and the cockie rubs his head and says 'Bugger Me'. I personally believe that use of the the word in rural areas has nothing do do with buggery or the 'Bulgarian Atrocities' of the late 19th Century. Much more likley, it seems to me, is that it is related to 'beg', as in 'Begger me' or 'begger my neighbour'.
Bull - verbally abuse - to give someone a 'good bulling' about a problem or issue - not always polite or to be used a tea with the vicar as it can refer to mating cattle - probably related to standard English 'bully' / 'bullying'
Byng – corridor at the head of tyings in the shippon from which stock are fothered
Chimbley – chimney - 'the owd dog shot up bloody chimbley' - dog seeking warmth and catching the fire's smoke
Clem - starve
Conna – cannot (my nickname for Pete)
Cowd – cold
Cratch – side of a wagon (‘a good cratched ‘un’ – someone who can eat a lot)
Cut – canal (Cheshire is intersected by canals linking the industrial Midlands and industrial North of England – a great way to see the countryside)
Dabber – inhabitant of Nantwich (from leatherworking, stemming from the local abundance of salt and hides – hence Dab-town)
Diggly – sex, as in ‘having a bit of diggly’
Dunna – do not (my nickname for Matt)
Ess ole rooter - someone who hugs the fire (i.e. the ash-hole) and baulks from work
Feggy – rank and overgrown
Five gallon a day beast – good milking heifer (or well-endowed young lady)
Fother – fodder (often used as a verb)
Gradely – fine – as in ‘oos a gradely little wench’ (i.e. she is a fine young woman)
Gur – diarrhea
Jed – dead
Kench – wedge of hay or silage – also scrunched up, as in being ‘kenched wi cowd’ (doubled up with cold)
Korves - calves - see below - cry to get calves to come for bucket-feeding, 'cub, cub korv'
Kyat - cat - typical of the distorted pronounciation of standard English words
Ligger - liar
Lommer - another word sometimes used in relationship to hard physical labour - if the Inuits have 32 words for snow, Cheshire farmers had a raft of words for punishing work - this one though most frequently referred to 'on-heat' heifers mounting or lommering each other
Look up – check stock by walking among them in the fields or walking down the byng in the shippon
Mard – spoilt – i.e. ‘marred’ – schoolyard taunt ‘mardy custard’
Maul – strain in doing something / make a nuisance of oneself (e.g. maul one’s gorbey [guts])
Miss Muffet - not strictly dialect but a 'dirty' version of the rhyme that I have never heard elsewhere - 'Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, her nickers all ragged and torn. It wasn't the spider that sat down beside her but Little Boy Blue with his horn'
Mither – be a nuisance
Mixen – midden (‘better to marry over the mixen than over the moor’ i.e. marry all girl from Cheshire whose dad has lots of cows and cow shit, rather than marry into the poor sheep farmers of Derbyshire)
Mizzle – half-way between drizzle and mist
Mow'd - mowed - widely used in regard to sufficiency and relating to the importance of restricting mowing to the amount that can be dried and harvested successfully as hay - 'mowd up wi work' (overstretched), 'oer mowd' (over-mowed - too much on to be able to cope)
Munna – must not (nickname for Sam?)
Muxt - mess - as in 'tha's made a muxt on it lad' (you have made a mess of it)
Nesh – unable to stand cold or pain
Nowt - naughty child - naught / nothing, as in 'tha's a reet nowt'
Oawa up - morning cry to cows to 'come up' from the fields for milking (How up?)
Oo - she - as in 'Oo inna jed is oo - noeweh, oos corbelsed - ah a mun get vet' (i.e. she is not dead is she - no, she's collapsed - I must get the vetinerary surgeon - referring to treating a 'downer' cow that is suffering from 'milk fever' / calcium deficiency)
Owd – old –e.g. as in someone being decrepit and ‘owd an feggy’
Pit – pond – a vital part of the old cheese-making economy, providing water for the stalled cattle in the winter and the means for swilling out the shippons
Pather – bring wet and mud into the house by not cleaning one’s shoes
Pikel - pitchfork
Poll Evil - infection of horses / cows head
Pommer – attractive girl, as in ‘a reet (right) pommer’
Practical - handy, dextrous - the ultimate accolade
Rawnge – sprain / strain – ‘rawnge, maul and mither’ – the actions of particularly troublesome children (probably variant of standard English 'wrench' i.e. 'wrawnge')
Reens and bawks – the corrugations – about 3 metres apart that were dug to drain boggy fields in the 18th century) – hence ‘reen-warted’ – like a sheep or cow that has sunk down on its back in the reen and cannot get up – colloquially, someone who has eaten too much or who is getting too fat
Rit – runt – e.g. the rit of the litter
Scrag – grab and beat up (schoolyard term)
Scrumping - stealing apples - a common sport for kids in Autumn
Seg – callous (on the hand)
Shippon – cow shed
Snap - snack (used particularly for the lunch that farm labourers took to work with them in their 'snap tins' - along with their dry tea for a 'brew'. After work, they cycled home with their brew can on their handlebars filled with 'free' milk from the farm for their families)
Snig - Eel - 'as fat as a snig'
Spadger – sparrow (‘Like a Northwich spadger – all twitter and shit’, i.e. garrulous)
Stirk - type of 'cattle-beast' - steer?
Straighten – tidy up something or oneself - as in 'yeah lads mun get tha'sens straightened an go skoo' (you boys must get dressed and go to school)
Strap - extra licence / credit (presumably from lightening the straps on cart / carriage horses)
Yarn – heron
Tha - 'you' singular - universal in conversation - as in 'tha's a bugger to coo' (innocent report in 1930s of kid to his female schoolteacher of his father's opinion of the singing capabilities of his recently purchased parrot - received strong condemnation for the use of the 'b' word)
Thripper – gate on the end of a cart to hold on the load
Thrutch – squirm
Tice - to actively seek involvement in mischief (i.e. 'entice')
Tight – drunk, also miserly e.g. ‘as tight as a duck’s arse – and that’s water tight’
Tine - prong (as in the 'tines on a pikel')
Tying - chain at cattle stall
Underdone – not looking well (as opposed to ‘prosperous’ = looking well)
Wid – duck (from Welsh ‘hwaed’ = duck – presumably because the junior cheese-maids from Wales generally called up the ducks off the pit – “wid, wid ..wid”)
Wom – home – as in wom bonk (as in the saying ‘a cock feets (i.e. fights) best on (h)is wom bonk’)
Wunna - will not (nickname for Theo?)
Yed - head


