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Pompey as she is spoke – readers’ comments
Comments continue to arrive in response to our article on the Portsmouth dialect (Pompeyspeak?) which was first published in 2002 . You can read the original article here.

Professional Larkers
A Plate of Scabs
Dockyard Oyster
Turk Town
More on Dinlo
Squinny and Lairy
Sparsy or Sprassy?
A mark of a true Pomponian
The origins of Pompey
The Hard
Pompey v Cockney
Oral History


I have to disagree with Roger Attrill and others in “Pompey as she is spoke – readers’ comments . . .”

In my experience the letter sound “ow” or “ou” was never pronounced in the head “AH” London/Southend manner,
but rather as “ai” or “ay” . . . Goin’ dayne tayne, Mish . . . for example.

Also with reference to Howard Jones’ posting squinny is (and always has been) used as a verb as in ‘don’t squinny’ (don’t complain).
or a noun as in “don’t be such a squinny” or a misplace slang adjective as in ‘she’s well squinny’ (she complains a lot).

Alan Dominey, October 2013


Professional Larkers

I have just been reading your article on Portsmouth sayings that my brother sent to me by e-mail. Although we both now live in Canada and have done for over thirty years he thought I would get a charge out of the Pompey Ike sayings. Before working as a barber with my Dad “Alby Trevellick” at Commercial road I was a MUDLARK.

As a professional LARKER at the ripe old age of twelve I did not dive for half pennies as one of your writers “Sheila of Devon” suggested. The trained eye could see the dull well used spinning copper and waited for the flash of silver treasure, timing was of the essence.

The Pompey evening newspaper doubled as a wrap for my bounty and the American naval shipping arrivals. They not only brought their cars and hoisted them off the ships they also brought a great wealth of silver coins. Not being fooled by a rain of cockleshells my eye was on the blue and white Yanky cap. “Bung us a bob matlow.” Unlike the lairy little squinny knits around me I was a professional. Thank you for your great site.

Paul the larker Trevellick.


A Plate of Scabs

As a small child in the late 1940s/early 1950s my grandfather, himself a lifelong Portsmouth resident, related a riddle that he’d learned as a schoolboy towards the end of the 19th Century:-

What would you rather do: run a mile, suck a boil or eat a plate of scabs?

The person to whom the question was posed invariably answered, after a few expressions of disgust, “Run a mile, of course!”

But the “correct” answer was “Eat a plate of scabs”.

“Scabs” was the local name for winkles – presumably from the caps that sealed the shells.

Mary Cook (nee Stinton) – a former Portsmouth resident, educated at Arundel Street Junior Mixed School and Portsmouth Southern Grammar School for Girls.

Dockyard Oyster

I’ve just called to mind another revolting Portsmouth expression from my childhood. Still on the “shellfish” theme, a pool of phlegm spat onto the pavement was known as a dockyard oyster.
Mary Cook

Turk Town

I was born in Gosport in 1948, and remember it as always being referred to as Turk Town. I lived in Bridgemary, and we would catch the bus, down to the ‘ferry’. If we were going to the pictures, we would get off at the ‘Cri’—Criterian, where the Bingo Hall is now.
I also remember being referred to as an ‘ampshire ogg’ by relatives who lived in London or Berkshire.

S. Crane


More on Dinlo

‘Dinlo’ is actually a Romany word. I grew up in Wiltshire with Romany grandparents and they used it all the time.
Jeff Black

Just thought you might be interested, “dinlo”is a romany (gypsy) word meaning a fool or these days, a twat,etc.Kushti bok me chavvies!
Sara Lee

Squinny and Lairy

My favourite Portsmouth dialect is squinny used both as a verb as in ‘don’t squinny’ (don’t complain) or a adjective as in ‘she’s well squinny’ (she complains a lot).

Another one is lairy or just lair (sounds like air) to meaning cheeky/rude/aggressive.
I have never heard these used anywhere else, including just a few miles away.
Howard Jones


I was born and raised in Gosport and it was only until recently that I realised words such as “mush” was almost peculiar to the Hampshire area. I’ve certainly never heard it on tv. My family have always used the word and as a teen it was common to call someone a “dinlo” or to tease them for “getting lairy” whenever they lost patience and shouted. I never realised that I had an “accent” until I was on the phone to relatives in Australia and they told me my Hampshire accent was making them homesick! My grandmother, who grew up in Priddy’s Hard, used the word “genny” instead of “generally”.

Again, as other’s have said, exclaiming “weeee” when one is suprised is again something I always assumed everyone in Britain did.
Fascinating stuff!

Sparsy or Sprassy?

