Sound and vision blog

13 September 2021

Recording of the week: I nearly went bozz-eyed when I saw this!

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

After a summer in which most of us have holidayed in the UK, I’ve been fascinated on my travels to note a growing enthusiasm for commercial products that celebrate local speech and identity. Gift shops and craft stores now frequently sell souvenirs such as tea towels, T-shirts, mugs, beer etc. featuring local phrases or playful re-spellings of everyday expressions to reflect local accents – a phenomenon linguists call ‘dialect commodification’.

During a recent trip to Ashbourne, I was delighted to spot this framed poster of ‘The Derbyshire Periodic Table’. The display replicates the layout of the conventional periodic table, but chemical elements are replaced by a local expression with a correspondingly made-up symbol and atomic number. The entry I find particularly striking is located at the bottom of the red group on the left-hand side – the symbol Bz with the atomic number 73 representing boz-eyed [= ‘cross-eyed’].

Photograph of Derbyshire Periodic table

The 1950s Survey of English Dialects (SED) documented several regional variants for ‘cross-eyed’ including glee-eyed in the North East, skend in Lancashire, squint-eyed in East Anglia and the West Country and boss-eyed in the Midlands and South. This regional distribution of boss-eyed is confirmed by a contribution to the Library’s WordBank by a speaker from Barnet, Hertfordshire, who was surprised when she moved to Merseyside to discover that speakers there were unfamiliar with the term:

C1442X02420 BOSS-EYED

boss-eyed means cross-eyed … somebody who doesn’t see straight ahead …
I live in Merseyside and I find nobody in that area will understand that word

Intriguingly, although ‘boss-eyed’ was recorded frequently in the SED across the southern half of England, there were only two localities where informants supplied a pronunciation with a medial <-z-> sound – one in Lapley, Staffordshire, the other in Kniveton, Derbyshire – a village just outside Ashbourne, which is a convincing explanation for the alternative spelling in the Derbyshire Periodic Table.

entry for bozz-eyed from the Survey of English Dialects book  SED entry at CROSS-EYED showing the form bozz-eyed in Kniveton and Lapley. Survey of English Dialects Basic Material: The West Midland Counties (1969, p.600)

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