Remember that bit in “Beetlejuice”, when two of the main characters happened across “The Handbook for the Recently Deceased”? It would be lovely if such a handbook exists, although odds are I’ll treat it like I do most magazines: ie, read it back from front, flipping idly through, distracted by pictures, and missing important things.
Such as, for example, directions to The AfterWorld (1): “take the first right after Valhalla, then the second roundabout after the Summerlands, then two more left turns, and you’re only 520 yards from your destination of Da Big Library in Da Sky”. (2)
My husband recently gave me a second hand copy of “The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition & Folklore” – yes, there is a connection here, so ‘old your ‘osses, and whatever you do, don’t choose that sliproad, you know, the one which leads straight to the Discount Warehouse of Disenchanted Duvets – which among many other fine & spiffing phrases, tells me that I can express my bafflement with something – let’s stick with duvets, pesky creations that they are – by describing them as “as queer as Dick’s ‘atband”. Or, for simply sublime bafflement, “as queer as Dick’s atband ‘at went nine times rahnd and still wouldn’t tee”.
If there were such a handbook, or indeed dictionary & phrase book for the recently immigrated, I for one would have been as “pleased as punch” to receive one. A phrase, incidentally, seldom used on the shores of GreenandPleasantLand, or indeed I suspect by Americans below the age of 50, who are too young to remember when Hubert Humphrey ran for Pres (just before or after LBJ, as best I recall).
If I’d known that phrase about the ‘at band – which, according to the “Dictionary”, may or may not have belonged to Richard Cromwell, the didn’t-do-very-well son of Protector Oliver, of army fame – I would have said it about approximately three-quarters of what was said to me in the first 18 months to two years of arriving here in S Yorks.
To spend your first time in your local chippy having the menu translated – what, in heaven’s name, was a chip butty? and, once explained, why? ( a French Fry sandwich? Surely they jest!) – is a bit of an odd way to be introduced to your local fast food joint.
My American-to-English-to-Yorkshire lessons had barely begun before my employer threw a spanner – which by then I knew was a wrench – into the language works, by giving me a job which involved ringing up ex-steelworkers in, of all places, Motherwell. Figuring out what they were saying was not helped by the fact that your average Scottish ex-steelworker was typically around 50+, treated the phone like a tin can on a string, and need or perhaps simply wanted to ask to ask his missus the moment the conversation got a bit sticky.
Said stickiness was not helped by the fact that if they said “such-and-such place is only a wee village”, I would then mentally drop out of the conversation, and say to myself, “He said ‘wee’ for little! I can’t believe they really say that!”
Meanwhile, the Scot on the other end of the Sheffield-to-Motherwell tin can had managed to direct a question to the wife, receive an answer, then return to our chat: a chat for which I, unfortunately, had lost the thread. Or string.
Despite evidence to the contrary, nationalised industries can display a sense of humour. No sooner – perhaps two or three years – had I got sufficient grip of Glaswegian English, than my ex-employer took on a contract which involved myself & others answering the phone to a load of recently redundant Welshmen.
(No, not redundant from being Welsh: I don’t believe that’s possible, unless of course the entire country crumbled into the sea, but not before the population was first saved, and then transported, to someplace like, say, Norfolk, or the New Forest. Which, if it were to happen, would almost certainly be some sort of English plot. Or, possibly, the machinations of disgruntled, non-Welsh rugby fans.)
Welsh accents, I soon concluded, are lovely: provided, of course, that you didn’t actually need to understand what they were saying.
Little did my then employers, or indeed I, realise, that it would take the return of “Doctor Who” in 2005, under the direction of BBC Wales, for me to at last make real strides with Welsh accents. Thanks to their Cardiff base, “NuWho” used a lot of Welsh actors. To the point that, suddenly, during a newscast, I turned to my husband, and said, “You know Huw Edwards? He’s Welsh, isn’t he?”
My crash course in Irish accents was thanks to a couple – one from S Ireland, the other from North – who moved into our neighbourhood many years ago. For the first several months, I’d just smile when they spoke, then rush inside, lest there was a question or, indeed, anything more complicated than “Hello”. By the time he moved out, and she began playing the same Westlife song, over and over again, I could understand them both about as well as most of my neighbours. Which is to say, most of the time.
As well as creating new questions in my mind, such as just who the hell was Dick, and what possessed him to wear such a remarkable ‘atband, the “Yorkshire Dictionary” also confirmed some familiar expressions as being indeed local, and not merely British. Such as, for example, someone having a “munk on” – ie, sulking. The spelling, however, confused me. I’d assumed it was “monk”, and had come up with the image of a rather churlish chap who was well known in monastic circles for pulling up his hood, and turning his harrumphing back on his band of brothers.
And what of “mungo” – previously only known, if not understood – in terms of “Jerry”? According to my dictionary, it means “clothes similar to ‘shoddy'”. “Mungo” may be derived from a millworker telling a foreman that a particular bit of cloth “mun go”, ie, won’t sell. It also means a “mongrel” dog.
(1) As in, the World After This Life. Not, sadly, The World of Afters, aka Sweet Courses for the Dead.
(2) Apparently run by Yoopers, given the use of “Da” for “The” (3)
(3) “Yoopers” = “residents of the Upper Penninsula (UP) of Michigan” (4)
(4) Relax, chuck: this business of footnoting footnotes is bound to stop sooner or later (5)