The Reverend William Gaskell (husband of Elizabeth Gaskell, author of 'North and South', 'Mary Barton' etc) contributed a fascinating appendix to 'Mary Barton' on the Lancashire Dialect (based on 2 lectures that he gave in Manchester in 1848). He makes a strong case for deriving many dialect words from a Brythonic / Cumbric / Welsh-variant vocabulary substratum. This in turn being related to the fact that Lancashire (& Cheshire)once formed part of Celtic-speaking Yr Hen Ogledd (the Old North).

Among the examples that he discusses are:

Camming – wearing out of shape – Welsh ‘cam’ = bent, awry. Gammy is a variant
Cob – lump – Welsh ‘co’ = mass; to cob = break into small pieces , Welsh ‘cobiaw’ = strike, thump
Bragget – drink of malt and meat – Welsh ‘bragawd’
Pobs – bread soaked in milk – Welsh ‘pob’ = baking
Sad – stiff, dry – Welsh ‘sad’ = firm
Kecks – stems of wild hemlock – Welsh ‘cecys’ = hollow stalked
Griddle – bakestone – Welsh ‘greidyl’
Tad and Mam – Dad and Mum (Welsh equivalents).

These certainly seem very familiar to me. Horace used to have (and I still tell my boys about him having) 'pobs' (stale bread, with hot milk and sugar) for breakfast.

Gaskell also makes the point that:

'As Celtic and Gothic (the ancestor of Anglo-Saxon) are stocks of the same tribe of languages (i.e. Indo-European), they have many words in common, scarcely if at all, different in form, and this sometimes renders it difficult to say which may claim the immediate parentage of a current term.'

I am reminded here also that Caesar could not send messages written in Latin to his commanders in the field as the Gauls could easily read them if they captured the message-bearers (no doubt one reason that modern French is not quite as 'Latin' say as Spanish, as it is a mutation rather than the product of colonization).

It seems to me that many modern commentators, like Stephen Oppenheimer in his 'Origins of the British', completely lose sight of the overlap issue. This leads Oppenheimer to insist on the likelihood of widespread pre-Roman use of a Germanic language in South Eastern England - even though no words have ever been recoverd.

That is not to deny though that, for example, there may well have been some Friesian coastal settlers in the area controlled by the Iceni - or that late-Roman London and Middlesex may have been dominated by demobilised Roman soldiers / colonists from Batavia, the Rhineland and northern Belgium.

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