Release notes: Regional English words new to the OED

Release notes: Regional English words new to the OED

Last year the OED collaborated with the BBC and the Forward Arts Foundation on a project for National Poetry Day. Twelve poets from different English regions were commissioned to each write a poem based on a distinctive local turn of phrase. The chosen expressions were selected from words suggested by listeners to BBC Local Radio, on social media, and in interviews and discussions.

At the OED we were delighted with the responses we received from the public, as people from across the country answered the call to tell us their local words. Many of the suggestions were for words not in the OED and served as a starting point for further research. The end result is the addition of over 100 new regional words and senses to the dictionary, with more to come.

Regional expressions may be common in spoken English but rarely make their way into written sources. The ephemeral nature of spoken expressions poses a challenge for lexicographers at the OED, who need citable, datable evidence for the use of a word. This feature of regional English is often reflected in the quotation evidence we give for the words. For example, the earliest quotations for scud, a south-western word meaning ‘a scab’ are all from regional dictionaries:

1825 J. JENNINGS Observ. Dial. W. Eng. 66 Scud, a scab.

1888 F. T. ELWORTHY W. Somerset Word-bk. (at cited word) I have hit the scud off my finger and made it bleed again.

However, later evidence from Twitter (which in many ways replicates everyday spoken English) allows us to see the word being used in a much more natural, unselfconscious context. This, along with the original suggestion from a member of the public, confirms that scud is a word that is still going strong.

2012 @beckikn0x 13 Dec. in (O.E.D. Archive) Ew, got a massive scud on my nose.

2014 @Lawsonwho_ 20 July in (O.E.D. Archive) Picked a scud in my nose and‥felt the blood before it started pouring out my nose.

Over the past century many regional words have fallen out of use, hastened by increasingly mobile populations and the depopulation of rural areas. However, this project has shown that many places still do have a distinctively local vocabulary that is not only persisting but is seeing the advent of new words and phrases. Many of the new words in this update are first recorded in the 1980s and 90s, and some of them have clear origins in twentieth-century developments.

Tarzy is a word familiar to children in Middlesbrough and it describes a makeshift rope swing that allows one to swing across a river or stream. The earliest example we’ve found so far is from 2003, but it is likely it was used by children before that, even if it didn’t make its way into print (indeed one of our colleagues remembers using the word as a four-year old in 1996, and her mother recalls calling a rope swing a tarzy when she was a girl in the seventies).

However, we do know that tarzy is a word that can only have arisen in the twentieth century. This is because it derives its name from the Edgar Rice Burroughs character Tarzan, whoin Hollywood films based on Burroughs’ booksis known for swinging through the jungle on vines. A related entry, also appearing in this month’s update, is tarzan swing (‘a rope swing, typically suspended from a tree, now esp. one at an outdoor activity centre’) which is first recorded in 1934.

Plastic is another twentieth-century invention which has given rise to the British colloquial term plazzy. Currently the word has been traced back to 1975 and the Liverpudlian author and screenwriter Alan Bleasdale:

1975 A. BLEASDALE Scully 84 Went down the Gym with a plassy ball.

And it is in Liverpool that the adjective has developed the derogatory meaning ‘fake, phoney’ and a corresponding, and equally derogatory, noun use:

Regional words indicate that their users come from a particular place and often contribute to one’s sense of identity: you know you are home when words such as tarzy or scud can be used in the knowledge that they will be understood.

With plazzy we can see a regional expression being used to create a sense of belonging by identifying and naming those who are perceived not to belong. This impulse to demarcate and divide can also be seen in outner (‘an outsider, stranger; a relative newcomer to the district or parish’) and woollyback, another expression used to describe someone who comes from outside of Liverpool, which we hope to publish in a future update.

Other regional additions in this update first recorded in the twentieth century or later include tansad (a pushchair), to have a monk on (to be in a bad mood), tash (to seek a potential sexual partner), jarg (false, counterfeit), and antwacky (old-fashioned, out of date).

