Dialect and folklore

THE study of the dialect and folklore of the county (the latter already partially dealt with) opens up a wide field of interest. It is curious to notice how many old words which have lapsed into desuetude in ordinary writing and speaking still linger in the country villages. If a farm labourer speaks of his week’s work he will probably say that he has addled so many shillings as a result of his exertions. Thus in an old ballad we have the couplet:

‘With my good man’s hogs, or corn, or hay,
I addle my ninepence every day.’

Addle is also used in this, as in most other counties, to indicate an egg that has gone bad under the hen while she is sitting.

Men who urge others on are said to egg them on, from the Anglo-Saxon eggian, to incite. Cattle that are taken in to pasture are said to be agisted, from the Old Latin agistant.

To haggle is to cut unevenly, and it is also to squabble over a bargain.

If a master discharges a man, he is said to have given him the sack, and if the man went hither and thither talking loudly of his grievances, he would be said to be blurting it about, or more commonly to blether. Thus in Beaumont and Fletcher:

‘There’s nothing gained by being witty
But wind to blether at his name.’

A gossip is still known as a blab or a clat

‘A blab that will not keep her tongue;’

and there is also in common use the word blurt, as meaning to make some statement in a sudden, thoughtless manner.

To boggle is to do anything awkwardly; to brag is to swagger, and to swop is to exchange.

A man who is surly is said to be chuffy, and one who is starved is looked upon as clammed. Thus in a poem of 1633 occur the following lines:

‘Now barks the wolf against the full-cheek’d moon,
Now lions half-clammed entrails roar for food.’

A sticky, dirty path is described as clarty. A falsehood is a crammer.

A rich man is said to have ‘a sight of money,’ an expression used in ‘Merry Tales,’ published in 1557.

‘She would not rest until Conom took out a great sight of the fairest roots.’

A deceiver is still a sneak, as in Beaumont and Fletcher’s days, and the word fond is often used to indicate a foolish person, though the expression is rapidly dying out. In Roger Aschams’ preface to ‘The Schoolmaster,’ 1563, we have the saying: ‘A sword in a fond man’s handling,’ and in another production of the same period: ‘What fondness moveth thee?’

Anything kept in close confinement is usually said to be mewed up, or cooped up, the term originally describing, we believe, a place where hawks were kept while moulting.

If a villager has found anything, he will very often say he has fun it, and the word is not merely a corruption or contraction, as might generally be supposed, for in ‘The Shepherd’s Play,’ a fourteenth-century production in North Country dialect, we have:

‘My part have I fun,
I know my lesson,’

showing that it was in common use in those days as a recognised word.

It is interesting to a Nottinghamshire man to note how in the aforesaid play there are many words with which he continues to be made familiar. Nesh is still employed in the villages in the sense of being tender, as in the old couplet:

‘I can find no flesh
Hard or nesh.’

A bush is often called a busk, and in a play of 1535 ‘Ralph Roister-doister,’ we find the same word:

‘As the beast passed by, he starts out of a busk,
And e’en with pure strength of arms plucked out his great tusk.’

In the same play royl is used as meaning to ramble; but in Nottinghamshire to roil or rile is to aggravate. It is usual to say ‘I had as lieve do this or that,’ a term common to many counties, and in place of sigh, a Nottinghamshire man will sometimes say sike, as in the old-time writing

‘She neither wept nor siked.’

It is said to be good old English, if not now polite, to speak of a heap of people; but we do not know whether it is old English or polite—probably neither—to say as some Nottinghamshire men do, when they have succeeded in irritating a neighbour, that they have ‘got his rag out’

For might it is usual to say mote, pronounced ‘mowt’:

‘Good, he said, so mote I thee,
Thou hadst better have gold or fee.’

Men are still spoken of as old files and fausse old files, the latter expression not being used to indicate deceitfulness, but cunning. A man who walks with great strides is said to laup, and a flogging is described as a licking or leathering, probably from the use of a leather strap as a mode of punishment. For far, people say ferr, a word used by Chaucer; and you may hear, on a blazing hot day, a man remark that he is sweltered to death, and wants to sleck (slake) his thirst.

A boy playing at marbles will tell his comrade to knuckle down, and not fullock, the latter term meaning to jerk the hand. If he is beaten, as he thinks, unfairly, he will say that he has been swizled, or chiselled. If his companion is loitering in the street, he will tell you he is miching, and in so doing he uses one of the oldest words in the language, taking its derivation from the Old Norse mak, leisure—a term which even Shakespeare does not disdain to use:

‘Shall the blessed sun of heaven prove a micher?’

I Henry IV., ii. 4.

Spenser writes, ‘To straggle up and down the country, or miche in corners amongst their friends idly’; and in a pamphlet written in 1493 we find, ‘At such fayrs and markets there be many theyvs, mychers and cut-purses.’ If a micher in his lazy peregrinations went up a narrow lane, he would be said to have gone up a twitchel, in some counties called a twitchen, and as such classified in Dr. Brewer’s ‘Phrase and Fable.’

The first milk given by a cow after calving is called beastlings, as it has been for centuries past, for in Holland’s Pliny, vol i, p. 36, we read:

‘The first milk that she gives down is called beastlings, which will soon turn as hard as a pumish stone.’

The fruit of the ash is known as ash-keys, and a man who had come from market after purchasing a steed would say that he had bote a hoss.

For may happen we have mappen; for nothing, nowt; for himself, hissen; and myself, mysen; frit, for frighten; dry, for thirsty; while a man will often say he is as ‘hungry as a hunter.’ We hear ‘lowance for allowance; enew for enough; hanker, to desire; waynt for wont. Dab is used in the double sense of to strike, and to give a quantity, as ‘a great dab of fish,’ and dawdle, to loiter. For mouldy we have frowsty or fusty, as Shakespeare says:

‘As good crack a frowsty nut with no kernel’

A man who is stupefied is said to be mazzled, and if he has but little sense, he would have no nous about him, a term which is of Greek derivation. Scraps are termed orts, a word found several times in Shakespeare. A dish of creed wheat and milk is a popular one in Nottinghamshire, and is well known as furmity, concerning which poor Robin says:

‘Those that are rich, and have a mind to it,
May notwithstanding feed on mince-pie and furmity.’

To pull about is to towse; to wriggle is to squirm. A thing that is good for nothing is a wastrel, and when a man has had enough he is said to have got his whack. A fool is described as a ninny, a term which Shakespeare employs in ‘The Tempest.’ If a man pulled another’s hair or ears, he would be said to lug him. Ears are also called lug:, as in an early play we have the following:

‘Dare you think your clumsy lugs as proper to decide
As the delicate ears of justice?’

If a man is troubling himself he is said to be whittling. The affirmative is usually expressed by ah instead of yes; and for ask, a common word among the peasantry is ax. This is by no means an innovation or vulgarism, as some would suppose; but is of great antiquity. “Axe, indeed,’ says Richardson, ‘is as old as the language,’ and Trench points out that ‘this is a genuine English form of the word, the form which in the earlier English it constantly assumed; it is quite exceptional when the word appears in its other, that is, its present shape in Wyclif’s Bible; and, indeed, axe occurs continually, I know not whether invariably, in Tyndale’s translation of the Scriptures.’ Thus Matthew vi. 8, Wyclif translates, ‘Youre fadir woot what is need to you bifor that ye axen him,’ and Tyndale, ‘Before ye axe of him.’ So also Matt. vii. 6: ‘Eche that axeth taketh’ (Wyclif). A.S. axian, assian.