Thursday, May 04, 2006

SPOKEN WORD. I love the way they talk. People, I mean. Here a lovely random find of a message board ca. 1999 on colloquial speech, mostly British but with American contributors:
At the start of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by George Harrison, you'll hear him say "hey up." Northern England style "let's go."
Fuck me! I never knew that.
In the piney woods down here (relatives of the georgia penal colony recruits) they say "he showed his ass" when someone gets mad or acts rude...

A dialect word I learned from a climbing mate from Nottingham was "nesh" = to complain overly about being cold. My mum was stationed in the potteries during the war and remembers people there being "starved with cold." Then of course there's the ubiquitous "it's brass monkies," "Brass monkey weather" etc. And finally "A lazy wind" = one that can't be bothered to blow round you...

My father, the collar [minister], would refer to a smidge, a dolp, and a wham for any small amount of anything. My crooked cousins was a "Slick as spit." My mother's cooking was piling (in that she cooked a lot)...

I was always amused by a Liverpool expression. "I'll gerroff at Edge 'ill" Edge Hill station was the penultimate station on the RR line from London to Liverpool Lime Street. There also being a large number of catholics in the town, to get off at Edge Hill meant you intended to use Coitus Interruptus...

we called necking on the riverbank "watching the submarine races" and "getting mud for my turtle" when I went to Michigan State in the 60s...

Glasgie farewell = the action of applying ones forehead forcefully to anothers nose. Birmingham/Irish screwdriver = hammer...
That contributor also tells us, "Loose your bottle = It is the ultimate insult in the services, but is actually quite hard to define."
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is LANN-KASTER.
No, no, brother, I've been: it's "Lang'c'ster." And some entries are poems all by themselves:
My dad, to this day, calls the Pope, the "Holy Pappy in Rome"

Yonder is a loving word, LeeJ, some old songs make good use of it.
Somewhere Sean O'Casey is smiling.

These things stick in the mind, hopefully like cloves that flavor our own speech. I had a North Carolina girlfriend once, and her mother had no end of lovely expressions. She once referred to spoiled fish as smelling "right boo-booey." Could that be from the French "boue," somehow? In any case I consider myself improved by having heard it. Also by hearing my old Italian landlady say of meeting her husband, "He look at me anna I fell like a pear." And, Texican this, "he got a wild hare," variously "wild hair up his ass" -- or "wild hare" up same -- never have got that straight.

This post is in tribute somewhat to Editor Martin's Rusticor, which has here been too long neglected, and which contains a spiffing analysis of an old engraving captioned with a 19th-Century British slang poem:
Spree at Melton Mowbray: or doing the Thing in a Sporting-like manner (Quick work without a Contract, by Tip-Top Sawyers)

Coming it strong with a Spree and a spread,
Milling the day-lights, or cracking the head;
Go it ye cripples! come tip us your mauleys,
Up with the lanterns, and down with the Charleys:
If lagg'd we should get, we can gammon the Beak,
Tip the slavies a Billy to stifle their squeak.
Come the bounce with the snobs, and a [?] for their betters,
And prove all the Statutes so many dead letters.
Marty and I used to read together from Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, and retain from it as a catchphrase, "the female pudend: low."

Really, though, this post is a tribute to the English language as it has been lathed by common speech. I am strong for the dictionary and good English grammar; as a teacher of remedial English and as a writer, I cannot endorse and could not abide a lawless verbal state, and admire the architecture of a proper sentence. But even the soundest structure should be filled and faced so that a person can live in it comfortably; otherwise, it's just a hangar or a prison. Our Information Society does not require human comfort -- it only requires the achievement of talking points -- but the human spirit does, so the genius of language is more likely to come from the bottom up than vice-versa. The miracle is that, even in this age of spin, the air remains full of raw material -- patois, argot, Spanglish, rap, etc. Well before it's printed, it's spoken. All you have to do is listen.

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