We’ve already seen with tarzy that regional expressions can have interesting or evocative etymologies and this is the case with a number of the words in this update. Britain’s Romany population, for example, has left its mark on the language with barry and gadgie, and these new additions join mush and dinlo, as words of Romani origin which are now part of the English language in various parts of Britain.

In Britain the word flitting is used to describe the action of secretly moving house to escape creditors or obligations. The noun was then used to describe not just the action but the furniture and other goods you took with you during such a flit and also the vehicle on which they were loaded. From here flitting, and the idea of falling off one of these vehicles, is found in two different regional phrases:

Finally, there are some regional words or expressions for which the etymology is unknown. This is the case with dut, a word from north-eastern England for a hat, first recorded in 1939, and to stand like piffy on a rock bun, a northern expression for standing around aimlessly or uselessly. Who or what piffy is (and why he, she, or it is standing on a rock bun) is, for the moment, a mystery.

Over the past year we have had great fun hearing and researching these regional terms and we are grateful to the public both for alerting us to new words and for giving us further information about the currency of items already in the OED.  Building on the success of last year’s project, we are once again asking you to suggest your local words, not just from England, but from anywhere in the English-speaking world. You can suggest words using this form or on Twitter using the hashtag #wordswhereyouare.

This appeal launched in April and we have already had an enthusiastic response which underlines just how dearly people hold their local expressions, and how eager they are to share their expertise. All this goes to show that in our increasingly connected world, regional varieties of English are still flourishing.

