THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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117 posts categorized "Accents & dialects"

18 February 2019

Recording of the week: croggy or backy?

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

Sadly, despite growing up in Yorkshire and the West Midlands in the 1970s, I never owned a Chopper, although I certainly remember the thrill of a croggy [= ‘shared ride on handlebars of bicycle’] on my mate’s bike (including the obligatory football cards and lollipop sticks attached to the spokes). Online debate about the relative merits of croggy versus backy [= ‘shared ride on back of bicycle’] are numerous and invariably focus on the potential dialectal (i.e. geographical) preference for one or other variant. Curiously, these virtual discussions seem particularly animated on Teesside, where a third variant – tan – also exists, but submissions to the Library’s WordBank, a crowdsourced collection created in 2010/11 by visitors to the Evolving English exhibition, suggest croggy resonates particularly strongly with many contributors.

CROGGY [Middlesbrough C1442/6650]

CROGGY [Peterborough C1442/4353]

CROGGY [London C1442/3192]

CROGGY

The form croggy arises by taking the first segment of the word, crossbar, changing the final consonant <s> to <g>, and adding the suffix <-y>; thus crossbar → cross → crog → croggy. This brilliantly playful hypocorism is a popular productive process in some British dialects, in which an underlying polysyllabic word containing a medial <-s-> (or <-st->) sound mutates to a <g> (or <k>) sound and the final syllable is replaced by the suffix <-y> (or <-ie>). The most widespread analogous form is probably plastic → placky, although there are other examples and the phenomenon is perhaps particularly common in adolescent speech. I certainly have very fond childhood memories of winters praying we would have enough snow to go plackybagging [= ‘sledging on a plastic bag/bin liner’] and I always kept a lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] in my school blazer pocket to fire paper pellets with.

As this type of linguistic creativity is restricted to very informal speech it is seldom documented in conventional dictionaries, although the New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2006) has an entry for plaggy [= ‘plastic’] and The Lore of the Playground (Roud, 2010) includes laggies as one of several regional variants for 'French skipping' (i.e. skipping with a long elastic band round one's legs rather than with a skipping rope). Collins Dictionary categorises croggy as ‘Northern England and Midlands dialect’, while The Dictionary of Contemporary Slang (Thorne, 2014) classifies croggie as ‘schoolchildren’s slang’, thereby implying, I suspect, a somewhat wider (geographic) distribution, which is supported by our WordBank data. The advent of social media offers far greater prominence to this kind of vernacular language and so, not surprisingly, croggy/croggie has several entries at Urban Dictionary (which also includes lacky band [= ‘elastic band’] and (like its counterparts, backy/backie and tan) warrants its own hashtag (#croggy and #croggie) on Twitter. A university friend from Newcastle once uttered my favourite ever example of this process: fantackerbacker [= ‘fantastic’], which kind of sums it up in a nutshell, really.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

21 January 2019

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

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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.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish  and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

20 December 2018

WordBank Acrostic Challenge: Celebratory Selection Part 2

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UOSH Volunteer and poet, Amy Evans Bauer, writes:

Scrabble

As we approach solstice, pantomime horses, the holly and the ivy, and festive schedules in which we often have to be in two places at once, here is the other half of WordBank’s own two-parter…

Part 1 of our celebratory selection contained poetry, comedy and a riddle. Part 2 below features the lists with which it all began, followed by the sophistications of the challenge’s advanced category!

Sonic choreographies come to you from the furthest corner of our challenge in South Africa (hello!), before Yorkshire has the last word with a moving image (blog pun intended) of spoken language—and of our shared acts of listening across silences and other gaps.

As you read, click on the hyperlinks so as to hear the lexical items in WordBank that form the fabric of these archive-led works of slang art.

*

Vajazzle

Oxter

Imshi

Chimbles

Elpit

Bahookie

Anywhen

Nang

Kets       

                —Holly Gilbert @CollectingSound

                 A special thanks to Holly for being the challenge’s first entrant!

Ultimosmic

Oh my days

Sick  

Hella cool

               —Jonnie Robinson @VoicesofEnglish

Wumpert

Overner

ROFL

Deffo too

Brassic for

Argy-bargy and

Nithered

Kerfuffle

               —Amy Evans Bauer @AmyEvansBauer

               See SAMI for wumpert, argy-bargy and kerfuffle

*

Wasted not are you, unwind sweet torment,

Or overner, here, in land of nod.

