BYGONE BERKSHIRE  1896

Berkshire Words and Dialect

BY REV. M. J. BACON.

This is not easy to determine in a subject of this kind what are the strict lines of demarcation which separate words and phrases used within a specific area from those used elsewhere, or again, in many instances, to decide what is dialect, and what mere local pronunciation. Where the area is confined to the limit of a county, the difficulties are increased, as the dwellers near the borders would naturally be influenced by the characteristics of the neigh­ bouring county. Thus Berkshire folk on the Wiltshire side of the county would differ in many respects from those on the Hampshire side ; and while the verb to kite, for instance, would be unknown to the one, the adjective deedy would be equally strange to the other. Probably, next to verbs and adjectives, the names given to birds and animals, implements, or any common object, would determine a man's county. Phrases are less numerous, but adjectives rank first among local peculiarities. Many of these convey the same idea, but are applied to different objects, and in different ways. Thus in Berkshire chuff, pruff, Jess, peart, and sprack, all imply something sharp, smart, or perky; but pruff is applied solely to vegetable life, such as young and healthy shoots, buds, or growing plants; while a sharp, quick mannered man may be either chuff or Jess. "Speak up, chuff, now," is the adjuration of the parent to the bashful child who has just been addressed by the quality. Fess will be recognised at once as the .fierce of the Eastern counties, implying a certain amount of vigour, indeed, but conveying no idea of savagery or temper. Peart and sprack speak for themselves. Next come bristle and briffut, used both as nouns and verbs, though the former is more often the substantive, expressing a sharp, active fellow, or perhaps a terrier, who would briffut about in search of rats. The adjective deedy, on the other hand, is careful, wary, cautious, almost the Yankee 'cute, and is usually intensified by main, very. ·"What sort of a girl is your daughted" asked the late Baron Huddleston of the mother of a young girl who had just given evidence in an important case in the Reading Assize Court. "She be a main deedy little girl, my Lord," was the reply. "Greedy, did you say?" "No,· my Lord, deedy- main deedy." But Reading is not central enough in the county for anyone in court to have replied to his Lordship's puzzled look of enquiry. Besides main, feart, or feartish, is used to emphasise an expression. ''He be a main sight, or a feartish · deal better," or perhaps "only tar'blish," a contraction of tolerablish. In like manner, the patient would change for the better, but alter for the worse, while a bit altery would apply to the weather tokening for rain. Smart is used to qualify another word, as a smart few, meaning a good many, or it would 'rain sma.rtish. Other words, sometimes corruptions, are common, as unked, awkward, in the sense of obstinate, troublesome; stomachy, proud, self-willed ; quisiting, inquisitive; quirky, querulous; wangery, languid; shackelty, shaky; hechatty, onomato­ pcean, applied to a cough ; peaked, pronounced pikkid, pointed, as the end of a stick; worriting for worrying, though terrifying is more often used, to terrif'y and to worrit being synomymous."
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