Pompey As She Is Spoke
“Sweet’eart”, “lover”, “are you goin’ up [to watch Pompey play]?” “Nah, ah’m goin’ in today [to work], n’at” [and that]. “I’m goin’ dahn Sarfsea”.
“I’ve scrazed me knee, miss….”
“E’s a right dinlo”.
We’d like to make a collection of Portsmouth turns of phrase, a part of the local identity. Dockyard phrases such as matey – a contraction of Ma’ties, an abbreviation of His/Her Majesties’ workers – and the ‘golden rivet’ – are celebrated in a book published by the Royal Dockyard Historical Society, but there are few discussions on the local dialect and accent. Iona and Peter Opie who lived in West Liss collected The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (1977). They remark that “The curious lore passing between children aged about 6-14, which today holds in its spell some 7 million inhabitants of this island, continues to be almost unnoticed by the other six-sevenths of the population”. They recorded the local variant on the avoiding cracks rhyme:
“If you tread on a crack, or tread on a spout,
It’s a sure thing your mother will turn you out”.
‘Creams’ or ‘screams’ was the local term for calling a truce. Pea soup is ‘London fog’ – an inversion of the usual saying; while spotted dick pudding is ‘Bugs in the bolster’. Fatties were known as ‘Fatty Harbuckle’, which echoes the comedian Roscoe Arbuckle in an early Mack Sennett film.
Lots of these sayings are both ancient and constantly updated. Is there a modern version of this child’s eye view of local schools?: “In and around Portsmouth, according to a small feminine informant, Daley’s School is known as Daley’s Cow-Shed, the Grammar School as the ‘Glamour School’ or ‘School for Scandal’, Kingston Modern is ‘Kingston College for Clots’, the High School is the ‘Snob School’ – those going there being ‘High Snobs’… and those going to the Southsea Modern are ‘Southsea Scum’.” Perhaps ‘Banana splits’ or ‘Boomerangs’ for Admiral Lord Nelson School’s curious shape? Do local children still believe they must keep their legs crossed in an exam, if they hope to pass?
Margaret Guy, reference librarian of the Central Library, whose parents and grandparents were born and educated in Portsmouth said in an article in Tradewinds, Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce journal in January 1969 that she couldn’t write an article on local expressions, because she simply would not recognise a word that only locals use – because she was one of them. She cited ‘slock’ – what might happen to shoes after a short period of wear. The Oxford English Dictionary defined it as an obsolete word for slacken. “For some odd reason this expressive word has lingered on in this town with the original meaning but used only to apply to shoes”.
People often remark that Pompey sounds like Cockney – for example in its flattened vowels, quite unlike the Hampshire accent, but I have not yet come across a convincing explanation as to why. Margaret Guy says Portsmouth must have imported other region’s favourite phrases, as our population has always been an unstable one owing to the presence of the army and navy.
So over to you! An incomer like me has only a superficial knowledge, so please contribute your local lore.
Celia Clark, 2002