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Dialect coach Charlie Haylock, who helped Ralph Fiennes with his Suffolk accent for Netflix film The Dig, talks us through some local words and phrases used in the county




If you're from Suffolk, the likelihood is that you've heard locals come out with phrases like 'on the huh', 'hold you hard' and 'keep a-trosh'n' - the type that would cause those outside of the county to be pretty bewildered.

But do you know where these unique expressions originate from and what they actually mean?

We've asked Suffolk dialect coach, author and entertainer Charlie Haylock - who helped Ralph Fiennes perfect his Suffolk accent for his role as archaeologist Basil Brown in Netflix film The Dig - to tell us the stories behind our local lingo.

Suffolk dialect coach Charlie Haylock with two of his books
Suffolk dialect coach Charlie Haylock with two of his books

Charlie, who has written several best-selling books on language and dialect, including In a Manner of Speaking: The Story of the English Language and Sloightly on th' Huh, said: "Suffolk and Norfolk are part of East Anglia, evolved from the ancient kingdom of the 'East Angles', and as such many of their dialect words derive from early Old English (OE) as spoken in an East Angle dialect (as opposed to OE with a West Saxon dialect (Wessex) or a Mercian dialect).

"The East Angles were divided into two - those who lived north of the rivers Waveney and Little Ouse were known as the Nord volk, the North folk (Norfolk), those to the south of those two rivers were known as the Suð volk, the South folk (Suffolk), but still remained part of the same tribe, hence the continuity in dialect words and phrases.

"At one stage, the kings of the East Angles were beaten in battle by the Danes and Suffolk and Norfolk became part of the Danelaw resulting in many Old Norse (ON) words entering the East Angles' vocabulary and are still in the dialect today."

Suffolk dialect with Charlie Haylock

Phrases

On the huh

from Old English - ahōh and later as a hōh

definition: on the slant

Come along together

from an Old English word

definition: to gather

Hold you hard

thought to derive from a carter or horseman being told to hold hard on the reins to make the horse(s) wait or slow down

definition: telling someone to wait

Over Will's mother's

predominantly East Anglian, but also heard in other parts of the UK, and in Australia, they say 'over Bill's mum's'

'Will' refers to William III, King of England (1689-1702) and known as William of Orange due to him being Dutch - his mother remained in the Netherlands

when the cold east winds brought dark, black snow clouds across, people would say - pointing eastwards towards the Netherlands - that it was black over Will's mother's

definition: somewhere which is at the back of beyond

Keep a-trosh'n or keep a-throsh'n

abbreviated East Angle dialect version of 'Do you keep a-threshing' meaning 'long may you keep threshing the corn'

from Old English threscan

definition: wishing someone a long and healthy life

On the drag

believed to derive from Suffolk fishermen and seafaring folk, as the incoming tide along the Suffolk coast comes in at a rare rate of knots but have a strong undercurrent - known locally as the 'drag tide' and would hold back the progress of boats and craft coming into land

'on the drag tide' was eventually abbreviated to 'on the drag'

definition: running behind time

A load of old squit

the word 'squit' derives from East Anglian pronunciation of Middle English word 'squirt', which originally meant either a contemptible person or a load of nonsense

definition: a load of nonsense

Dialect words

Ranny

from the Old Norse rani

definition: snout/nickname for someone with a long nose

Rove

from the Old Norse ruva

definition: the scab on a partially healed sore

Sarnick

from the Old Norse seinka

definition: to walk slowly

Stroop

from Old Norse strupe - which is the Swedish word for 'throat' today

definition: gullet or windpipe

Dag

from Old Norse dagg - which is the Swedish word for 'dew' today

definition: dew

Groop

from Old Norse grop - meaning an open water course

definition: the gulley dug out from the grass verges for carrying off water into the ditch

Marram

from Old Norse maralmr

definition: mat grass found on the shore

Hulver

from Old Norse hulfr

definition: the holly tree

Tittymatawter

from Old Norse tittermatorter

taken over to America by East Anglians in the 1600s and the American word for a seesaw today has evolved to 'teeter-totter'

definition: seesaw

Polywiggle

derives from Middle English poll (head) and wigel (wiggle) - a head with a wiggly tail

taken over to American in the 1600s by East Anglians and the American word for a tadpole today is 'pollywig'

definition: tadpole

Airywiggle

from the Old English word ēarewicga - meaning ear insect

ancient folklore thought that earwigs were insects that would crawl into people's ears when they were asleep, hence their name

definition: earwig

Bor

many people mistakenly think this is an East Anglian word for 'boy', but 'boy' derives from Middle English word boye and originally meant a young male servant

'bor' goes back much further to Old English boor and refers to someone who tills the soil - the Old English root of this word is similar to other Germanic languages: the Dutch word for farmer today is boer and in German it is bauer

definition: someone who tills the soil

Absy

one of the very few dialect words thought to be taken from the Norman French abcès and pronounced almost similar as absay, whereas the rest of the country eventually anglicised it to 'abscess'

definition: a boil

Frawn

derivative of Old English freosan

definition: very cold, frozen

Shew

goes back to Elizabethan/Shakespearean English and follows the pattern of standard English ie. 'I know' becomes 'I knew' and 'I draw' becomes 'I drew'

in the late 1700s when standard English was created, the past tense of 'show' became standardised as 'showed' but Suffolk and Norfolk kept it as 'shew'

definition: showed/past tense of show

Mawther

thought to be adopted from the Dutch

definition: a young girl or girlfriend

Potchet

definitions: pottery made out of broken earthenware or an earthenware egg to put under a hen to induce her to lay eggs

Pugwash

derives from old dialect words puggle - to wash clothes badly and puggy - badly washed clothes which are still dirty

definition: not well washed

Crinkle crankle

a Suffolk dialect word for a wavy type of wall - Suffolk has more than 50 crinkle crankle walls throughout the county, more than the rest of the country put together

only in Suffolk are they called crinkle crankle - they were built mainly in the Stuart times by Dutch engineers

Suffolk residents referred to the wavy wall as 'crinkle' - a derivative of Old English crincan, meaning wavy - and also adopted the Dutch word kronkel, meaning 'winding', eventually evolving into 'crinkle crankle'

definition: brick-built serpentine winding wall

Regional dialects are important as they are part of people's identities, Charlie said.

"Public School Pronunciation (PSP) was invented and manufactured in the late 1700s, and was adopted as an unofficial standard," he said.

"In the early 1900s it became known as Received Pronunciation (RP), but dialects have still survived including Suffolk and Norfolk thank goodness.

"Dialects give people a sense of belonging and an identification of which they are very proud."

To find out more about Charlie Haylock and his work, visit his website charliehaylock.com.

Read more: All the latest news from Suffolk