Tuesday 21 March 2023

Words they Devon volk knew

Longing for summer.  One of the trees taken down this weekend can be seen just below the chimney.

HERE are two lovely Devon ladies, telling a naughty tale(not too naughty, don't worry).  I just love their Devon accent.

Here' s another one - this time, farmers . . . Click on the writing to get the link each time.

I got led astray this afternoon, from family history to words and expressions some of my ancestors would have used.    These are  from the Report an Transactions of the Devon Association in 1878:

This comes from Teignmouth, but I know it (probably mentioned by dad) and I am sure it's still in common use: "You'm lookin' better than you did."

"Ax" for ask, as in, on an omnibus, "Jack run back and ax en ef es gwain" (of an old slow person) meaning run back and ask him if he's going by the omnibus.  "Gwain" is going. This Torquay.

"Bide where you be" - stay where you are. Teignmouth.

Love this one "Between the lights" - Teignmouth again, as in "Yesterday I was sitting between the lights" - e.g. at twilight.

Near Kingsbridge (my great uncle plied the ferry across the river there), they only knew Valerian as "Bouncing Bess".

A native of Ashburton (I have several in the family tree), might say, when speaking of a book, "If you let that child have it, twill soon be "dabberdashed" - e.g. made dirty.

"Drownded"  rather than drowned, was a common expression in many places - just like you hear today "Spayded" instead of "spayed" as of dogs or cats.

In Widdicombe (again a family area), they might speak of "Flour-milk" (we used to put this thin paste on a branch of gorse at Christmas, as we couldn't afford a tree) - anyway, it was used when cleaning out a muddy ditch by an old boy born in 1811 or so: "Maister it would make flour-milk" - meaning gruel made with flour instead of oatmeal.

Higher up in the county, around Hatherleigh, shingles was known as "girding".

They were way ahead of Wokery down in Devon, and even something like an appetite became genderised:  "He is not very good sir, I feel sick to everything."

Likewise males and females were interchanged:  "He's with pup, Sir".

Whilst my generations of Totnes ancestors would have used "Hole in the ballet" of someone who spent too freely:  "I fear there will be a hole in the ballet before too long."

"God will learn us what to do" (as in teach).  Yup, had this one in Hampshire too.  We also used "He'll l(e)arn him" - meaning someone was going to get a walloping.

This sounds like it ought to be in general use: "Offering for rain"  - as in 'It's been offering for rain all day' - meaning threatening to rain.

"He was that drunk" was also a (scandalized!) Hampshire expression.

Finally, I love this one.  Hope I can remember it to use it:  "I sim they watercresses  are all wangery" - meaning withered.  This one from Torrington, in the north of the county.

Hope this has kept you all amused.

I have managed to get some jobs done in the garden today.  A Montana clematis which had been languishing in a planter (they really don't care for that) is now in a thinner bit of hedge, between the two tree stumps, and around it are some transplanted Welsh poppies which had been keeping it company.

In the planter it was in, there are tulip bulbs, discovered in the stables where I put them to "dry out" last year, and which wanted to grow again.

In two other big planters out front, emptied of Lily-family contents which were poisonous to cats, are now a nice selection from Tesco - a £5 box of Gladioli corms, a Dahlia, some Freesias, and seeds of Cosmos, Pot Marigolds and Cornflowers.  It made up two planters, and I bought a lovely lime-green and white Dahlia from down the town to put in the centre of the 2nd planter.

I felt better for doing that.


  1. I love the way different areas use language. I lived back east in Canada for most of my growing up years and people still giggle here in the west at how I express myself, or how I pronounce certain words.

    God bless.

    1. Indeed, in the countryside Long Tailed Tits are often called "bumbarrels"! I love it! Good you haven't totally lost your accent. I used to pride myself on not having one,but one day in Tesco a chap came up to me and said "You're from Hampshire aren't you?" Yes, I said, and it turns out he was from Portsmouth ("Pompy") along the coast a bit! He could tell from the intonation on some words I used.

