EDIT: It says a lot when a Northerner has to correct my use of English. D-Notice the amendments have been made – happy now?
This post is inspired by and dedicated to Mshairi and Mich; between the two of them they have continued to educate me on and fuel my love for colloquialisms.
Having spent most of my life in three different continents, living in numerous towns and attending a countless number of schools my feelings towards my own national identity and to some extent ethnic identity are best summed up by relying on a well known phrase (albeit slightly out of context); jack of all trades, master of none.
The feeling of not belonging is perhaps most apparent when it comes to language especially the English language. English has always been my first language; I studied English both at GCSE and A-Level so I am certified as having an above average understanding of the English language. Sadly when this knowledge is converted into conversation, especially amongst friends or in an informal setting, it becomes almost redundant. Most people, when speaking informally, rarely speak the Queenâ€™s English, (neither does she, apparently) instead they rely on slang and colloquialisms which â€˜may be more difficult for non-native speakers to understandâ€™. In my experience I have found it even more difficult to repeat the expressions as they rely on specific accents and pronunciations. My blog is the only place I can safely use these colloquialisms so here are some of my favourite ones:
Nowt to say: A very Northern (North of England) expression meaning nothing to say. I love this saying because it seems to have such an air of finality. To me when someone uses it I get the impression that they not only intend to end a sentence; they intend to conclude the entire discussion. Forever.
Letâ€™s be â€˜avinâ€™ u: The first time I heard Mich say this it sounded like he was saying “Lesbian Avenue”. In actual fact what he was saying was â€œLetâ€™s be having youâ€? which to me either sounds like a challenge to fight or a cheap pick-up line. I am told, by Mich, that it is a Yorkshire saying that means, â€œLetâ€™s goâ€? â€¦.Whatever!
Have-a-go-hero: This is a phrase used to describe those members of the public who risk life and limb to save another member of the public from some perilous situation. I am not quite sure whether it is intended as a compliment or an insult. If I were to use it it would be as an expression of derision simply because it reminds me of those fair-ground stalls where you are invited to have a go at shooting coconuts as they move along a conveyer belt with the promise of winning a giant teddy bear. Even as one parts with their Â£1 (for three shots) everyone in attendance, including the shooter, knows that they are destined to fail.
Piss up in a brewery: Used to refer to someone who is incompetent i.e“X couldnâ€™t organise a piss up in a brewery”. When I first heard this, though I knew â€œgetting pissedâ€? meant to get drunk , I did not know that a drinking session was often referred to as a piss up. I concluded (il)logically that â€œpiss upâ€? meant urinating upwards and for a long time had rather disturbing visions of men lying on the backs on the stone cold floor of a brewery attempting to get their urine as high as possible. The organiser would be parading round, clipboard in hand, measuring how close to the ceiling each manâ€™s urine was. Understandably I never understood how one was deemed to be a good piss-up organiser.
Legend in their own lunchtime: Mshairi first told me this when she was speaking about someone who thought very highly of themselves. It had me in stitches then and even as I write it I am still laughing.
Jobâ€™s a gudâ€™un: Another one of Michâ€™s Yorkshire sayings, which in the Queenâ€™s English would probably be said like this â€œthe job is a good a oneâ€?. It is a congratulatory statement which Mshairi heard for the first time last year. She did attempt use it an email to me but got it slightly wrong and instead typed â€œgoods a goodingâ€?. Her version sounded like a verse from Twelve Days Of Christmas that failed to make the final draft.
Arse from elbow: Four years ago our local pub was under threat of closure. The Council, despite many petitions wanted to demolish it and turn into a car-park. While the negotiations continued the Landlord kept a chalk board at the bar. Written on it, as a sort of headline was the notice : Message to the Council and drawn beneath that was a picture of an elbow with the word ‘ELBOW’ written below it. To the right of the elbow was a picture of bare butt cheeks with the word ‘ARSE’ written beneath it. I asked the Landlord about the drawing and he said, â€œThe council wouldnâ€™t know their arse from their elbow so we’ve made it easier for themâ€?. He might as well have been speaking about me at the particular moment because until he broke it down further I had no idea the phrase meant clueless! Sadly the petition failed and a year later our pub was replaced by parking spaces.
Our Kid: In the South of England the word ‘our’ is pronounced ‘ah-wa’. In the North however it is pronounced as ‘ah’ and since â€œour kidâ€? is a Northern phrase I often thought people were either saying â€œR Kidâ€? and concluded it was someone famous or â€œah, kidâ€? and figured it was just some random saying like â€œah, blessâ€?. Eventually I found out that it was used to refer to a personâ€™s (usually younger) sibling. I love to hear people use it though it gets quite confusing when the person using it has more than one sibling. Sometimes they will specify the sibling by replacing ‘kid’ with the personâ€™s name e.g. “Our Jane just got marriedâ€?. More often than not you will hear someone tell you â€œah kidâ€™s just gone tâ€™barbersâ€? and then an hour later the same person will announce â€œah kidâ€™s just given birth tâ€™twinsâ€? .
Pearls before swine: Yet another Mshairi favourite. I always confuse this one with that other pig related saying â€œcanâ€™t make a silkâ€™s purse from a sowâ€™s earâ€?. The former is used to indicate that something sophisticated is lost on an uncultured audience. The latter means it is impossible to make something excellent from poor material. I was fairly comfortable using the silk purse from pig ear saying. I now refrain from using either. I am never too sure which of the pigs gets the purse and which one wears the pearl earrings.
I am almost done but the last one gets a special mention simply because I really do not get it.
Canâ€™t teach grandma to suck eggs: I get the impression it is used in the same patronising way as that other saying â€œyou canâ€™t teach an old dog new tricksâ€?. What I donâ€™t get is what is sucking eggs, who the hell decided that it was a past time favoured by the young and why on earth would anyone feel it necessary to teach grandma? Answers on a postcard please.