Talking and listening on a quiet street in Barnsley
Poet, playwright, author, and broadcaster Ian McMillan muses on the localisms of his South Yorkshire hometown Barnsley in this blog post for our Words Where You Are public appeal for regionalisms, part of the Oxford English Dictionary‘s 90th anniversary celebrations.
Here I am, notebook under my arm, walking up to the bus stop at the top of my street. I always carry my notebook for catching words in in the way that a Victorian naturalist might clutch a butterfly net. I pass an old bloke. Let’s call him Old Bloke 1 to differentiate him from the other old bloke who will arrive later like the boy does at the end of each act of Waiting For Godot. Old Bloke 1’s flat cap looks nailed on. His face is as lined as the later Auden’s. He looks at me and I say ‘Morning!’ and he nods and says a word that sounds like ‘Or8‘ because that’s what it is. The word began life as ‘all right’ and then became ‘all reight’ because of the way we say our vowels and then shrunk to become the brace of syllables that sound like Or8.
He then looks more closely at me and says ‘Ar yore?’ to which I reply ‘Champ, love!’ This little exchange needs some examination and some dissecting. Ar yore is of course a localism, an extreme localism, of ‘how are you?’ and yore is a particular Barnsley locution that means either ‘you lot’ or ‘the person I’m addressing at this moment’. Yore can be either singular or plural and at this moment it’s singular because my wife has stayed in the house. My champ is of course a shrinking of champion! and I call him love because men in Barnsley always call each other love. I like it: it’s less aggressive than pal or mate and but it doesn’t reach the heights of intimacy of the my lover that men in Cornwall call you.
Then he says, gesturing to the grey sky with his stick, ‘Gunner sile later’ and my heart leaps with linguistic joy because he said sile on its own and not sile darn. When it’s silin darn it’s raining heavily; it’s throwing it down. It’s chucking it down. It’s silin darn. You very rarely hear sile on its own though just as another word for heavy rain, but today I have and I can jot it in my notebook later.
He then says ‘Tha guin for’t bus?’ and I nod and he says ‘Tha dunt want to ter get that brussen driver!’ I love the word brussen; it’s a word that doesn’t move far outside Barnsley, as though once it vacated these tight streets it would start gasping for air. Brussen is a word that has a very specific meaning but which needs several other words and phrases to explain its meaning, which is of course what makes it a superb word. The words that almost describe it are: grumpy/aggressive/macho/full of bravado/itching for a fight/possessed of a mistaken sense of superiority. You’ll see by the way that my explanations of brussen get more, well, wordy, that brussen is the perfect word for what it is.
Old Bloke 2 arrives from the top of the street. He could be Old Bloke 1 except that his cap is a slightly different shade of grey and the lines on his face are so deep that they probably have their own postcode. There’s a bit of ‘Or8?’ ‘Ar yore?’ sparring and then Old Bloke 2 says ‘Are tha guin for’t bus?’ I nod. He points with his stick to an area beyond the privet hedge where the bus stop is. ‘Well tha’s missed it ‘cos tha’s been kallin’, he says.
Kallin! One of the best Barnsley words ever; it means, roughly, gossiping or nattering and it’s usually meant to describe a kind of conversation that doesn’t consist of high philosophical discourse. Once, when I’d been on Breakfast TV reviewing the papers a man came up to me in the shop and said ‘We saw thee on’t telly. Kallin!’ and I thought I was uttering profundities. I nod to Old Bloke 2 and Old Bloke 1 and scuttle for the bus. Maybe Old Bloke 2 was just having me on.
He wasn’t. The bus has gone but I don’t care: I’ve caught a sile and a brussen and a kallin in my net, and that’s champion!
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