Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Love, Life and Language

Welcome to the first of my blog posts celebrating all things vintage, historical and retro, as well as love, life and language and everything in-between!
Ah, the things you do for love! Five years ago when I got married (to a Manchester-born Karachiite), not only did I suffer the culture shock of sharing a bathroom with someone else, I was torn from my native Suffolk to live in Newcastle upon Tyne. A fine city, but one so far removed, geographically and linguistically, from the gentle undulations of Suffolk, that it took me the best part of a year to fully interact with the natives.
Words and phrases such as “bairns”, “way-eye” and “howay” are well known outside of the north east, but imagine my confusion one afternoon at work when one of my colleagues piped up, ‘Eeeeh, I fancy some ket’. Now I knew that the Geordies partied hard but ketamine at work? Then I found out that “ket” meant sweets. I went on to discover that “bait” meant packed lunch, “wagons” were lorries, a “hoppings” is a fair, such as the one held on the Toon Moor every Joon, and “twisty” was fractious (which I recently found out can be used in the verb form, for example, ‘Don’t twist!’). So why not assimilate some of these superb phrases into my everyday language—after all, it’s second nature after you’ve been living somewhere for a month or two.
And it was only when I heard myself say to my son in Blaydon precinct the other day, ‘Howay, beta, heck up,’ (‘Come on [Geordie]’, / ‘son [Urdu]’, / ‘hurry up [Suffolk],’) that I stopped to think how far linguistically I, and the rest of my family, have come in the last half-decade.
It seems that a brand new version of English has evolved to respond to the varying linguistic needs of our household—one adult almost trilingual in English, Urdu and Punjabi, another whose mother tongue is English and with a couple of other neglected European languages, a smaller person who is learning to speak and the smallest who only communicates in cries and coos.
But what is it— a pidgin? No, you get one of those when two or more groups don’t share a single language to start with. A creole? Don’t think so —this would be a language in its own right that springs up from a pidgin or combination of other languages. It’s just natural evolution. Just think, all but the most isolated languages are rich in loan words (even French, however much the L’Académie Française objects). Where would English be without bungalow, jodhpurs and chutney (Hindi), alcohol, alcove and algebra (Arabic) or the myriad of Italian words used to reference classical music?
And if a word sounds better in another language, use it, I say. So in our house Geordie now jostles alongside some selected (because they’re more expressive than plain English) words and phrases from Suffolk and from the Urdu language that I have come across over the years—so here’s the beginning of a dictionary I’m putting together for visitors to the Vintage Script household:
bait                                         packed lunch (Geordie)
bili                                          cat (Urdu)
chi chi                                    dirty (Urdu)                         
couldahell/couldaheck       well I never (Suffolk)
did you wanna oughta?      should you? (Suffolk)
jelly                                        toad (Suffolk)                      
ket                                          sweets (Geordie)
load of old squit                   load of rubbish (Suffolk)
moti/mota                            fat (Urdu)
shew                                      showed (Suffolk)
twisty                                     fractious (Geordie)
the…wallah                           the [insert here any word denoting job or position] man, for example, ‘The bin wallah’s not coming in the morning because it’s Bank Holiday.’
Add the finishing touches of the truly Suffolk habits of epenthesis—making more sounds in a word than there’s supposed to be (so shoes become “shoo-wuz”, magazine becomes “magazeeun” and cream becomes “cree-um”)—and the lack of verbal conjugation (‘He say he want to go to the toilet, don’t he?’), and there you have what I can only describe as a glorious fusion of three beautiful languages, each offering its own unique flavour.
It may be a long way from Suffolk to Newcastle (especially if you go via Karachi) but why not enjoy the journey and embrace the enrichment that linguistic difference brings?
Tell me about the linguistic peculiarities in your household—the quirkier the better!


  1. Welcome to the Blog world Emma - Lovely entry, I look forward to following you on here. When I moved up to the Fens, from London 15 years ago, the mum's at the school gate gave me an induction course. "'andy day'" when it was sunny, "fro'en" for the days when the wind whipped across from the north sea... now we are decamping to Norfolk, the land of the 'bootiful'. Happy Blogging from your fellow blogger Janis Pegrum - Smith x

  2. I'm from the Lincolnshire Fens and went off to study in Wales. But my parents are Bradford-born. I would say things at uni that had people baffled and up till then I never even knew I was using dialect: "drop sneck on t'way out" (close the door properly, Yorks) "I'm going t'lig out" (I'm having a lie down, Yorks) "starving" (cold, Lincs) "rodden" (road, Lincs). I picked up some random Welsh phrases, usually for things with no translation like "hiraeth" (the kind of nostalgic longing for a time that never was) and "hwyl" as in "I've got no hwyl" - it sort of means festival but in this context means I've got no get up and go.

  3. Oh, Emma, love your first post - right down my street (almost literally). Among the many Geordie expressions I cherish are 'clammin' for thirsty, 'fettle' for mood, 'canny' for (depending on the context)pleasant, kind or agreeable, and the explosively dismissive 'hadaway to hell!'

    Keep up the good work - you've set yourself a standard here (or, in Geordie, "Crack on, hinny, you've put a canny shift in here.")

  4. Thanks for the comments, all.
    Janis - never mind the Hoxne Hoard, East Anglia's real treasure chest is its dialect, isn't it?
    Autumn - loving those untranslatable Welsh phrases but won't even try to pronounce them.
    David - thank you! There are so many delightful Geordie expressions - I could also have mentioned "tabs" for cigarettes and "dabs" for fingerprints, but I won't reveal how I know about that one!

  5. Hi M, I love "couldahell" - especially when said with a broad Suffolk accent with emphasis on the drawn-out "hell". Brings back fond memories of my aunt. It's a brilliant expression. Another classic Suffolk word is "cleant" (cleaned) - and We mustn't forget "oowah" (crikey/how odd). Was speaking to my uncle the other day who is a real old Suffolk buh - I love his accent and turn of phrase. Good luck with the blog!

  6. You're right, Chris, "couldahell" is a good 'un! I've never heard of "cleant" up to now, but I'll listen out for it. And Rafii's started saying, 'Ooooowahhh!', so I think we know where he got that one from!

  7. Emma, you mention 'dabs' for fingerprints, but what about 'dabs' as an expression of claim in Geordie? Example: 'Dabs I go first.' I suppose it's related to 'dibs' meaning go or choice as in, 'You get first dibs'.

  8. What a lovely post! I have always loved the idea we have so many words out there yet to meet :-)
    I once asked a class of Birmingham children to put on their 'daps' for PE (the usual word for a Bristolian.) I was met with blank incomprehension... until one kind little boy put us all right with 'Ooo Miss, I think yer must mean pumps!'

  9. David - I've never heard of "dabs" in that context before - another one for the list! Just thought of another Geordie expression I'm fond of - "to get wrong off someone", ie to be told off by them. I love it!
    Penny - amazing how much language varies from one region to another, isn't it?