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   Inside Out - South: Monday January 17, 2005


Endangered words gather in London to fight for survival

No-one really keeps a list of endangered words, but if they did, on it you would probably find the likes of knuckerhole, torrididdle and flittershitters on it.

They're all words from the Southern dialects and they're vanishing fast.

We go on the track of some of these rare words, in their native habitat of Sussex, and see why they're so under threat and how we can rescue them from the brink of the abyss.

First a word from the conservationists ...

First meet Jonnie Robinson, collector or rare words and curator for English Accents and Dialects at the British Library.

Jonnie Robinson
Jonnie Robinson, preserver of words

According to Jonnie, the endangerment of the Southern dialects is all the fault of Homo commuticus (the commuter), that nomadic race that is settling vast swaths of the Southern Counties and displacing the indigenous peoples. As he says;

"Lack of jobs and expensive housing is driving local people out of their villages and they're moving elsewhere."

"As that happens the accent disappears. What we have instead are other people moving in from the cities and London bringing a more uniform accent."

So it seems that the southern tongue, a mostly rural dialect, is disappearing because the jobs to keep people in the countryside are themselves disappearing.

Now meet a willing host ...

Next meet Sussex woodsman, Mick Goodsell, part of a dying breed of people living in the south earning their living on the land.

Mick is inhabited by a plethora of endangered words. His lifestyle suits these shy and retiring words, who thrive under his careful nurturing.

Many of the dialect words Mick uses describe countrymen's tools and what they make. To him a swap cuts shrubs, and when his swap won't cut anymore he gets out his rubber and sharpens it once more.

Mick treasures his precious words, some of whom can trace their origins to words that arrived in the region some 14 centuries ago.

Now for a little history ...

Endangered words

From Sussex:

White clouds blown across the sky by wind
A spring which rises in the flat lands of the South Downs.
female conversation
narrow path between hedges
Rat dick
The river Arun
Loving mud
Mud that clings
A cart horse command

From Hampshire:

A poser
When something falls apart.
To swagger
To be very cold

From Dorset:

Bhoog off
A command to a cart house to move away to the right
Bewildered, almost mad

Sussex holds a clue to the origins of its dialect in its name. The word "Sussex" is derived from two others, rare ones at that - "Suth" and "Seaxe", which when translated out of the Saxon tongue means "South Saxons".

In the sixth century Sussex was a kingdom, one of seven Saxon kingdoms of the time.

In the previous century the Saxons had invaded southern England and slaughtered or displaced the existing Romano-Celtic population. They were so successful at this that virtually no Celtic-derived place names exist in Sussex today.

And there the South Saxons remained for some time, relatively undisturbed, cultivating their own words and dialect.

In fact it is oft quoted that Sussex was the last county in England to be Christianised. The kingdom of the South Saxons was shielded from the rest of the country by a vast and forest known at the time as Andredsweald, impenetrable even to religion.

Behind this wooded barrier the South Saxons set about laying the foundations for the Sussex dialect. When the kingdom finally fell it left behind a rich store of words that continued to evolve in popular usage over the centuries.

Nowadays however evolution is being replaced by extinction. The new settlers to the area have little interest in preserving the ancient tongue.

Here come the activists ...

Women wearing t-shirts emblazoned with  Windogs and  Knuckerhole
Sussex words on the move

What we at Inside Out decided to do was to mount a campaign to save our endangered words, and not just from Sussex, but from all over the South.

So we recruited some help. We got six local characters, kitted them out in T-shirts emblazoned with a selection of our endangered words, and packed them off to London, that ruiner of rural accents.

Their job was meet with Jonnie, the word conserver we spoke to earlier, and check that the British Library knew of these precious words.

Jonnie's going to check if these words are already preserved in some of his dusty tomes, like the Dictionary of English Dialects (several volumes long) published at the turn of the 20th Century.

Save your words ...

Rather than having to head to the big smoke to petition for the preservation of your own rare words, you can take part in the BBC's Voices project that is looking at regional accents and dialects. Log onto the Voices website at or phone 0800 0566787 for a survey.

Local radio stations will also be gathering the voices of at least 1,000 interviewees from an eclectic mix of people from all corners of the UK. Much of this audio and on-line information will translate into BBC content in August.

See also ...

