Sayings to be savoured.


Last weekend I spent all of Saturday demolishing a fitted wardrobe. It was probably the biggest, ugliest and most durable wardrobe ever conceived by man — obviously built to withstand a hurricane, it was reinforced with steel rods, bolts and hooks at every turn and took nearly three hours and a whole lot of kicking and swearing to demolish. I was helping my parents do this as part of the renovation of the bungalow they’ve just bought, and while we hammered, kicked and hacked at the beige hessian-coloured hardboard, we got round to talking about language, and our favourite words and phrases that seem to be sadly slipping out of common usage. I think it was set off by my mother suggesting that we “shoogle it hither and thither” to loosen a stubborn bolt. “Shoogle” — one of my all-time favourite words and still very much alive in Scotland — aside, we all giggled at this, commenting that no one ever says “hither and thither” any more, and that’s a shame…

It became one of those on-going conversations that keeps resurfacing in the midst of other things. At one point my mother came up behind me and yelled “GAMP! That’s a word no one uses any more!” (Gamp is a once-common term for an umbrella, at least in the north of England.) This got us musing on other dialect and pseudo-dialect words that are disappearing along with our older generations: others we came up with were “yat” (”gate,” in Cumbria and the North West) and “sithee” or “sither” (an expression a bit like “see here,” used to draw the attention) — “sithee” is Cumbrian while “sither” is more Yorkshire and the North East. We also lamented “gander” (to “have a gander”) and “butchers” (to “have a butchers”), both meaning “to inspect or have a look” at something.

My father talked about how, when he was at school, he and his friends used to compete to see who could use the longest word — bonus points if they used a word their teacher didn’t know or couldn’t spell. His favourites were “surreptitious” and “soporific.” I tried hard to imagine my students using these words, or to imagine them trying to outwit me with words like this. The closest they’d ever come would probably be baffling me with their fangled-slang…

Others my mother offered were “salubrious” and “palatious” — “no one ever talks about salubrious neigbourhoods or palatious houses these days” — and “somnambulist”… nowadays you’re just a sleepwalker. I did argue that naturally, language must evolve as it always has, and for every word that disappears, hundreds more are created. However, I had to admit that “n00b,” “yay” “grrl” and most of the other words recently added to the English Dictionary don’t have quite the same ring to them as “hither” or “palatious”…

Which little-used words do you love? Are there any words you’d be glad to see fall by the wayside? Which words would you like to resurrect? Get thee to the comments box!

(Photo by wild goose chase)

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4 Responses to “Sayings to be savoured.”

  1. Lauren Says:

    My mum says ‘neb’ a lot as in ‘gander’ and ‘butchers’ which I assume is a Yorkshire saying. I’ve never really heard anyone else say it other than old people and I do rather like it.

  2. Colin Will Says:

    Foison - strength, vitality. The Scots version is fushion.

  3. Titus Says:

    I am feeling awfully older generational after reading this. Most of these still common usage for me.

    2 words I have taken to, big time, after moving to Scotland - because they seem better than English alternatives - are “swithering” (vacillating)and “stramash” (a breach of the peace, household or otherwise). I use them without even thinking now. Funny how we adopt words.

  4. Weston T. Holder Says:

    I was Reading this and thought of a random saying, and I don’t know if I made it up or not!

    “If I so dare to choose, I may remain silent, ere in my silence I speak volumes unsurpassed by a thousand words chosen.”

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