Macmillan Dictionary’s Twitter account recently shared a link to a Telegraph story on regional English words. It has to do with a wordbank that the British Library created as part of its Evolving English exhibition. The aim is to preserve and publicise – and perhaps propagate – thousands of dialectal words and phrases.
At the end of the article is a sample of these words. I like dodderman for snail (Norfolk / Suffolk), dimpsy for twilight or just turning dark (Somerset), nesh, meaning weak, delicate, or susceptible to the cold (northern England), and guddle, meaning rummage about (Northumberland and parts of Scotland).
Many dialectal words are given to plants and animals, and they often have colourful histories. Bishybarnabee, a Norfolk word for a ladybird, might be a reference to the 16th-century bishop Edmond Bonner, aka “Bloody Bonner”, because the insect’s red and black colours were associated with the bishop’s clothes – or with his notorious deeds.
Not until my teens did I come across the name “devil’s coach-horse” for a beetle I’d known throughout childhood. We’d always called it a deargadaol /,dʒærəgə’ði:l/, an Irish word meaning devil’s beast. Though obscure outside Ireland, the word has enough currency to be used by the Irish Times and RTÉ (the national broadcaster). On Bloomsday last month, I described how James Joyce heard a Yorkshire word for earwig – twitchbell – and liked it so much he immediately decided to use it in Finnegans Wake.
The Evolving English blog discusses some other words, such as the more familiar gyp, used in the phrase give someone gyp which means give someone pain, grief, or stress. The blog talks about the delight we take in “exploring, using, re-using and adapting our English to shape our identity”. Over time, some dialects thrive while others fade, and all the while they influence each other: there is a constant flux. There’s no guarantee that a useful or charming regional term will survive a generation, so it’s very worthwhile to record as many of them as we can.
What regional words and phrases did you grow up with? Which are your favourites?Email this Post