Rowie thy flavour, bewitching thy scent

Dimpsy or dusk, you and I interlocked.

Bugger, they don’t understand our love!

Ach y fi, laugh I back, yours is the loss.

Now then, mind I not share with them my dove?

Keek  ye may, her round body touch not, pus!

 

Uber-rich am I not, nor cute am I,

Ohrwurm, thy name stuck on my heart’s beat, shy.

Somewhen you’ll grow bored of me, my toffee.

Hey lads hey, hear: I’m soft on my coffee!

               —Patricia Furstenberg @PatFurstenberg

The Dalesman to the Academic 

Well chuffed to blether

On and on for nobbut t'sound o'thysens,

Reight glib an' reckonin' nowt to it,

Durst ever stop to ponder

Bout the weight of air

Around a word—the clemming

Needing filling, that you cram for fear

Knowing what empty means?

 

Us'll teach thee

Only eejits fear the gap;

Sniff out the right word, if tha must, but

Harken—silence ain't a trap.

                        —Clare Mulley @simply_spiffing

                        Yorkshire dialect, based on the way my Grandad used to speak

Trophy
[Boeotian alphabet]

A huge Thank You, THX, ta and cheers to all who took part. If you didn’t have a chance last month but would still like to try your hand at a dialect or slang acrostic, we hope you have a spell-tastic time!

Amy’s at-sea poetry installation SOUND((ING))S is available to hear online or to read in chapbook form as the transcript PASS PORT.

Index

19 December 2018

WordBank Acrostic Challenge: Celebratory Selection Part 1

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UOSH Volunteer and poet, Amy Evans Bauer, writes:

Thank you to everyone who got their thinking caps on, filled their boots, threw their hat in the ring, rolled their sleeves up, took up the gauntlet and otherwise accessorised so as to take part in the WordBank Acrostic Challenge call for poems, puzzles and lists!

ScrabbleIn the words of Lead Curator of Spoken English Jonnie Robinson @VoicesofEnglish, we asked people to

                                Unleash

                                Our

                                Slang

                                Hoard

 

Participants chose to spell WORDBANK, VOICEBANK or UOSH. The adventurous tried their hand at an advanced challenge of WORDBANK UOSH. We asked for one line or more to begin with a lexical item from WordBank.

We were delighted to receive entries from all over the world taking part in this celebration of linguistic diversity, informal modes of linguistic inheritance and non-standard spoken English. The acrostically challenged from the UK to South Africa and the US got puzzling.

Our writers have their say through words contributed to the Library by visitors born between 1925 and 2000, and explore place, romance, pain, childhood, nights out, and more. We even had an Anglo-Saxon riddle, appropriately enough given the current exhibition Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War exhibition, and a re-imagining of the playground chants in the Opie Collection of Children’s Games and Songs.

I was struck by the agility of each writer-as-listener, without exception. Entries ranged from witty musings on the process, and a-geographical medleys, to fully-fledged dialect poems fluent in Lallans (Lowland Scots) or Yorkshire dialect. We hope you agree that each reads as a wonderful microcosm of the collection!

I also reveled in hearing how much fun was had by all: “Thank you so much!! I loved writing this!!!” and “I had a great time in the WordBank! It’s the language obviously—but also the accents!”

Here’s to our nimble wordsmiths—champion slangsmiths, every one!

Trophy

[Boeotian alphabet]

’Tis the season for two-part creatures (panto, anyone?). In Part 1 of our selection below, you’ll find poetry, comedy and riddling. Part 2 will follow with lively lists and 2 longer poems. 

If you click on the hyperlinks that we have added to each acrostic, you can listen to the recordings that form the fabric of these intricate, archive-led sonic tapestries.

*

We’d run, unleashed from indoors, 

Over soft sand and sturdy blades of marram grass.

Racing, panting, spluttering, swither; down to the water then in,

Dodging jellyfish, splashing, squealing,

Brassic fun. I flap with my arms,

Aeroplane aquatics in a shallow lagoon.

Now sand castles. Dig, deeper, that’s the moat. I

Kneel on something sharp. Blood. ‘Come and have a cwtch’ she says. ‘You’ll mend.’

