3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Essex Life today click here

How did the Essex dialect become so peculiar?

PUBLISHED: 11:21 20 February 2018 | UPDATED: 11:21 20 February 2018

Southend Corporation 316 (c) Stephen Rees, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Southend Corporation 316 (c) Stephen Rees, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Archant

Author Adam Jacot de Boinod shares his expertise on the unique qualities of the Essex dialect and explains from where some of our peculiarities originate

Of course, many of the words in the Essex dialect are merely corruptions of words in English dictionaries, but the greatest peculiarities of the dialect are north of Chelmsford, especially at Braintree, Halstead, Gosfield, Bardfield and Wethersfield. In some parts of the county the dialect resembles that of Kent, in others that of Suffolk.

It is, however, not generally as broad as either, nor is it spoken with the strong whining tone of the Suffolk dialect. It contains many words from the Saxon, Friesic, Dutch, and Belgic influence not usually found in other English dialects, such as ails, amper, bigge, bog, bullimony or bullimong, cowl, golls, housen, lugsome, mad, mawther, not, pillow-beer, rumpled, sliver, slud, slump and snace. There are also other Norman influences, such as foizon, frail, chate and coppy.

Halstead,Essex

Essex miles, Suffolk stiles, Norfolk wiles, Many men beguiles

October 1858

There is a tendency to transpose letters; as aers for ears. Vowels are frequently lengthened, as maade for made, maake for make. A is liable to become 0, as ollis for always. E often changes into A, as anough for enough and warse for verse. I has frequently a broad sound, such as noice, smoile, toime and twoice, for nice, smile, time and twice. O often becomes U, as frum, sput, nut, for from, spot, not. D is sometimes changed into T, as arrant for errand and ballet for ballad, while the letter R is sometimes dropped, as suppassd for surpassed and hul for hurl.

Essex people generally pronounce the letter H correctly; but there is nevertheless a tendency to drop this letter when prefixed by T, as now and ten, for now and then. Occasionally words are prefixed by S, such as scringing for cringing, and some words appear to have been formed by imitation of sound, such as bobbery and bonx. The old plural in en also occurs, as housen for houses.

Gosfield, Essex

Among these nuances we find some of my favourite Essex dialect words, such as these examples:

sing-small: being obliged to put up with less than expected

fleck: the soft hair of a rabbit

phthisickin: a slight, tickling cough

squolsh: the sound produced by the fall of soft heavy bodies

bonx: to beat up batter for pudding

Dovercourt

And there are wider East Anglian examples that appear in Essex such as:

uffler: a bargeman who assists occasionally in towing but who is not in constant employment

liggle: to carry something too heavy to be carried with ease (eg of a child with a puppy)

garyboy: a male who drives a car usually noticeable by its sporty appearance and souped up engine

swiggle: to shake liquid in an enclosed vessel

narrow-wriggle: an earwig

woor-ree: a waggoner or ploughmans call to his horse to come to the right

Finchingfield

Another charm of the Essex dialect is its richness in local proverbs and sayings. Here is a selection of the most interesting:

As wise as Walthams calf (who went nine miles to suck a bull and came home as dry as he went).

Here the addition is a perversion of the original meaning, which is a dig at the monks for their foolish preaching. The calf may have belonged to Waltham Abbey.

Broken-backed graves

Some years since, when taking church notes in Barnstable Hundred, the rector of one of the churches directed my attention to various graves depressed in the centre. These, said he, my sexton affirms invariably indicate that the person buried died of consumption and that all who die of that disease have sooner or later broken-backed graves.

Epping

An historic Braintree saying is quoted:

Braintree for the pure, And Booking for the poor; Cogshall for the jeering town, And Kelvedon for the whore.

Dovercourt: all talkers and no hearers

At Dovercourt, near Harwich, a court was annually held, which, as it consists chiefly of seamen, brought with it a certain irregularity. Keeping Dovercourt is said to mean making a great noise, and the explanation is said to have arisen from the fact that Dovercourt was formerly celebrated for its scolds.

Foxs sleep (to be in a)

This is said of someone who kept his eyes shut and pretended to be asleep, when all the while he was listening to what was said around him.

Fox ....