On the rest of Inside Out
Midlands Dialect
Southern voices
Geordie dialect
North West accents
West Country accents
Cockney accent


On the rest of the web
The British Library
English Accents and Dialects

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Revd. Canon George Rayner
Is see the word "ackle" used as "it won't ackle" was a normal boyhood saying in the Island for "it won't work" and Islanders always refer to the hands of a clock as "spears". I find people look at me when I use the word "somewhen" meaning "at some time in the future". There is an excellent 19th century Dictionary of I.W. dialect, probably now out of print. Leaves from the hedge, which we used to eat en route were always "bread and cheese"; they never killed us! I know the word "grockels" is used by some to refer to tourists, but folk from the mainland were always "overners". Equally, as a child, I never heard Islanders referred to as "Corkheads", usually, "Isle of Wighters".

Sharon Ensor
My nan in Portsmouth used expressions like: cockstiddling over -to fall over, oh garn on wiv yer - for stop it or never mind. I also want to add that it wasnt just the words but exclaimed 'oh, gawd love my onions!' 'hells bells'. or 'give me bucket of sand and i'll sing you the desert song' -when asked to do to much.

Valerie J Taylor
How about the word "pitching" a Dorset word for laying snow. In the 1950's, my brother and I would watch the snow falling in anticipation. We hoped the snow would "pitch" and would therfore be deep enough so the bus couldn't get through to the local village to take us to school!

Patricia Park
I live in Parkstone,Dorset and we use the word 'Grockle' for holiday makers or visitors in general. We also use 'Upon hill' to say we are going to the shops situated on Ashley Rd, Parkstone. So in the summer you can hardly move upon hill for the grockles.

Stuart Allen
My mother who lived in the Aylesbury area of Bucks all her life always referred to snails as "oddy-doddys" and pied wagtails were known as "dishwashers"

Anthony Allison
My grandmother often used a word that you don't hear much anymore, spreeth. If you were to wash your face and not dry properly before going out in the wind you would 'spreeth' making your skin sore. Of course I'm not sure about the spelling of the word as it was only used verbally. I'd love to know if anyone else out there has heard of this one?

Terry Eaton
I was born in Poole, Dorset, and many of my school-mates would use the expression "backalong" to refer to something that had occurred in the past. The question "Where is it?" often came out as "Where be to, then?"

Vivien Longmate
The program brought back very fond memories of my Dad, who moved around quite a lot as a lad, with his parents, and he used many of the words incuded on the show, as do the family now at times, as we were brought up with them. I have a better idea now just where he did live as a child, just by the words. Flittershitters will definately be used again in this part of Hampshire.

norris heppenstall
i lived in somerset in the 60s and remember that the somerset expression for "i am not" was baint,the word used for "are" was "be", as in where be e going,"e"being used for "you", also used in this context was the word "bist" as in "how bist e" meaning how are you,looking at the other comments this expression seems to common in other southern counties also.a lot of other sentence's were shortened as in "i cannot" becoming "casn't".

Anna Fisher
Until I left Hampshire to go to University I hadn't thought twice about using the work 'anywhen'. It wasn't until friends and lecturers alike pointed out this this isn't a word, and sure enough there is no 'anywhen' in the dictionary. Apparently this is a particularly Hampshire term for 'anytime'. But why can you say whenever but not anywhen?

Jack Griffiths
re TWITTEN - Further to the comment from Steve Pover in Southwick (Sussex) - there is a lengthy TWITTEN ROAD in Worthing and it can be traced for well over a mile from the town centre. In addition, there are Little Twittens all over this part of West Sussex - however the word is never spelt Twittern as you show it. but maybe it has lost the 'R' over the years. Note the West Sussex Gazette (Editor in Chichester) has over the years carried articles written in the Sussex dialect. Keep up the good work Chris!

Etta Hands
About 50 years ago in Shropshire (which I realise is not South) we children used to love this ditty: You munna say dunna it inna polite and you canna say wunna cos that inna right

Don Hickman
I agree with Tony Beere, You missed out zummet not perambulating your dialect feature over to the Wight.

Marion Williams
My parents came from Wales in the thirties to work in the Oxford car factory. We lived in an old part of Cowley where the residents were people who had grown up in Cowley when it was still a village and not part of Oxford. Our elderly neighbour, a keen gardener with several allotments, would invariably give advice. One was when to start digging the ground for vegetables, etc. You didn't dig when the soil was still "too oxy" - suffering from the effects of frost and ice.