               —Frances Jones

*

Wheesht!

Whauphill whair I ne'er heard the curlew cry

Only Johnny Robb w' his mismatched een

Rules owre the moonllcht fields ahint the byre

Dealin' oot daith while we keep at hame

Bakin' oor breid but scunnered fo' a' that

As the big yins a' bigg their big hooses

Nae less, nae mair, we maun just haud oor tongues

Kennin' a', not greetin' like twa wee bairns.

               —Robert Hampson

               Lallans (Lowland Scots)

*

Vardos moored in Kent’s fields, chavvies playing 

Opies turned their chanted games to wavs

I hope your chickens turn to emus and kick your shit house down’ 

Curses deftly reference Ozzy outback lavs

Eight, nine, ten’s a clean expletive if you’re Pennsylvanian Polish

Bashert is a stoic, Jewish ‘c’e sera’

Acky, atta, panshite, mumpus, once at risk of fading from us, 

Now are

Kosher, ordered, safe, and catalogued.

               —Anna Savory  @AnnaSavory

               Opie: Opie collection of children’s games and songs

*

Wrong, just wrong

outen as we were, holding battery eggs,

runted chocolate. Both half-grown,

dimpsy and mussed.

Bishy you and me—well—

azizam, I never quite knew me.

Nithered, nesh,

kecks like a shy fey boy.

               —Kirsten Irving  @KofTheTriffids

*

What the

Oy vey

Rat-arsed!

Don’t piss on my shoes and tell me it’s raining

Blud.

Awesome

Nerdy

Kecks!

               —Stephen Cleary

*

Wor(l)d-weary,

Or what?!

Reading acrostically is… em

Difficult, deffo, at the… em

Best of times.

And this is not the best of times

Nevertheless, I soldier on—undaunted?!

Keep the faith!

               —Jayne Lal

*

Speech

Word hoard widening,

Oratory turns to paper,

Random chances of locality— 

Drei the wird of word

Branching like yew, elm, oak, ash

Across skins and seas.

No-one can doubt its power,

Knowing it is heard.

               —Clare Mulley  @simply_spiffing

               Play on Anglo Saxon riddle style

If you didn’t have a chance last month but would still like to try your hand at a dialect or slang acrostic, we hope you have a spell-tastic time!

Amy’s at-sea poetry installation SOUND((ING))S is available to hear online or to read in chapbook form as the transcript PASS PORT.

Index

10 December 2018

Recording of the week: a whole nother

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This week's selection comes from Dr Amy Evans, a recent volunteer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Whether this phrase amuses or maddens you, it is interesting to consider its provenance. I’m in in the former category, and find this a delicious curiosity of non-standard spoken English! The expression was submitted to the Library’s WordBank by a contributor from the Middle West of the US.  

A whole nother (C1442/4317)

The contributor says:
'OK so in Indiana a very common phrase that we use is a whole nother. You would spell it A space W H O L E space N O T H E R and instead of saying I would like another whole bagel you would say I’d like a whole nother bagel and it’s very commonly used, just about everybody I know in Indiana uses that phrase. It’s very popular'.

A WHOLE NOTHERWe can easily recognise that the word another is a fused form of an other reformulated as one word as a result of changes in spelling conventions. However, we would rarely expect an intrusion between the two parts, let alone an interruption of the first an. So how has a whole nother appeared? One interpretation is that this queue of bagel eaters is, in fact, demonstrating a perfectly natural linguistic process, in which phonetics (speech sounds) rather than morpheme boundaries (the point at which two or more ‘separate’ elements of a word meet) are the guide. English syllabification is based on morphological principles. Nevertheless, instinctively we syllabify the words here as a-nother, with the stress on the consonant <n>. Subconsciously, a re-interpretation of syllabification occurs, and with stress as our guide, we compose a whole nother.

The successive strong stresses of the result (whole no-) serve further to underline the intended point. In the literary language of scansion and poetic metre, we move from an amphibrach (one triple-metre foot of unstressed-stressed-unstressed a-no-ther), to an iamb followed by a trochee (the duple-metre of an unstressed-stressed foot followed by a stressed-unstressed foot a whole and no-ther). In laypersons’ terms, the stresses move from de-DUM-de to de-DUM DUM-de. Those of us who enjoy the phrase make quite a meal out of the inserted WHOLE and the springboard N sound.

