There’s an expression that claims the Brits and the Americans are ‘separated by a common language.’ But if this is true of nations, it’s still just about true of people living within the same country.
I’ve moved around a fair bit over the years. Born in Greater London, I did most of my growing up in Buxton, in the North West of England – with a brief sojourn in the East – before moving to the North East to do my floristry training, with work leading us to Bristol (South West), Buckinghamshire (South East), Manchester (a slightly different part of the North West), finally moving back to Bristol nearly 12 years ago.
As you can imagine, my accent is a pick and mix of bits and pieces. If asked, I can float between thickish North West (Ey oop duck) to cod South East (‘Allo Darlin’) with relative ease. I know that in the North, when we want to ask ‘isn’t it?’ we say ‘intit?’ whereas in the South East they say ‘innit?’ – a very important difference.
Even though TV and population movement are eroding regional accents and dialects, there are still strongholds – when I was growing up in Buxton we called chewing gum ‘chuddy’, trousers ‘keks’, an alleyway was a ‘ginnel’ and extremely was always ‘dead’ – as in
‘That Kevin Bacon was dead fit in Footloose.’
(‘Fit’ meaning ‘sexually attractive’ rather than good at physical exercise, though I guess Kev was both in that film.)
On moving to Bristol the differences were … noticeable. You see, we don’t live in the posh bit of Bristol (Clifton) where many of the residents are from outside of the city and those that are local went to private school, so sound like every other private school offspring in the UK – a sort of toned down version of the Queen.
We live in Bedminster (well, on Windmill Hill, if you want to be specific – and local people will thank me for my pedantry). Bedminster was once known for its tobacco factories, its tanneries, coalmines, paint and glue works – posh it was not.
The upper classes lived in Clifton (north of the River Avon) and many of the working folk lived south of the river, meaning that for the rich, commodities like coal, cigars and leather were only a short ferry trip away, but they didn’t have inconvenience of the pollution or noxious fumes from their production.
Despite incomers like myself, this area remains a knot of white working class locals and therefore, an enclave of authentic Bristle.
Now if you want to speak Bristle like a local, you have to remember a few things –
drop your Hs: stick an L on words that end with a vowel: emphasise your Rs: pronounce TH as FF: put an S at the end of some verbs (you wouldn’t say ‘they go’, you’d say ‘they goes’).
There’s also the almost European habit of ascribing inanimate objects a gender – although that gender is always male. I have a work colleague who will sell an underwatered plant to a customer, advising them,
” ‘E needs a drink when you get ‘im ‘ome.’
To help me acclimatise (and to help me to fictionalise Bristolian characters more convincingly), I bought the rather splendid
A Dictionary of Bristle by Harry Stoke and Vinny Green,
what seems to me to be the ultimate guide to understanding the language. The book follows the format of genuine phrase books, with a list of local words, a section of useful phrases and a quiz to test how Bristolian you are.
The book’s amusing and tongue in cheek – for instance, they list the word Cyclepaff not for a lane especially dedicated to bicycles, as I first thought, but as
‘A murderous nutter’ : eg ‘Stay away from ee, ee’s a cyclepaff.’
Just think about it a second – it’ll come to you.
So for this week’s Wednesday Word Tangle, here are a selection of Bristol words, all taken from A Dictionary of Bristle.
Ar Muh : our (or my) Mum.
Babby / Babber : Baby / Friend.
Baity : Annoyed.
Beamer : Blushing, embarrassed.
Bemmie : Someone who lives in Bedminster.
Benny : Temper.
Biggun : Big one.
Bist : Are you (‘How are you?’ becomes ‘Ow Bist?’)
Bristle : Bristol.
Churz : Cheers (Thank you.)
Coopeyen Down : Bending over.
Daps : Trainers.
Dedder : Corpse.
Doggin Up : Look at threateningly.
Watch this instructional video for a guide to pronunciation.
With thanks to Kat, the founder of W4W.