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Norfolk Talk

Chapter M : Rounding-Up

(Paras. 1 to 9)

2. Dilution :  3. Regression :  4. Prognosis   6. Buildings :  7. Food For Thought
8. Hobgoblins :  9. Who wouldn't be confused?

1 : Character

Any attempt to summarise the dialect
becomes an exercise in describing
the (indigenous) inhabitants.

Reference has been made to their  insularity
(C.1), their alleged unfriendliness, and their
unwillingness (A.6) to open their mouths
(mainly because of the severe climate!).

Certainly they are defensive  (K.3).
Outsiders, who have breached their insularity
in past centuries, have not always been friendly.
Norfolk's mild paranoia leads them often to
answer a question with another, in much the
same way as the Jews.

Conversely they like to  lay traps  for  foreigners,
attempting to prove that the superior attitudes
often displayed towards the "natives" are based
on falsehoods (perhaps on both sides).
The strong dislike of arrogance and presumption
extends to local folk; mainly those in authority
(the  Bosses  and the  Gentry)
- especially if they happen to be both!.

Major Buxton, an inveterate collector of stories
(yarns),  said that Norfolk people have a way of
building-up a story, only to let it fall
to earth with a bump.  (e.g. Story H.2)
Perhaps this is related to the more famous
habit of  extreme  under-statement; a delight in
opposites which would do credit to the Irish.

For instance,  Skipper  highlights the use of
the word  doubt  to mean  certainty : If a person
is quite sure that his friend will  not  go
somewhere he says - Oi doubt E 'oon(t) goo.

2 : Dilution

Mardle  points-out the self-evident truth :
that vocabulary is the first part of dialect
to wither away.

The whole Section on agriculture bears witness
to the devastating effects of replacing horses
with tractors, and other labour-saving ideas
(e.g. spraying, man-made fertilisers) - and I
don't mean the effects upon the environment!
No more  muck-spreedin'.

Writing in 1973, Mardle mentions the  survival
(H.4) of the word  dwile,  because labour-saving
in the home was lagging behind. Not any more.
Plenty of "domestic" terminology
is finding a place on the scrap-heap.

Standard words, e.g.  frog  (J.5) had
already permeated into the urban area by
the 1930's, probably  without  the aid of the
then "new-fangled" rairdioo.

Ordinary people, mainly, had long since been
able to read newspapers; which were unlikely to
report the summer temperature in the swale,
but in the  shade!.

Although the expression "pig in a poke" was
(and is still) used, I have never heard the
single word  poke   used in the City; where it
was known by the more general term  bag.
The related word  pouch,  however, lived on
while anyone still indulged in  poipe-smookin'!

We have seen how (real) foreigners, from
across the North Sea, were assimilated into the
E. Anglian community, over  hundreds  of years.
Although contributing to the dialect, they
(ultimately) adopted what they understood to be
(the local version of) English. This still tends
to happen with the small proportion of
immigrants who speak no English on arrival.

U.K. citizens (and other fluent speakers of
standard English), coming into the Region,
can make a conscious decision whether to
mow-in   with the local dialect, or retain theirs.
Usually the decision is in the negative.

For their offspring, it can be more complex; but
can we pin any hopes on bi-lingual inhabitants?
And see K.4

3 : Regression

Mardle  was all too well aware of the time-warp
syndrome (although both of those expressions
were a little modern for him!).
He confessed that letters (written in 1949)
could have been quoting words
  • in current use OR
  • dredged from their memories of childhood.
Even then, it may have been only their forebears
who actually made regular use of such words.

Either way, as the people died out, generation
by generation, the words  fared   (see  F.8)
to be lost in the proverbial mists of time.
Unless (despite all the phonetic difficulties)
somebody bothered to write them down . . .

Probably the same was true of some
expressions and patterns of speech.

All this is usually summed-up in the term
Oral Tradition.
This conveys a warm, comforting feeling of rich
continuity; but, in fact, adds nothing to the
chances of actual dialect-survival. Only where
the tradition has been acknowledged and
respected (e.g. as in Folk Music) can we be
sanguine about the present and future.