When we were kids we had a friend whose surname was Tanner, we used to call him Sprassy (not sure of the spelling). It didn’t refer to threepenny bits (as this rhymes with something else)! ! ! !
Viv Young


Alverstocrat, Alun writes from Dubai …

I lived in Alverstoke and went to school in Southsea until I was eighteen in 1982 and I worked in Portsmouth for most of the 1990s. I see myself as a member of the Alverstocracy, rather than a pure Portsmouthian, or “Pompey-oite.” However I do have fond memories of my times spent on “the old mud-flats”

Place Names

Where I grew up, Alverstoke was a part of Gosport, Gods Port, Our Haven, Turk Town or even Turk Tain when pronounced by those folk over the water. Southsea, where I went to school and based much of my socialising was called Sarfsee.

I had arranged to meet with some others in a pub called the Mucky Duck. It does of course not exist and is in fact the White or Woite Swan. I just remember the “Mud-larks” referred to earlier, that would dive into the sea to retrieve coins, although this must have been 30 or so years ago.


Being a naval city, references to the “skates” are many. I remember hearing Pompey “Slappers” or young ladies telling naval personal that “I aint no skate-bait mate.” Another sentence that a Portsmouthian might utter in reference to an evening’s entertainment could be “Oi goes eight on a Froiday noite, Oi ‘as noine points, gets in a foite, Oi loikes it Oi dooes, its noice.” There are references to “going dain tain on the saith dain for half a crane.” I think Southdown was a bus service and half a crown is something to do with pre-decimal currency.


In Dubai I do occasionally hear the familiar Portsmouthian brogue and it is always a pleasure to exchange pleasantries about how the Pompey Football team are doing – pretty well I think in the 2002-2003 season.

Does anybody really know where the nickname Pompey comes from? I have heard that it is something to do with Bombay, meaning beautiful city or the Roman Emperor, but have never been given an authoritative answer.


A mark of a true Pomponian

I was brought up in Portsmouth, but have lived elsewhere for 36 years. I was told by my father that to be a true Pomponian you must have at some time fallen into the Canoe lake.

Has anyone else heard of this saying, and if so, has anyone any idea as to how it evolved. (p.s. I am writing a book – and did, as a boy, fall in !).

Mike Pinnock

The origins of Pompey

Dr. Bill Thompson would like to say …

Oi, U
u din orr wot?
‘arber? dount evree mush talk pompey
dare u t’ tell me wymrin mates talk posh
an u get yer face dun in
The bizarre idea that the noted Pompey accent is restricted to the harbour area, or emanates from the over-hyped mudlark romanticism, is simply wrong; though it may have much to do with the dockyard.It was – and for many still is – a feature of every working class person in the town who would be far more likely to be ‘gunna deyn teyn’  (are you going down to the town centre) than to Sarfsee (Southsea).Over the last two years, I have had a wonderful time interviewing the so called Paulsgrove rioters (which the judge declared members of a legal and lawful assembly), and the accent is as alive an’ well as is the tradition of rough music. How come no one else spotted this?Being a Wymering old boy – who dare not cross  Washbrook Road,  it was a pleasure to hear the old sounds again. I wasn’t there five minutes before hearing the classic ‘weee’ (as when one expresses surprise).The issue of the origin of the accent was always raised when I was entering spoken English Competitions to test my progress in received English – in order to help me ‘pass’ as middle class – necessary in my future career. Indeed, as it always came up in the ‘free conversation’ sections, it made my examinations a little easier.Without exception, I would tell the examiners, (who being sharp eared could always detect accent no matter how hard the candidate tried to hide it) “No, I did not come from London,  nor was I a Cockney, but was born in Portsmouth.”They would then express surprise, never having noticed this similarity before; but then, they were hardly likely to have too many working class candidates from the southern slopes of Portsdown.

I would then explain that the most likely reason for the accent (which was purely a guess on my part), and its similarity with Cockney (which incidentally I have never heard around the Bow Church area), that I could think of was that:

when the dockyard was dramatically expanded towards the turn of the nineteenth century many of those with the requite skills would have been found from the east end of London – the major docks starting out from Stepney and going east.

Where it becomes intriguing is that ship workers were also imported from Bristol. Perhaps the accent is a mixture of both London and Bristol dock workers.

This Bristol addition may also explain why Pompey is a ‘fuller’ sound than the London one, has nothing in common with country Hampshire (e.g. the peasant accent in the Meon Valley,  possessed by my relatives called Ham), and doesn’t have the evil shreak heard amongst the tribe known locally as the Scummers.

Such an explanation is viable as there were so few people living on the Island when the expansion took place. But can we stop calling it Portsmouth Harbour accent before that becomes the common currency, PLEASE. Its the POMPEY accent and was not confined to the harbour area (unless this clumsy term is being used to include Gosport, where the accent is NOT so thick).

