In December 2019, I posted a blog about words we no longer use and the origins of words whose meanings have changed. The post was prompted by a 1950’s schooldays’ friend of mine, Clive Hutchinson, who postulated that disgruntled was originally formed from the now-disused word gruntle meaning to be happy or satisfied. As it turns out, Clive is a logophile, like me, and he responded to my post with enthusiasm and offered further observations on the idiosyncrasies of the English language and its many dialects, especially northern accents where Clive has spent most of his post-schooldays life.
With Clive’s permission, I reproduce his observations below in a guest posting, the first such posting on my website. Here it is:
Clive’s response to my post
Hi again Ben,
Herewith my comments on your blog “A way/away with words” with my usual ramblings.
An interesting dissertation. The English language and its roots, it would appear, are a fascination to both of us.
Reading the definition of debuccalize stirred up my thoughts on the northern glottal stop and non-northerners attempts to recreate it. I have always been fascinated by English dialects and strange words unique to an area, especially where I have lived.
I first encountered usage of the glottal stop while at university in Sheffield. The definite article is reduced to a very soft “t” or to nothing but a fleeting pause. Very often, non-users of the glottal stop tend to write, for example, ….down t’street. In fact, glottal stop users in Sheffield say, …down’t street or …down (split second pause) street. In certain usages, the “t” always disappears, for example,…..he threw (pause) ball.
Another aspect of Sheffield’s lingual heritage is the use of the second person singular of to be – truly a linguistic relic. In French, of course, are tu and vous. Tu has to be used very carefully; I became quickly aware of the protocol of tutoyer and vouvoyer. But that is another fascinating topic. I digress.
Sheffield folk use thy, thou and thee without a second thought. Where hast thee been? (hast being the second person singular of to have.) Thou’ll have to do it thyssen. Eee, thou’s a lovely lass. Hast thou finished thy dinner? (thy often pronounced thi).
Much less elegantly, in Bradford, we and our is often replaced by us – ugh! Us’ll do it. We’re going on us holidays. There must be a historic reason for this ungrammatical use. It could have been mill-speak.
Tony, one of my pals at university was a Londoner. Of course, Tony used rhyming slang but also used the Cockney dangling, redundant question. I was going down the road, wasn’t I? He said to me, didn’t he? I once provocatively responded, Did he? Tony was non-plussed (I have just bloody told you, haven’t I) until I explained I was taking the mickey. He didn’t even realise he was using the dangling question.
Of course, many areas have their own dialect words. Very occasionally, I use a Lincolnshire dialect word or phrase much to Shirley’s irritation. Above all for me is the Cumbrian dialect, very much steeped in Norse and Gaelic, like many of the Lake district place names. Fell derived from Norse is hill or mountain. Beck is a stream. Lonnin is a lane. Force is a waterfall. And so on.
Also, there are vestiges of spoken Norse and Cumbric, a Gaelic language like Cornish. For many years, I walked with a Cumbrian who lived in one village all his life. Not only did he speak in broad Cumbrian but threw in so many local words that I used to say in fun, Les, will you speak English please?
Some examples: laal little, yat gate, laikin’ playing, kevel rough/uneven, gannin going, yam home, smeakin’ smoking, styan stone, yan one. They can even count using the old Cumbric system: yan, tyan, thethera, methera, pimp,……. – the way shepherds counted sheep.
Gomble appears to be a noun. When I walked in the snow with my dogs, their pads became painfully separated by hard packed round balls of snow – gombles. They were very happy to let me degomble their feet! Here are two photos of two of them, long since gone:
Skiddaw summit – Christmas Day 1998
I have another take on discard. I have no concrete evidence to back it up but I wonder if it goes back to the Middle Ages or even further back. One of the traditional processes of producing woollen textile was, and still is, carding – the process of teasing out wool fibres just prior to spinning, done using “cards”, flat wire brushes. Apparently, teasels were originally used. The Latin word for teasel is something like cardus. Indeed, there were carding mills built during the Industrial Revolution. So, I wonder if discard originally meant wool that was not up to standard after carding or too useless to be carded? Probably I should do some research on the topic.
Following on from the subject of prefixed words, it is intriguing how language changes through time as society changes. This opens up an entirely different linguistic topic.
Take the word overwhelming. When I was much younger, to be flip, one changed over to under as in “This scenic photograph is totally underwhelming,” even though it was not a proper word. Nowadays it is common parlance.
Current linguistic ticks which really annoy me are:
Iconic: Nearly all icons, mainly Russian Orthodox, were of Mary and child on a bit of flat wood painted by locals because that was all the poor village churches could afford; basically artistic crap.
Stunning: especially when applied to views. So that is why I have concussion after a walk in the hills!
The American pronunciation of A: Now used as the default by media reporters. When I was at junior school, the only pronunciations of A were: a for apple, uh for the indefinite article with the long a when usually followed by a consonant and a vowel as in gate. The pronunciation of the letter of the alphabet A is ay (the long a). Now ay is used for the indefinite article in the media. One cheesy BBC sports news reporter really finesses it: Ay-nother manager has been ay-pointed at ……. Interestingly, these exponents of spoken English sometimes use both ay and uh in a report.
Then the worst:
The letter of the alphabet H pronounced as haitch. For crying out loud! The OED clearly states that it is pronounced aitch.
Our English Language master and ex-WW2 tank commander, Captain Steele-Smith, affectionately known as ‘Tinny’, will be turning in his grave. I once heard that Tinny defined someone as illiterate if they spelled bugger with one g. Lots of new ways of measuring illiteracy now, or perhaps I am just old and curmudgeonly.
Thanks, Clive, for a very entertaining set of comments.
Oh, my word Ben – you have discovered a true kindred spirit and from the same alma mater too – “reunited” after all these years!!
An interesting and amusing response from Clive. I love the Cockney dangling question tale and the concussion after walking the hills, and I particularly like that we share the same pet hate – the use of haitch instead of aitch drives me nuts!
Do you think Captain Steele-Smith (Tinny) and Miss Buckman may have been related?
PS> Would Philip Pullman approve of the Oxford comma … or not??
Ben Bennetts said:
Tinny might have known Miss Buckman, the English teacher at the Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, but I doubt if they were kindred spirits. Tinny was ex-military and was in charge of the King’s School Combined Cadet Force. He taught us English but his main love was playing at soldiers in the great outdoors. And, yes, Philip Pullman is an Oxford-comma man, through and through. (I was tempted to write that as And, yes, Philip Pullman is an Oxford-comma man, through, and through.)
Paul Beaven said:
I’m in total agreement with the comments regarding the pronunciation of ‘aitch’ as ‘haitch’. I usually shout at the radio when I hear an ‘haitch’, So imagine my discomfort when an ‘expert’ gave a lengthy explanation of HD (high definition) TV where the ‘hiatch’ word was used countless times.