Going back to the days before so-called "State"
schooling, there were two hurdles for ordinary
folk (farm labourers etc.) to overcome,
each  one pretty insuperable :-

(a) General literacy
        i.e. could or would they write  at all;
(b) The "Mardle" effect.
The latter is described thus :-

    People who spoke [ Norfolk ] as their Mother
    Tongue . . . were unconscious of speaking it.
    When they had occasion to write at all, they
    wrote in the standard English of their time.
    If East Anglian words or phrases slipped in,
    it was by accident!


4 : Prognosis

Both Skipper and Mardle spend a great deal of
time demonstrating how wide of the mark have
been the forecasts of the Death of the
Norfolk Language.

Fears had been expressed as early as  Forby
(the 1820s), and have regularly surfaced since;
quoting each new threat (schooling, railways,
cinema, radio etc.) as it came along.

Pre-1950, further population influxes were not
given much thought. By the time demography
became relevant, so was the ultimate weapon :
television  (the tally)!

Our authors' de-bunking of the Mark Twain-like
forecasts is both impressive and thorough.

The doubts, still lingering, are well illustrated
by the statutory "small print" which adverts for
Financial Services are obliged to mention :
Past performance is no guide to the future.

The factors for  dilution  (outlined in 2. above)
seem to grow ever stronger and more pervasive.
Standard English is busy taking over the  whole
;  in commerce, technology and diplomacy.
Genuine foreigners may well arrive here
speaking better English than the natives.

The odds are heavily stacked, but the
processes of attrition (like the Mills of God)
grind very slowly.

Some things in Norfolk will be a mighty long
time dying. I can't imagine the time when
he does;  when there is no  thass,  or  go you;
when present-participles don't keep  a-gorn.

When will we ever order a pint of  beer?;
or stop  holding-hard?


5 : Tidying-Up

Clutter and general untidiness
would compell my Gran to say:-
    Tha(t) wan(t) a good fye-ou(t)!
In the first instance this applied to cleaning out
ditches (getting to the bottom thereof was to
bo(tt)om-fye);  but spread to almost every
domestic and personal activity
(e.g. ear-holes, noses . . .)

As before  (E.2),  we should note the usual
avoidance of the word  needs.

Rubbidge  is, not surprisingly, Norfolk for
rubbish;  but this includes weeds.
More interestingly, and harking back to the
days of the Truck Acts, unwanted and/or
worthless items are still called  truck.

Lood-a ow'd truck  is the tangible alternative
to  squi(t).  "Will not entertain" is rendered as -
(h)avin(g) noo truck with. [ Quasi-verb usage]

There seems to have been a great dealing of
shaking (a whole lot?!) going on in Norfolk;
for what purposes we can only speculate
(mats etc., sauce-bottles??).
Judge for yourself from the following list :-

    Shig or shug - to shake, scatter, wave about;
    Jibbuck - to shake up and down;
    Ja(tt)er - to shake or knock
An alternative meaning for the word job has
been promised (I.6), which did not concern itself
with hard labour and the tribulations of life.
Well, it is simply the other side of the coin
(like using learn for learning and for teaching ?)

job = the results of a task completed well, but
need not have been done by anyone present;
perhaps by a manufacturer half a world away :-

    Har new ha-a-a(t) [ hat ]
    - tha(t) woon'(t) 'alf a jo-o-ob!
This is very similar to the use of
master, masterpiece or Bramah
i.e. anything remarkable to witness.
We also have the saying :
Wal, Oi'll goo ta Sea ! (Vide Tales : The Briny)

To amaze or astonish a person is to  stam  them.

    Oi wuz fair stammed!
This may have some connection with
speechlessness and  stammering;  but
the word is Dutch for a  post  (immobile) -
stopping them dead in their tracks, perhaps?

6 : Buildings

Apart from specialised agricultural premises,
and the materials associated with the art of
thatching, there are some words - builders'
jargon - which apply to ordinary dwellings.

That is to say, before the age of steel,
concrete and plastics arrived . . .

Foundations  have the nice Norfolk name of
groundsels  (not a weed!). These go under
the building (of course!) - in Norfolk  unean  it.
A tapering course of bricks, designed to
level-up the wall, is a  pig.

plancher   is a wooden floor (from French).

