A Short Guide to Nottingham Speech, or Arter Tork Noh'n'm

"Nowadays when people ask me to 'say something in British', I reply with either 'aluminium' or 'gerront corsey'" - Kevin Weedon

One of the perils of being an Englishman abroad is that occasionally, Anglophiles approach me and ask me to speak in my native tongue. "Say something in British", they'll say. I used to quote either Shakespeare or the King James Version of the Bible, or recite Mary Had A Little Lamb, but quickly realised that, whilst those things were quite smile-raisingly cute, they felt somehow hollow. They simply didn't communicate the difference I wanted them to.

Nowadays, I am as likely to drop into Nottingham/East Midlands dialect as above, a bit of Yorkshire ("that's reet gradely"), or my admittedly limited Geordie ("Ya'aalreet deein?"). This has the desired effect, as it baffles my audience, and delights me as I watch them try to work out what it was I'd just said. Given that my parents were from Nottingham and that I lived, studied and worked there for much of my life, I now tend to respond in that vein.

Ehyehgorrahwihyeh, er ehyehbihyehsen?

Something to remember before we start is that I'm talking here about a regional dialect. This is not "bad English", this is one of the bits of what later came to be English. If England's capital had been Nottingham, rather than London, the shape of English today might look more like this:

"Ayup miduck, yahreet?"
"Orlright, marrah, burrahm not backter wok yit. Ows yer babbi?"
"Oh, eez pawleh, an ees grizzlin cosee bont hissen on the stoave too. Learn im ter keep is dannies off tho."
"Bet yer missis wuz fritterdeth!"
"Sheworratthat, but she'll coap. Where yowoff"?"
"Ahm gooin uptahn"
"Yawarkin, errint car?"
"Car? Ah soadit ter that immazatoadyabaht, as bought ahr Tracey's ahse"
"Im wi nebbeh wahf?"
"Yeah, ee paid five undred quid an she were reet mardy, ad a baggon for days"
"Ahl gerterahrahse! Yow spawni bogga, it want woth arfa that!"
"Ah know, but ee were needeh"
"Well, ahd better goo backom, bit black ovver Bills"
"Well, tek care, me owd"

There are several bits in here that I remember as classic Nottingham. "Mi duck" is what you call folk. It's rather like calling people "dear", or "dude". I never thought anything of it until I went to the West Country one time, and had someone call me "lover" during a pub business transaction. No worse either than the French, for whom the word chou (cabbage) is a term of endearment. "Mardy" is another word from my childhood, and it carries for me the image of the sulky and possibly snot-blowingly crying child. Then there's "twitchell" or "jitty", meaning a passageway, "bonny", which means chubby (unlike the Scots Eglish, which means "pretty"). "Piggle" is to pick at, "nebby" is nosey, if someone feels the cold, they're said to be "nesh", "gawping" or "chiking" is to stare or look at.

There are many words and expressions that clearly originate with English itself - I recall being fed "nobby greens" as a child, a vegetable I now know better as Brussels sprouts; at school we had a "nit noss" (nit nurse, one who would check kids' heads for lice). The "lavvy" or "closit" was the lavatory, a "guzunder" was a chamber pot, named because it "goes under" the bed.

Some of the local words are really old. "Spadger" meaning sparrow, is quite ancient, and not limited to the East Midlands. Many other dialect words come from older European languages. "Gizza glegg" or "gizza gozz" means "give me a look, glegg coming from Danish, and gozz from Dutch. "Rammell" (Saxon) is rubbish or junk, and the aforementioned "jitty" is from the French. Then there are words that don't seem to have a traceable origin - "mazzgi" or "mazzi" for a domestic cat is just one of them.

Gizzand withis

Okay, I can hear you asking now "What do those other phrases mean?" Well, gerront corsey means "get on the pavement (sidewalk)", corsey coming from causeway and gerront is a contraction, like "gerrit", the "T" sound being replaced with the "R". The phrase Ehyehgorrahwihyeh, er ehyehbihyehsen? requires that you are able to undo the tendency of local speakers to run words together. Let's break that one down:

Ehyeh      = Have you
gorra      = got her (remember that the "r" often replaces the "t")
whiyeh     = with you
er         = or
ehyeh      = are you
biyyessen  = by yourself

That last illustrates another tendency, "sen" replacing "self. So, "missen" means "myself", "thissen" is "themselves", and so on. "Etta" is another local peculiarity. It means "have to", so "yoal etta" means "you must". The aitch is dropped pretty frequently, although on occasion you'll hear someone trying to talk posh, and putting it in, often where it's not needed, though not to the extent found further down south, where I've heard phrases similar to "Arry ung is at hon the ighest ook".

Now for a couple of notes on pronunciation. American readers, please note this - most British English speakers do not prounounce their "R"s, so the word "mardy" is actually more like "mah-deh". That said, even in the local area there are very regional variations. Some folk will say "mah-deh", from others you'll hear something closer to "mah-di", depending on where they learned their Nottinghamese. Flk from Ilkeston and Hucknall speak very differently. The "U" sound is more like "oo", so "mi duck" is heard as closer to "mi dook".

Sadly, the true Nottingham-speak is in decline, though taking the bus anywhere in town (intahn) will expose you to possibly more of it (moronnit) than you might like. You'll struggle to get to some places - "the Meadows" is simply Medders, "Bulwell" is Buw-woh. The locals will, of course tease you, even as I do nowadays, even though I've been separated from the language for four years at the time of writing. But go there and be prepared for experiences like the one alleged to have happened to Seve Ballesteros. Teamed with a local club professional in a charity golf game, he praised his partner's first drive with "That's a fabulous tee-shot". "Ta very much," said the club pro, "Burrittint a tee-shot, it's a pullova!"

For those who want a full translation, here it is:

"Hello, friend are you all right?"
"Yes, my old friend, but I'm not back to work yet. How's your youngest?"
"Oh, he's not well, and he's upset and crying because he burned himself on the stove. Still, it will teach him to keep his hands off"
"I bet your wife was frightened!"
"Yes, she was, but she'll be all right. Where are you going?"
"I'm going to the city."
"Are you walking, or driving?"
"I sold my car to that chap I told you about, who bought [my family member] Tracey's house."
"The one with the nosey wife?"
"Yes, he paid five hundred pounds, and she was sulky and upset, was sulking for days."
"Well, I never! You lucky fellow, it wasn't worth anything like that!"
"I know, but he was desperate!"
"Well, I'd better get back home, it looks like it might rain"
"Take care, old friend."

Nottingham As It Is Spoke - John Beeton

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