Andrew J Taylor
My mother recently related a saying that has stuck in her memory. She was living in Marcham (Berkshire) at the time, early 1920's. Bist 'e going to the fair, if 'e bist i'll see the there.

the word i think will die out is "chuggy wug" which means woodlouse my dad grew up round marchwood and i think thats where he got it from

Bob Cameron
I grew up surrounded by people with a Dorset accent and some words common in my family were "ow bist" (how are you?), "bide" as in "don'ee bide thur kip'n on" (Don't sit there complaining etc.) "mumfudgin" (keeping quiet), and for some reason genitals were referred to as "twickets" although I've never heard anyone else use that term! There's more if you want it!

Patricia Sharman
Wonderful programme last night, but as usual, not long enough!! I am Hampshire born and bred, but the bureaucrats moved the county border so that I now live in Dorset. Both my mother and grandmother referred to the narrow path at the side of the house which accessed the back door as the " drongway " and if something was misplaced they would ask " where's it to then "

Amy Smith
My grandad used to use words like the ones you displayed on the is nice to see them still in use.

Marion Pink
Following on from Dave Wigzell's "ackle" , which is very familiar - in our Hampshire family if you were unwieldly with an object you were described as "akkard" (awkward). Also you could be likened to "a cow with a musket".

Laurie Cook
We all know that to 'dunk' is to dip your biscuit in to a drink. My grandmother used to say "dunking makes thop". A very expressive term but I have never heard anyone else use it. She came from Breachwood Green near Luton. Could this be a 'lost word?'

Mrs Lynda Boulton
Loved the dialects and words. We use one which we believe to be very "Hampshire" - a verb - to firk - meaning to fidget about looking for something. We are a Hampshire family and my mother always uses it!

Wendy G M Fruin
I was very interested in your programme,(not an Oh! my God!or, I was like! in it) as my mother used words like Cheeselog for Woodlice and Flibbertigibbet to describe me as a restless youngester. Her family - Meads - were mainly resident in Berkshire, and it was a real pleasure to listen to their speech at family gatherings as mine was tidied up by a grammar school education.Although, because we moved home at great many times, I was apt to ape the local dialect at times so that I fitted in.

Steve Pover
I live in Southwick near Brighton and was pleased to hear the use of 2 words on your programme:- SWAP - although I have always known it as a "swap-hook", but exactly as your programme showed it. TWITTEN - I've always known of this word, and used to use a classic twitten on my walk to school. We also have a road in Southwick called "The Twitten", which obviously derives from the same. Great show - thanks.

Tony Beere
Certainly a great shame that the Isle of Wight was not included in your dialect feature. There are a number of locally used words and phrases that would have fitted into your programme. There have also been several printed editions of an Isle of Wight dialect dictionary.

Chris Walker
I enjoyed your short item on accents and dialects in tonights programme. In West Oxfordshire there are quite a few people with a strong regional accent, but as you observed, dialect words are few and far between, except amongst those who have not moved far from their roots. My father, 1903-1988 used odd words from time to time, and I started writing them down, 20 or 30 years ago. I remember the thrill of hearing a word and looking it up in Wrights Dialect dictionary in the College Library. I was fairly sure I was the only person who looked at those old volumes. I was fortunate, a few years later, to receive a set as a Christmas present, and now have the luxury of looking up words whenever I need to. I ramble on, but I will now log on to the 'voices' website to see what the project involves.

Mr G E Hopkins
I am pleased that you are making a program about local dialects I was born in Salisbury and have lived in Wiltshire all my life.It would be a great shame if all the local dialects all over the country were lost. I have been told by people that I have a spoken to that I have a strong wiltshire acent and I am proud of it. G E Hopkins

Hugh Dixon
When Iwas a child - sixty years ago. my great Aunt from Romsey would always use the term "Bangy Angies" (not sure of the spelling) to describe the contents of the meal we would have at my Grandmothers house in Southampton on Boxing Day. In other words it was left-overs from Christmas lunch such as cold chicken or turkey, but I guess it would be valid for any other left-over food. Do you have this word in your records?

Dave Wigzell
I Haven't heard the word "ackle" for many years. It was used anout a piece of machinery or gadget, or sometimes a toy that wasn't working properly..."it doesn't ackle"

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