The only form of stone widely available
in Norfolk is  flint.
A centuries-old craft is that of  flint-knapping,
where to  knap  is simply to  knock.  In this case,
the flints are knocked with a hammer into
squarish and more regular shapes.
Galletin(g)  is the use of some of the resulting
flakes to help fill the (mortar) gaps; to improve
the overall appearance, and assist with

Flints or other stones weighing about 15cwt.
comprise a  jag.  The layer of large flints,
occurring naturally in chalk, is the  sase.

Shortage (hence cost) of stone, and cost of
fired-bricks, has made primitive "clay-lump"
construction a feature of the area.
Lumps of chalk,  clunches,
have also been pressed into service.
Parts of West Norfolk have access to  carr-stone,
one variety of which is "shell-carr"  (shall carr).

Walls in many parts of the country are wooden
frameworks, infilled with "wattle and daub",
brick etc. - as seen in many (late 20th C. ?!)
public houses.
Noggin  is the brickwork filling the timber gaps.
What other places call  rafters  are  spars,
in Norfolk - as in ships.

Specific parts of dwellings include:

  • Soller - a loft
  • Lucam (from the French) - attic window, or
        high-level opening for a hoist (e.g. granary)
  • Wicket-hole - anything resembling
        a "serving-hatch"
  • Rally - a shelf built into a wall.
  • Petty - outdoor lavatory (so probably
        not part of the dwelling, literally)
The latter is plausibly related, by  Skipper,
to the smallest  ( petit )  room.

7 : Food For Thought

Other, more exotic (?) items of
a comestible nature include:-

  • Bargood - simply yeast
  • Beezlins - first milk from a cow, after calving.
        Special quality used in old rural recipes!
  • Coquilles - spiced buns for Easter or
        Shrove Tuesday (esp. around Norwich)
  • Cruckle - a crust
        (but, in Suffolk, to  grate  or  creak)
  • Dannock - a small dough-cake
  • Froise (as in  fry ) - a pancake
  • Suslams - a mixture, such as a trifle.

Eggs with a soft shell, or other watery or
soft food is  lash  or  lashy  (vide 'lashings of').

One of the Morton's Fork type of "saying",
which Norfolk people love to inflict on
children, foreigners etc., relates to food
(especially if in short supply) :-

    (a) Them as ax ( ask ) dorn(t) gi(t) :
              means bad manners go unrewarded,
    BUT --
    (b) Them as dorn(t) ax, dorn(t) wan(t) :
              really hungry people would say so.
Notice the use of  them as,  in place of
those who. The word  those
is  quite unknown  in Norfolk!

8 : Hobgoblins

Rural beliefs in witchcraft die hard.
Putting a spell (curse) on a person, by sacrifice
of a toad, is to render him "toaded" ( tudded ).
To take direct action i.e. to strangle or suffocate
a person is to  grane  him!.

Less malevolently, he may be  quackled
(choked or strangled) by as little as a tight collar . . .
the effect also being  squackled  or  quaggled.

Stark  is normally a rather gloomy word,
but in Norfolk simply means : tight or stiff
(as in  starch). That is what could
have been wrong with the collar!

Ghosts  are called  haun(t)s,  instead of
the thing they do(!!); or  hoighsproi(t)es.

Other phantoms, somewhat restricted to
the Hethersett area, are called  faines.

Fairies  are, bizarrely,  pharisees.
Is this some genuine mistake?

People who are  crimblin'  may frighten others,
as it means creeping about sneakily.

To  pample  is not always so bad :
it means going on tiptoe.

One of the shortest, of our famous antique
past-participles, must be for  frightened
- namely  fri(t).

The rather scary game of face-pulling is known,
Up North, as  gurning. The Norfolk use
of  gurn  (gaan)  is related, but more harmless -
it just means  grin  (re-arranging the letters instead!).

9 : Who wouldn't be confused?

A promised minor re-cap follows
which may (or may not) help the Reader.

  • What : Woo(t)
  • What is : Wooss
  • Was : Wooz
  • Wasn't : Woon'(t)
  • Wouldn't : Woon'(t)   (Similarly : Shoon'(t))
  • Won't : Oon'(t)  < N. B.
  • Wholly : (W)hoolly
  • Only : Oolly
N. B.  All these words are pronounced
           as in  book.

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