THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

21 January 2019

Recording of the week: it's a bit Derby!

This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

Rhyming slang is a wonderful vehicle for individual and collective linguistic creativity. The expression here a bit Derby [= ‘cold’] was submitted to the Evolving English WordBank by two contributors from Nottingham and captures the playful rivalry between neighbouring cities.

It's a bit Derby (C1442)

The term I was thinking of from Nottingham was we say if it’s cold we say it’s a bit Derby and this comes from it’s kind of a rhyming slang where we have a famous road called Derby Road but a lot of people in Nottingham seem to drop the L when they say cold so they say cowd so it rhymes with Derby Road so if someone says ooh it’s Derby they mean it’s cold (British Library shelfmark C1442/1310)

In Nottingham we might say it’s cowd instead of it’s cold and if we’re feeling frisky we might actually turn that into rhyming slang so oh it’s a bit Derby Road obviously rhyming with cowd meaning cold and we particularly don’t like Derby in Nottingham so it’s doubly funny (British Library shelfmark C1442/684)

Both speakers explain that the phrase derives from a dialectal pronunciation of cold as ‘cowd’, thus potentially rhyming locally with road. As the conventions of rhyming slang require the rhyming component (‘road’) be omitted, it’s a bit Derby might appear incomprehensible to outsiders but immediately strikes a chord with locals. The phrase illustrates how dialect is constantly refreshing and re-inventing itself and the obvious enthusiasm with which it’s used confirms the continued relevance of dialect as a means of expressing local identity.

Derby Road

The Derby Road itself merges into a long stretch of the A52 recently re-named ‘Brian Clough Way’ in honour of the football manager who enjoyed unprecedented success at both Derby County and Nottingham Forest from the 1970s to early 1990s. Despite the fierce rivalry between the two clubs, he’s viewed with equal affection in both cities, so this simple phrase conveys much more to a local than outsiders can possibly imagine.

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