Saturday, 6 March 2010

Sussex mud and fornication

The weather has been quite pleasant this week, if a little cold. Last week was a different story. We had rain. Lots of rain. More than our fair share, if the overflowing gutters and temporary lakes were anything to go by. And with the rain came the mud. I had thought that Middenshire was the muddiest place on this earth; but no - I think the prize (last week, at any rate) should have gone to East Sussex.

The South Saxons had their own word for mud - √†dela; and the word for ‘muddy’ was gyru. That would appear to be it. Not exactly up there with the number of Inuit words for snow - allegedly somewhere between seven and a hundred. But more recent Sussex residents had some interesting dialect words to describe soggy conditions brought about by wet weather, the resulting mud, and where it ended up. Ground made swampy by wet weather was flushy; indeed, it could be said to be sabbed, or saturated with water. Any wetter and it would become a swank - a bog. Down on the farm, the cattle would be stoaching - trampling the ground into stodge or slub, both terms for thick mud. Walk through this slab gubber (wet and slippery black mud to you) and, depending on your term of preference, you would be grom, grabby or stoachy. And woe betide you if you trod this into the house. You’d be stabbling or spanneling, both of which would make you rather unpopular, especially if the floor had been newly swept or washed.

All the above dialect words were collected in the nineteenth century by the Reverend W D Parish or his acquaintances. I introduced you to the good Reverend here just under a year ago, but his Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect is so interesting that I felt he deserved another airing. Once can just imagine this Selmeston vicar, notebook and pencil in hand, passing the time of day with some old Gaffer or Gammer, hastily jotting down an interesting word or phrase. But one can’t help wondering whether his parishioners were having a bit of a giggle at his expense, as he dutifully wrote down their innocent-sounding definitions of the following words: Fornicate, Hard-Dick, Crap, Jack-Up, Nonce, Pimps and Shag. And I’ll leave it to you to research these and get back to me.

Joking aside for a moment, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the Rev. Parish and his ilk. In most villages the vicar or parson was the only man to have undergone a university education, and many such men of the cloth made extensive notes of the world they inhabited - take a look at the diary of Francis Kilvert, or the Natural History of Selborne, compiled by Gilbert White. Their notes and diaries give us a fascinating insight into the people, places and events from an age that is now almost entirely lost to us. Equally, if William Douglas Parish had not taken the trouble to note down these old words and sayings, so much would now be lost to us, and our language (and this blog!) would be much the poorer for it.

Anyway, I think I’ve fornicated for long enough now. I shall bid you adieu.

13 comments:

Karen Redman said...

I LOVE YOUR BLOG! It never fails to make me chuckle and I learn stuff, too! What could be better than that? Thank you! x

chris hale said...

Hi Karen.

Thank you as always for your kind words. Why, I'm all of a flux now, I can tell 'ee! x

mo.stoneskin said...

Damn I miss Sussex. But does Sussex miss me?

Nonce. Now there's a funny one. Now I know the meaning you're thinking of, but what cracked me up is that as a web developer I've used a certain aspect of web (service) security that is officially called a nonce.

Brilliant.

chris hale said...

Mo - Dear boy, but of course you are missed! I wonder who came up with the 'nonce network' thingy? I feel sure s/he can't have been from Blighty!

willow said...

Spring = the glorious scent of mud

...at least in my little neck of the woods.

rallentanda said...

Great words.I didn't know what some meant so if they are rude it wasn't intentional ..I just liked the sound of them,

The drunken slacker
waded through the slab gubber
in the pouring rain
like a grabby grub covered in grom
He stabbled into the house over the freshly whitewashed floors
The Mrs.gave him a right spanneling
and a jack-up nonce for good measure

chris hale said...

Willow - I love the smell of napalm...erm...I mean mud in the morning!

Rallentanda - Nothing rude, I assure you. But an excellent poem, thank you. Have you perchance read anything of the 19th century dialect poet William Barnes from Dorset? Well worth checking out.

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

Can't say I'm a fan of mud. But whatever turned the good Rev. on!

Madame DeFarge said...

Can't beat a bit of mud. Got to love it. One wonders how many words there are in Yorkshire for mud, as they have some of the finest mud I've ever seen.

chris hale said...

Derrick - There's nowt wrong with a little alluviphilia!

MDF - How many Yorkshire words for mud? You've just set your own homework for this week. I'm sure you'll find a Yorkshire dialect handbook lurking on the net somewhere...

Ivy Black said...

You make me laugh every time I visit. I will try and put the word spannelling into as many conversations as possible.

jinksy said...

Here's to dialects, and many more of them. Wonderful collection of words Thanks!

chris hale said...

Ivy - Thanks. 'Spannelling' is defined as 'to make dirty footmarks about a floor, as a spaniel dog does'. You can now use the word in the full knowledge of its true meaning.

Jinksy - Sadly many dialect words (and indeed 'local' accents) are disappearing under the relentless march of globalisation. I doubt you'd hear a Selmeston resident refer to his/her village as 'Simson' now, and Hores-ham and Burrish are just plain old Horsham and Burwash. Pity.