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Listen to Professor Crystal

Mardy. M-A-R-D-Y. A word from the Midlands. I heard it first, years ago, somewhere in Birmingham, I think, or was it Wolverhampton? But it's certainly that sort of area, but it's moved in all directions. It moved north into Lancashire and Yorkshire and right up into the north of England, and because it started to be used on certain television programmes like 'Coronation Street', it got to be known in the south of England as well, and I've heard people in the south use it now.

It's an adjective - 'you mardy cow!', for instance, somebody might say - quite a strong adjective really. It means, you know, you whinging, sulking, whining, petulant, pathetic, moaning, grumpy ... there are lots of adjectives that do this kind of thing - surly, you cry baby, stop feeling sorry for yourself ... that's the implications of the word mardy.

But there's something quite succinct and punchy about the word, which words like 'whinging' don't quite have. So, 'stop being mardy' is rather more effective in some people's speech than 'stop complaining'. And as a result, it's been used in quite a few idioms, people say 'you've got a mardy on', meaning you've got a real mood on today, a sulky mood on today, or 'you're in a right mardy' I've heard people say - often with a regional accent because these words sometimes sound better, you know, 'right mardy, you are!' - that kind of thing, where you get the effect from the regional voice too.

The origins? Again, as many of these regional words are, quite unclear. Some people think that it comes from the word mard, meaning spoilt. There are references back to the 1920s for it - unspoilt, mard. Well, that comes from the Standard English word mar, to mar, to mar something. M-A-R. And that's true of quite a lot of these regional words, you know, they sometimes have a quite long-standing relationship with Standard English, but it takes a while to find out about it.


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