You can currently hear this phrase used as an emphatic tool throughout the UK, US and beyond. Whether you decide to deploy it for dietary purposes so as to enjoy seconds today is a whole nother issue. Hungry for more? You could bake your own bagels so as to consider another type of verbal inheritance and its many non-standard written forms, the recipe—in either wheaty or gluten-free version. As a coeliac, I would like to point out that no UOSH volunteers were harmed in the research of this post!

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

07 November 2018

When the cows come home - a mooving translation

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British Library Volunteer, Dr Amy Evans Bauer, writes:

Have you ever had trouble explaining the definition of a word, and even more so, conveying an idiom in literal language? An idiom is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as:

a form of expression, grammatical construction, phrase, etc., used in a distinctive way in a particular language, dialect, or language variety; spec. a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from the meanings of the individual words.

It is clear from this submission to the Library’s WordBank, and many like it, that thinking about how to deconstruct idioms can take us further and further out to sea. One London-based contributor, born in 1972, who defined her accent as belonging to Wigan in the North West of England, and who had also lived in the Midlands, explains Bun Tuesday. Appropriately enough, while listening to her recording, we avoid ever arriving:  

Cow

and I’ve also used the phrase Bun Tuesday as in never gonna happen as in when the cows come home that’s never gonna happen that’s Bun Tuesday so I imagine it’s got something to do with Easter time but I don’t know again the phrases are from the north-west

C1442X7237 WHEN THE COWS COME HOME 

 

 

I encountered my favourite equivalent of when the cows come home when visiting my friends Dana and Mike in Albuquerque. For this bilingual (Spanish-English) Coloradan-Nebraskan household based in New Mexico, an event that is never gonna happen is foretold with the kind counsel don’t hang your hat on it. This metaphor draws on the same idea that connects arrival, millinery and belonging in the phrase (and famous song lyric) wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home. The advice to not hang my hat on it conveyed the same message as don’t count your chickens, because the promised event we were discussing would happen when the cows come home.

Of course, for those of us who grew up on the Isle of Wight, there are certainly times in the year both when the cows come home and when they can be found further afield. Cows may not hibernate, but they do ‘winter’. This is why every year, at the start of autumn, the cattle population of Culver Down increases. The western side of the Down hosts a visiting herd, which comes from a nearby farm to enjoy its gentler southern—albeit extremely blustery—climes. (Some of us even remember the seasons years ago during which the Island’s resident highland herd could be found on the clifftop.) When the cows come on holiday is a good time for islander bovine enthusiasts. Domestic cattle are skilled at recognising individual animal and human faces over long stretches of time, so they have a sense of those who feed and, like me, visit them both home and away.

Cows are also highly intelligent animals. Tours of the American poet Robert Frost’s farm in Derry, New Hampshire, recount how he trained his dairy herd to be milked at midnight rather than at dawn and dusk, so as to accommodate the writing schedule that he maintained alongside his other labours. Whatever time of day it is, and however familiar their human might be, cows rarely rush for anyone. Therein lies the origin of the phrase when the cows come home: the splendidly unhurried pace of a cow.  

If we agree, then, that like many idioms, when the cows come home enjoys the “poetic licence” of exaggeration, we can start to understand some of the issues involved in defining the phrase and its equivalents. Furthermore, that which is temporally ambiguous and indeed never going to transpire is in essence a challenge to pin down. There is poetry in this too, because poetic language from north to south makes similar demands: poet-translators have for centuries agreed that the full content of a poetic line is rarely, if ever, encapsulated entirely when grafted across to another language via definition, syntax and form only. The task of defining or explaining an idiom involves a similarly challenging ‘translation’ of sorts, from poetic language to literal terminology.

Although recordings preserved in the WordBank capture what linguists call the elicited speech (invited verbal information) of our contributors, rather than spontaneous speech (overheard conversations, as in the Listening Project and much of the Library’s Oral History collections), and the latter typically provides an unfettered example of accent and verbal patterns, the former is interesting in terms of what we might term spontaneous definition: our contributors became unscripted dialect translators. While thinking from the top of their heads, many naturally resist undoing the original dialectical structure to the very end.