Guy Dugdale may also be advised that there is a clear division between slang (always time bound) and words that are formed – and maintained – as the result of an accent. Confusing the two may lead to an overemphasis upon the dockyard when the accent pattern could be found all over the Island and hinterland.

There also appears to be some bowdlerisation too: ‘spotted dick’ was always ‘darkies in a snowstorm’  –  a very unPC term.


In answer to Rodger Attrill’s query:
‘the hard’ is actually ‘the common hard’ (presumable open to anyone’s use) and may reflect the fact that it was hard standing – i.e. a firm surface upon which to pull ones boats as opposed to no firm beaches etc.



A question from from Anne in Canada on the use of the word “we” (or “weeee” as it is pronounced).

I grew up in Petersfield but was born in Southsea. When ever we were told something strange, amazing, horrible etc. we would respond by saying “we” this was pronounced in a long drawn out way and with a tone amazement.  I never use this word in this context except when my friend visits me, she also grew up in Clanfield and then Petersfield.  We live in Canada and have been friends since we were 12 years old.  Does anyone know where the expression comes from?


The Hard

An answer from Guy Dugdale on the origin of “The Hard”

The word ‘hard’ is in the Oxford Dictionary. The fourth meaning given is the relevant one : A firm beach or foreshore; also, a sloping stone roadway or jetty at the water’s edge for convenience in landing and putting out. (Hence, at Portsmouth, a street which adjoins the landing; also called the Common Hard.)

Six examples of its use are then given.

In slightly plainer English, a hard is an area of foreshore that is sufficiently firm, either naturally or by human effort, to give easy access to boats moored along it. In the days when heavy items, like cargo and cannon, needed to be moved between ship and shore, terra firma was an important consideration and there was not always a wharf available.

The term can be simply a noun – ‘a hard’ – or become a proper noun, a name, even by itself – ‘The Hard’. ‘Common Hard’, a name which seems to have died out in Portmouth, was also a generic term – a ‘common hard’ – and meant simply a hard in use by or available to the public.

Where hards form part of a name they often do so in combination with an adjective or a person’s name. The example I am particularly interested in is Priddy’s Hard, which became the historic naval ordnance depot across the water near Gosport. Jane Priddy was one of the landowners who sold this small peninsula to the Crown in the late 18th century.

(Far from giving easy access to the water however, there had to be strenuous attempts both to dig a channel, using convict labour, through the tidal mudflat to a Camber wharf, and contrarily to extend a ‘rolling way’, probably of logs, over the flats to deep water. But I digress).

Hardway, now part of Gosport but in earlier times a village, was literally a hamlet on the path or way leading to the above hard.

At my request, Oxford did a little extra research for me on this word several years ago. While it is tempting to imagine ‘hard’ is a western and/or south coast term, and although there are examples in Hampshire, Southampton and Cornwall, ‘hards’ are also found in Essex, Northamptonshire and Northumberland. In inland locations the term is used of a river bank. The term is also found in South Carolina.

My correspondent says she thinks the word may also be found in the children’s classic ‘Swallows and Amazons’ – East Anglia was it, or eastern Essex ?

It would be an interesting and useful exercise to try to locate all examples of ‘hard’ in English place names. Perhaps if the Ordnance Survey is sufficiently digitised, accessible and online one might try to do it.



From Roger Attrill, who found us by typing “dinlo” into a Web search engine!

I read with extreme interest on the “Pompey as she is spoke” articles.

I found your site on the web as a result of remembering a word of my youth – ‘dinlo’. I moved away from Pompey ages ago, and no-one else I know now has heard of it. Sure enough – I searched google online and found nothing but connections with Portsmouth – including your website.

Incidentally – dinlo often became ‘dinny’ or ‘dinny dinlo’ – maybe on
account of Dinny being a real first name (?).

I was at the Grammar School in the mid 70’s to 80’s. PGS was known as Pigs’ Grunting Society, for it’s sins. I particularly remember ‘dinlo’ being in common usage there, and also rubbing of the chin and saying ‘chin’ (in reference to Jimmy Hill) to affect disbelief, but that could have been a general thing…

‘Th’ became ‘f’ and ‘ow’ and ‘ou’ as in Down and Southsea became ‘ah’ as in Dahn Sahfsea.

Leading h’s of course were rarely said and ‘The’ became nothing more than a quick token ‘ah’ – so “E’s dahn ah front” – meaning he’s gone to the seafront at Southsea.

20 years away from Portsmouth and I still catch myself lapsing into Pompey speak now and then: “oy ain’ dun nuffin”, and, as my wife will vouch when I haven’t done something I should, – “ah wuz gunner”!

As an aside:
There were many areas of P&S that were nicknamed or shortened, but what I would like to know, is why ‘The Hard’ is so called, but maybe that is a question you’ve already answered in your newsletter?