  2. Yes, it did thank you BB! I love all the old sayings. One of the books I sold on Saturday which I had been dipping into was the Lore and Language of Schoolchildren by Iona and Peter Opie - quite rude and ribald in places. I love hearing about your gardening too and doesn’t your house look pretty nestled into the garden in the sunshine. The planters are going to be so colourful this summer. Is it an oak tree growing next to the now felled sycamores? What a good idea to release the Clematis Montana here to scramble around the stumps. I’m trying to think of the name of the rose that I see locally growing 20 feet or more into an oak tree. Is it Paul’s Himalayan Musk? It rained here again most of yesterday and I did nothing except read lots and finish knitting sock number 5 (of three pairs using 4 x 50g skeins of Exmoor sock yarn from John Arbon). I sent S and T shopping and T made lunch (avocado and soft boiled egg on toast - I never buy avocado so this was a treat) and a curry for supper. He is much better now he’s not so worried about his foot. I am Chichester-bound again today for a hospital appointment for T for his foot. It’s a shame it’s still raining as we thought a walk along the sand at West Wittering would have been good therapy. Oh well, we need the rain. Have a lovely day BB and if you feel like it do have a look at Arne Maynard’s website (arnemaynard.com) for pictures of his home Allt y Bela (a very old Welsh farmstead near Usk) nestled into its garden. I think you would approve of the colour he has painted the house! Sarah x

    1. I have to say, we could have walked away from this house as it didn't make us instantly get the gut-feeling-fall-in-love that Ynyswen did - that jumped off the page at us - but it has grown on us and I am very fond of it. My "safe place" is my spot on the sofa, and sight of all the things that are dear to me - Keith included of course! The planters I did yesterday are out the front, but I may do similar ones in front of the house - should have got another pack of the mix I planted when I was in Tesco on Monday. Someone kick me! For £5 it was good value.

      I am still having Exmoor sock yarn envy. CAN I get myself going on the sock front again? I should. All sorts of things I "should" do though!

      You would have LOVED my lunch today. I've been to Ludlow and the market was on and I treated myself to a little Onion Bhaji and Chickpea open tart. Mind you, I was spoiled for choice as he had some lovely things. Next time I go I will make sure it's market day again and try something else.

      Hope the Hospital visit goes smoothly and T is soon out of your hair! I know exactly what you've been going through . . .

      Thank you for the link to Allt y Bela (I have bookmarked it). Oh My GOODNESS that fabulous garden. If I can only recreate one tiny bit of it I'd be over the moon.

      Really tall climbing roses - either Paul's Himalayan Musk or if whiter, then probably Kiftsgate. I saw that right to the top of a tall tree at Chatsworth.

  3. After living for 25 years on the edge of Exmoor it was lovely to hear the way many of my farming friends spoke. In common usage was the phrase "Where's that to?" meaning "Where's that from?" and I once had a class of 4year olds in hysterics when I didn't pronounce theatre thee-aye-ter. And woodlice are chukkie-pigs.

    1. Hi Rute - I'm sure I know that expression as well - but from Hampshire. Love the chukkie-pigs. Will have to remember that one.

      Just checked your lovely blog - get well soon, and please wave to Eldest Daughter for me - you look to live not too far away.

  4. 'drownded' and 'spayded' are not uncommon here either. I love those old phrases. Between the lights was was a lovely one. I didn't get 'hole in the ballet' though. What is a ballet?

  5. Moving to Kentucky 13 years ago has added some phrases to our lexicon--to say nothing of trying to interpret some of the older 'accents' here. For instance, 'Its fixing to rain.' 'Where you at?'. 'I done did it.' We are part of the greater Appalachian area with most of the original settlers of Scots/Irish origin, so doubtless forms of speech were imported from there.

    1. Gosh, I imagine there are a lot of terms and expressions which came from "back home" and continued in use.

  6. I grew up in Suffolk. On our last visit home I was having a lovely chat with someone on the station platform. Now and then the person would include my husband in the conversation. Each time my Canadian husband would laugh nervously without actually replying. After we were on the train he told me he hadn't understood a word. My pesky little Hampshire cousin still teases me about my Suffolk accent even though I have lived in Canada for over forty years. Lovely to get outside and plant things, I did the same today and kept stopping to acknowledge how happy I was.

    1. Oh love him, he must have been embarrassed! Has your Hampshire cousin still got an accent too? I love to hear regional accents, though I might make an exception for Birmingham! Sorry if anyone reading this is from Brum :)