BYGONE BERKSHIRE Continued  1896

Berkshire Words and Dialect

The carter, walking on the near side of his horses, calls them towards him by coomither, or coomither­ awo-oy, or more frequently holt, or holt toward, with the accent on the first syllable of ''toward," and sends them to the off side with the mono­ syllable wuI.t is not often that the Berkshire man stoops to abuse, for he is naturally easy­ going, stolid, and impassive; but a driven cow taking a wrong turn ' would inevitably be 'denounced as an old faggot, and a troublesome boy be branded as a young radical, though without any political signification attached. A simile would not be looked for amongst essentially an unimagi ative folk, but as 'pright as a dish is common, and singularly inappropriate. Of superstition there is comparatively little, and ghosts and witches meet with but little respect, the men believing that a good "vowld-stake (i.e. fold-stake) is a sufficient weapon in all cases of emergency, and the women being fully as undaunted as the men. There is, however, a curious old Berkshire saying, that "a spayed bitch will catch a witch," and that there is some faith in the truth of the saying is shown by the fact that sheep dogs, if of the feminine gender, used frequently to be so treated. Every race has its physical peculiarity, and where the negro is tenderest, the Berkshire man is toughest,-iu his shins. As a backstop he prefers to stop the fastest balls with his shins, rather than with his hands, and will keep on all day without apparent inconvenience. At "back-swording" Berkshire men were always renowned ; but it was necessarily the privilege of the few, the ordinary farm labourer having no opportunity for practising it. Some other test of endurance must therefore be accepted; and forty years ago it was the regular custom, when two carters stopped at a way-side public-house, for the men to shake hands first, in token of friendship, and then to indulge !n the pastime of either cutlegs or kickshins, the former consisting of the men standing apart, and lashing each others legs with their long cart whips till one cried "Hold," while in kickshins each man took firm grip of his opponent by twisting both hands in the over lapping collar of his smock frock, and then kicking with his hob-nailed boots at the other's shins, the vanguished one of course paying for both pots of ale before they started once more on their respective journeys. There was living in the' Lambourn valley, less than forty years ago, a man who was considered the champion of the county side, and his shins were knotted and bent and twisted in the most remarkable manner, as the result of his numerous encounters. Heavy of gait, stolid of mien, and of indomitable courage, the true Berkshire man is a staunch friend, and a very poor enemy, for he harbours no resentment. Imperturbable to the last degree, he is rarely surprised into an exclamation of surprise, excitement, or satisfaction. When he is, Dal-lee, with a strong accent on the last syllable, is his sole resource. "Dal-lee! that's got 'un," says the carpenter with a grunt of satisfaction, as he gives the finishing blow that drives home a big nail at which he has been pounding. Its derivation may not be hard to find, but it makes the Berkshire man no worse than his neighbours after all. But all these things are relics of a past age now. Shins are tenderer, mouths less wide, or at least the dialect is less broad ; and the certificated schoolmaster and the rail ways have done their deadly work. Tempora muntantur, nos et mutamur in illis.
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