From Sheila in Devon.

… I am surprised to find no reference to the mudlarks , the boys in the harbour who messed in the black mud for the people coming off trains to throw money to. I still hear the cry to the people leaning over the railings
DIP ME EAD FOR A SPARSY     i think a sparsy ( spell ? )   was a sixpence.

… all along the railings were full of people throwing mostly pennies and halfpennies, not too many could afford a threepencee or sixpence. The sparsy was either a threepence or sixpence.  Of couse it was only when the tide was out !
The mud was real black and the boys went right under for the money.. how they always found it was a mystery.

Do you remember?



From D. G . & M . Thomas in Australia.

Lovely  to read your say on Pompey. My husband &  I  are from Pompey;  he was s a sailor & I went to George St  School  then on to  Copnor Modern Girls School  which was at George St school.  We now live in Perth.


Pompey v Cockney

Keith Palmer writes from South Wales.

“I read your article in Portsmouth Society Archive ‘Pompey as she is spoke’ with interest. There are definitely differences with ‘Cockney’! Born and raised in Pompey as were my parents, we never said ‘dahn’ for down but something closer to general Hampshire i.e. ‘deyn’ where ‘ey’ is similar to ‘they’. Also we stress the ‘R’ sound, again as in Hampshire regional accent. Personal prounoun ‘I’ is said as ‘oi’ or even ‘o’ as in ‘ore’.”

“‘Dinlo’ was always said at school (George Street, Buckland) and elsewhere to mean dope idiot or clot. I have heard sailors referred to as ‘skates’ as well as the more universal ‘matelots’. Portsdown Hill is always known as ‘The Hill’ and the country north of it as ‘The back of the Hill’. Portsmouth and Southsea Railway station was always called ‘Town station’ as late as the 1980’s and Southsea seafront is always ‘The front’. ‘Mush’ was also used for ‘person’ or bloke or even ‘friend’ as in ‘alright mush?’ Also one usually says ‘alright’ where others might say ‘hello’. Dash of lemonade added to a pint of beer is a bitter or mild ‘top’, and a half and half brown ale and bitter is a ‘brown (‘breyn’) split'”

“One import from London-speak is the cockney rhyming slang which is fairly widely used. The ‘Pompey’ accent (and the Hampshire) is however continuously moving towards Cockney because of the persistent assault of the television and radio media, where Cockney is king!”


Oral History

From Guy Dugdale of South East London

For several years I have been transcribing and annotating a series of oral history interviews conducted by Dr Ann Day with ex-workers of Priddy’s Hard and Clarence Yard.

Now, I know there is assumed to be some vast gulf between Pompey and Gosport (incomprehensible to a London-domiciled NZer like me) but is anyone claiming the Portsmouth and Gosport speech is so vastly different ? I have heard it referred to, self-deprecatingly, as ‘broken Hampshire’.

I have attempted to locate any social linguistic study of the Portsmouth Harbour (let’s put it like that) accent and dialect and failed. Perhaps your readers might know of one ? It would seem a self-evident project for the university.

Most of the interviewees I am working with are elderly (or at least middle-aged) so one is hearing accents and vocabulary formed as far back as the 1920s, well before the present-day influence of Estuarine English. And on that point, please do distinguish Cockney from Estuarine, they are distinct. (In my frank opinion, the latter is one of the foulest sounds to issue from the human mouth, but there we are.)

Lacking social linguistic skills, and it not being my main task, I have not attempted systematically to analyse the accent of my subjects. Clearly the ‘westerly’ ‘R’ is present, as well as characteristic flattening or altering of certain vowels. Certain lovely terms like ‘a twelve-month’ or ‘truthfully !’ (to mean ‘really !’) recur.

I have collected slang terms used. These are mostly depot-related or clearly navy-derived. One more general expression was ‘scran’, a workman’s cold lunch, a term not confined to Portsmouth Harbour, of course. ‘Dinlo’ and ‘scraze’ I will have to try out on interviewees with whom I speak and correspond.

While I have your ear (or eye) can I appeal for any information about the following ditty which had wide currency in variant wordings :

O Look at the children, sitting on the Dockyard Wall,
watching their fathers doing eff all.
When they grow older they will be Dockyard Mateys too,
just like their fathers, eff all to do.¹

Not Wordsworth, certainly, but genuine old Portsmouth. I suspect it goes back deep into the 19th century.

Other odd word I have heard are :

squibbling – not just squabbling, but encouraging division
puggled – knocked silly ? (from pugilistics ?)
treader- bicycle

And : (discussing wartime Gosport) sirens is pronounced si-REENS.

I hope this note is of some interest to you and your readers.


Your comments please!