The following definition-by-chain-of-similes stays true to its poetic form and takes us into more and more interestingly specialist territory:

Hemlock

 

right dry as whumlicks which means dry as oatcakes or dry as hemlock or dry as a member of the umbelliferæ it derives from the Scottish I believe 

C1442X1684 DRY AS WHUMLICKS

 

 

The contributor is a man, born in 1933 in Newcastle upon Tyne, who grew up in Ashington, Northumberland, and lived in Consett, County Durham at the time he made the recording. As he chews the cud [= ‘ponders’] over how to define his phrase, he moves from non-standard dialect to botanical Latin. Either side of oatcakes and poison are two less familiar words: the English Dialect Dictionary records whumlick as another name for hemlock, a highly poisonous plant of the parsley family. Umbelliferae, from the Latin umbella [= ‘parasol’] plus -fer [= ‘bearing’], are plants that bear umbels [= ‘flower clusters’], in which stalks of a similar length spring from a common centre – such as cow parsley. In some ways, his recording could itself be described as umbelliferous!

Finite definitions that emerge when the cows (or the cow parsley) come home are some of my favourite contributions to the WordBank collection. It is through listening to these that we can revel in the irreducible inventiveness of spoken communication. What about ewe? Are there idioms of the never-never that you find moove further and further away as you follow? Either way, we hope that you have enjoyed this deliberately labyrinthine set of recordings!

 

30 October 2018

The words we live by

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British Library Volunteer, Dr Amy Evans Bauer, writes:

The Library’s Evolving English WordBank holds many imperatives, sage warnings and pick-me-ups. These reveal a strong relationship between idiomatic language and our behaviour, even our emotional responses, which is passed down through generations via spoken codes of conduct. While reflecting on this, I created a prose poem that envisages life with an altogether different set of instructions and reassurances. If you like riddles or puzzles, you may quickly spot the provenance of each rebellious little unit! I wish you all a stubbornly contrary day.

Idiom Undone

Shoot the messenger. Count your chickens. But me buts. It’s over ’til the fat lady sings. Look a gift horse in the mouth. Bet on it.

Look at me like that. Forget. Mention it. Stress. Dilly-dally on the way. This is the length of a piece of string.

People in glass houses throw stones. Look. Home, Jane and spare the horses. TOUCH. Be late. Delay. Despair.

Ever do that again. Show me up. Shit where you eat. Stay up late. Leave your vegetables. Leave the table. Come back. You worry. You dare.

At all. In my house. In my name. If I can help it. That I heard. That I know. That you’d know. NOW. For you. Again. In a month of Sundays.

Say never. Give up. I know whether I’m coming or going. I knew that. I could tell. Well I. Before seen. Used. Worn. Ending story. Land.

BALL GAMES. Way. Brainer. More. Worry, be happy. Offence. Taken. Tread on the grass. Enough. More. EXIT. 

Amy’s most recent chapbook of sound poems is PASS PORT (Shearsman, 2018).

Follow us @VoicesofEnglish

20 August 2018

Recording of the week: working 9 while 5

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

The Oxford English Dictionary categorises the use of while [= ‘until’] as northern dialect and, as this contributor to the Evolving English WordBank explains enthusiastically, such subtle distinctions in the way dialects assign prepositions can cause both confusion and amusement.

WHILE (C1442, uncatalogued)

We say nine while five and when I go to other places no one ever really knows what this means and what it means is nine until five o'clock. I remember I worked in a multinational company once and I left on my, well, it was a voicemail that said this, "office hours are nine while five", and I got so many complaints because nobody knew what the hell was going, what was meant to be said. "Nine while five, what does this mean?" I've no idea where it comes from, but when I say it where I come from in Yorkshire people understand it, but when I go out of the area people never really seem to understand it and I think it's quite funny."

I was a student in Leeds in the 1980s and frequently grateful that corner shops stayed open eight while late and delighted when, in 1985, the Leeds band The Sisters of Mercy released Nine While Nine, a song that includes the line nine while nine I’m waiting for the train.

9 WHILE 5

My favourite encounter with the Yorkshire meaning of while, however, was the road sign (presumably still there) on the Otley Road in Headingley which advised drivers of the correct procedure at a filter lane for turning right: the sign read 'Do not turn whilst light is red' – presumably while would send completely the wrong message locally.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.