Regional words and senses published in this update

  • antwacky, adj. Liverpool. Old-fashioned, quaint; antiquated, outmoded, out of date.
  • away for slates, phr. Irish English. To have started and be making good progress; to succeed.
  • barry, adj.2 Sc. (chiefly eastern) and Eng. regional (north-eastern). Good, great, excellent.
  • billywitch, n. Suffolk. A cockchafer.
  • brencheese, nEng. regional (southern, chiefly Sussex and Hampshire). Bread and cheese, esp. when eaten together as a light meal or snack.
  • chucky-pig, n. Eng. regional (chiefly south-western). A woodlouse.
  • chumping, n. Eng. regional (Yorkshire). The action or practice of collecting wood or other materials for use as fuel in a bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night.
  • claggy, adj. Brit. regional. Damp and overcast; foggy, misty.
  • cuddy wifter, n. Eng. regional (north-eastern). A left-handed person.
  • doy, n. Eng. regional (Yorkshire). As a term of endearment or affectionate form of address to a young child: darling, pet.
  • dut, n. Eng. regional (north-eastern). A hat or cap.
  • ee, int. Eng. regional (northern). Used to express a range of emotions or responses, both positive (pleasure, eagerness, surprise, etc.) and negative (doubt, consternation, dismay, etc.).
  • ee bah gum, int. Eng. regional (Yorkshire and Lincolnshire). Expressing surprise, delight, wonder, etc.
  • to look like something that fell off a flitting, phr. Eng. regional (northern) and Sc. To have an untidy or dishevelled appearance.
  • to have fallen off a flitting, phr. Eng. regional (Yorkshire and Lancashire). To be foolish or gullible.
  • gadgie, n. Sc. (chiefly southern and eastern) and Eng. regional (northern). A man, a bloke, a chap.
  • gadge, n.2  Sc. (chiefly eastern) and Eng. regional (north-eastern). A man, a bloke, a chap, esp. one regarded as coarse, uncouth, or rough.
  • geg, n. Liverpool. A look or peek, esp. a curious or surreptitious glance.
  • growler, n. Yorkshire. A pork pie.
  • grufty, adj. Lincolnshire. Dirty, filthy.
  • hoy, v.2 Eng. regional (north-eastern). To throw, heave.
  • jarg, adj. Liverpool. False, fabricated, or counterfeit; suspicious, misleading.
  • Jenny Greenteeth, n. Eng. regional (northern). The name of: a female supernatural being or creature said to lurk beneath the surface of (esp. weed-covered) ponds, ditches, etc., waiting to pull in and drown those who venture into or near the water. A name for pondweed.
  • jitty, n. Eng. regional (midlands and northern). A narrow passage or alley running between buildings, esp. rows of terraced houses.
  • ket, n. Eng. regional (north-eastern). A sweet; a piece of confectionery, esp. one made to be appealing or affordable to young children.
  • lathered, adj. Eng. regional (northern). Very sweaty from exertion or heat.
  • mard, n. Eng. regional (midlands and northern). A sulky, resentful, or petulant mood; a fit of ill temper.
  • mardarse, n. Eng. regional (midlands and northern). A sulky, petulant, or grumpy person; a cowardly, ineffectual, or oversensitive person.
  • mast, v.3 Eng. regional (north-eastern). Of tea: to brew or infuse.
  • maze, adj. Eng. regional (south-western). Stupefied, dazed; crazy, berserk; bewildered, confused.
  • To have a monk on, phr. Eng. regional (chiefly Yorkshire). To be in a bad mood; to be angry, sullen, or resentful.
  • outner, n. Eng. regional (chiefly northern and eastern). An outsider, stranger; a relative newcomer to the district or parish.
  • to stand like piffy (on a rock bun), phr. Eng. regional (northern). To stand or wait around uselessly, aimlessly, or in a state of frustrated helplessness.
  • plazzy, adj. Liverpool. Fake, phoney, imitation; second-rate.
  • plazzy, n. Liverpool. A person whose credentials as a Liverpudlian are regarded sceptically or mockingly.
  • podged, adj. Eng. regional (chiefly north midlands, Lancashire, and Yorkshire). Of a person: very full after eating; glutted, gorged, ‘stuffed’.
  • pogged, adj. Eng. regional (West Yorkshire and Lancashire). Of a person: very full after eating; glutted, gorged, ‘stuffed’.
  • scrage, v. Eng. regional (west midlands and south-western). To graze or scrape.
  • scud, n.1 Eng. regional (south-western). A scab; the crust that forms over a healing wound or sore.
  • scutchell, n. Eng. regional (Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire). A narrow lane or passageway between buildings or hedges.
  • skeg, n.5 Eng. regional (northern and eastern). A look, a glance.
  • spreathed, adj. Eng. regional (south-western) and Welsh English (south). Of skin: cracked, rough, or sore, as a result of exposure to cold or damp; chapped.
  • spug, n.4 Sc., Irish English (northern), and Eng. regional. The house sparrow.
  • spuggy, n. Sc. and Eng. regional (chiefly north-eastern). The house sparrow.
  • spur, n.5 Sc. and Eng. regional (northern). The house sparrow.
  • spurg, n. Sc. (north-eastern). The house sparrow.
  • spurgie, n. Sc. (chiefly north-eastern). The house sparrow.
  • tansad, n. Eng. regional (northern), Sc., and Irish English. A make of child’s pushchair or pram. Hence more widely: any pushchair or pram.
  • tarblish, adj. Eng. regional (southern). To an acceptable degree; moderately, fairly, reasonably.
  • tarzy, n. regional (chiefly in Middlesbrough). A makeshift rope swing across a river or stream, typically suspended from a tree.
  • tash, v. Newcastle. To seek a potential sexual partner; to make sexual or romantic advances.
  • teg, n.2 Eng. regional (midlands). A tooth.
  • tricolate, v. Eng. regional (eastern). To adorn or decorate; to tidy or fix.
  • tusky, n. Yorkshire. Rhubarb.
  • twine, n.4 Eng. regional (northern, now chiefly Cumberland). A whine, a moan.
  • twiney, adj. Eng. regional (northern, now chiefly Cumberland and Westmorland). Characterized by or given to whining or moaning
  • utchy, adj. Eng. regional (southern). Of the weather: chilly, cold.
  • wottle day, n. Lincolnshire. A working day.
  • zamzawed, adj. Devon. Of food or a meal: spoiled by overcooking; overdone.

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