6 ISSUES FOR £6 Subscribe to Essex Life today click here

Essex Dialect

12:16 19 October 2012

Essex Dialect

Essex Dialect

Unique sounds of our county tongue

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.

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.



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



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



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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

0 comments

More from People

Mon, 12:00

Colchester-based legal recruitment specialist Andrew Porter tells Essex Life about five things he loves about the county

Read more
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Aaron Wymark from retail solutions company Opulous Innovation, tells Essex Life about Slinky the delightful daschund he couldn’t be without, even when working in the office

Read more
Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Award-winning photographer David Bradford reveals some of his favourite things about living in Essex

Read more
Monday, January 23, 2017

Stars of Strictly Come Dancing, Erin Boag and Anton Du Beke, bring the glitz and glamour of the dancefloor to Southend soon. Erin talks to Kate Everett about life after Strictly, her partnership with Anton and their forthcoming show

Read more
Monday, January 16, 2017

International road racing cyclist Alex Dowsett has certainly made his county proud with his astonishing achievements over the last few years. Here he talks to Holly Eells about training hard on the quiet country Essex roads, fighting haemophilia and breaking more world records

Read more
Monday, January 16, 2017

Colchester entrepreneur Ruth Bradshaw shares her five favourite things about life in our county

Read more
Thursday, January 12, 2017

Colchester-based luxury car retailer Bentley Essex created a campaign to give something back to the local community, in aid of Little Havens Hospice.

Read more
Monday, January 9, 2017

Jim Davidson OBE is celebrating four decades in show business with his new stage play 40 Years On, which is showing at Southend’s Cliffs Pavilion this month.

Janice Walker finds out more

Read more
Wednesday, December 21, 2016

First impressions can mean a huge amount, especially in the business world. For a business like Essex-based recruitment agency Prime Appointments, both clients and candidates should experience quality from the moment they walk in the door. Its new office has managed to do exactly that, providing a beautiful, professional face for the company that emulates the exceptional service the business prides itself on.

Read more
Monday, December 19, 2016

Nicholas Henshall, Dean of Chelmsford, picks five of his favourite things to do to make an Essex Christmas special

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Essex's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area




Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search