Giving the straight tip

This phrase is largely used in rural townships and villages of Essex, where it evidently means speaking plainly and decisively, delivering an ultimatum and also something more. And the straight tip as given at Dunmow and nearby, not only means a direct reply without either evasion or reservation, but also a spirit of indifference and defiance very often meant as an insult.

Go to Romford to have your backsides new bottomed

Romford was formerly famous for breeches-making, so a man going there was thus teasingly advised to provide himself with a pair of new breeches.

Good elm, good barley; good oak, good wheat

Where the soil is thin and will only support forest trees in particular places, the cultivators are careful not to plough too deep.

field

Lying by the wall

If anyone is dead, he or she is said to lie by the wall. It is generally said of an uninterred corpse. Lying by the wall implies that one is dead, but not buried.

Moon and mushrooms

Some felt that the growth of mushrooms is influenced by the changes of the moon and that towards and at the full of the moon, mushrooms show themselves and the crop declines when she begins to wane. Hence the following formula: When the moon is at the full, Mushrooms you may freely pull; But when the moon is on the wane, Wait ere you think to pluck again

Not to have her change

In the neighbourhood of Fobbing, when the peasants wished to express that a woman has not much nous, they say, she has not got her change. When speaking of a man, they say, he has not got all his buttons.

Fobbing

Put the millers eye out

To overdo with water or milk and to make a pudding too thin.

Ugley

It is said of this village, Ugly church, ugly steeple; Ugly parson, ugly people.

Witch bottle

During alterations of a house in King Street in Saffron Walden, the workmen came upon an old witch bottle imbedded about 18 inches below the floor, and very near the fireplace. It contained some water, about 14 horse-nails and 20 thorns. It is supposed to be upwards of two centuries old. Some curious old carvings on stone and oak were also discovered, probably of Elizabethan period. It is there stated that it was customary about the year 1610 to place under the entrance-door a jug filled with horseshoe nails, to prevent the entrance of witches.

Saffron Walden Library from King Street

Find out more

Adam Jacot de Boinod is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books, and the Tingo App Game for iPhones on Interesting Words

______________________________________

For more Follow Essex Life on Facebook and Twitter

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from People

Yesterday, 12:41

Southend has given the great and the good fabulous days of fun beside the seaside for generations, and they keep coming! Petra Hornsby tells the tale of one newcomer who has fallen in love with Southend through a comedy connection with Laurel and Hardy

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Neil Oliver is perhaps best known for his role as the presenter of the BBC’s Coast series, but he is about to embark on a quite different tour of the UK, calling in at Southend. Kate Everett found out more

Read more
Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Essex-raised TV personality Andy Day has been a favourite on BBC children’s channel CBeebies for over 12 years. Now he’s branched into music, touring nationwide with his family-friendly band, Andy and the Odd Socks. Here he tells Denise Marshall about his Glastonbury debut, fighting bullying and becoming a father

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We’ve spoken to 6 of Essex’s most inspirational businesspeople to find out their secrets to success, how they achieve a work-life balance and who they are inspired by

Read more
Monday, September 3, 2018

In this second instalment of a postcard mini-series, Hannah Salisbury from the Essex Record Office showcases some of the ERO’s picture postcard collection of Southend-on-Sea

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

On the 60th anniversary of the passing of one of England’s most inspired and iconic composers, Sylvia Kent shares why a visit to Brentwood changed the course of both the career and composition of Dr Ralph Vaughan Williams

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

National Trust rangers find themselves out and about in all sorts of weather, and required to do all sorts of tasks. Essex Life spoke to two female rangers happy to show that it’s a job they still love to do

Read more
Friday, August 24, 2018

There is much to be proud of in Colchester’s extensive history, but one man has been hard at work to ensure we don’t forget some of the darker times too. Petra Hornsby explains more

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Perhaps most noted as the 1980s queen of Page 3, life has taken some unusual turns for Chingford’s Samantha Fox. Tim Saunders catches up on this Essex girl’s career path

Read more
Friday, August 10, 2018

Revd John N Merrill has a love for Essex and a love for walking, and this year marks a special celebration of an achievement that embraced both of these passions

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory


Job search in your local area




Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search