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Dreary lingo from on high leaves plenty to be desired

PUBLISHED: 17:14 19 July 2020 | UPDATED: 17:14 19 July 2020

Boris Johnson has allowed remaining leisure centres including bowling alleys to reopen from August. Pic: PA/ Stefan Rousseau

Boris Johnson has allowed remaining leisure centres including bowling alleys to reopen from August. Pic: PA/ Stefan Rousseau

Keith Skipper ponders what has happened to our language in the modern age

A fair number of us can recall getting to grips with joys of multiplication sums by chanting our times tables in school … “Three fours are 12, four fours are 16, five fours are 20” and so on.

I don’t know if such learning by rote ever reached the hallowed corridors of Eton and Harrow – but we do have a prime minister and several other government luminaries extremely keen on using repetition to get their current creed across.

Boris Johnson, in a class of his own when it comes to pile-driving a point home, now seems just to have been rehearsing when he rocked the dorm to sleep with his goodnight cry to Europe: “Get Brexit Done!”

His lockdown-easing lingo to the great British public, with its innate brand of unwavering common sense, extends that three-word pattern, albeit with the same verb responsible for such memorable hat-tricks from just outside the despatch box.

The first came as much-needed incentive for poor construction firms and down-at-heel developers struggling to make an honest bob and trying to prevent a rampant world of nature getting way above itself by staking fresh claims on green spaces.

“BUILD! BUILD! BUILD!” bellowed Boris – and, lo, the forces of infrastructure did stir across the land while MPs, councillors and other guardians of our recovery schedule zoomed in on virtual gatherings to chat about joys of ”much more favourable planning rules”.

We’ve been treated to excited cries of “EAT! EAT! EAT!” to spark more going out for meals, “FLEX! FLEX! FLEX!“ as clarion call for returning to the gym and “TIDY! TIDY! TIDY!” pointing to a long overdue trip to the barber. My nails, tan and tattoo in memory of Vera Lynn had to wait.

It comes as no surprise to hear from my highly-respected and well-connected capital spy that the prime minister is employing his well-proven method to lull new son Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas (note his three names) into taking the quickest possible route up Wooden Hill to Blanket Fair via “SLEEP! SLEEP! SLEEP!”.

Yes, slogans and soundbites, most bordering on metronomic banality, appear to have nudged aside ridiculous excesses of trendybabble clearly demanding we exchange “salubrious” for “celebrious”, Don’t fret …. It will be back.

After all, isn’t it absolutely awesome and incredibly unbelievable how many fantastic and brilliant people can offer amazing and great comments on what some of us might regard as rather mundane issues and topics?

Right, you guys, this is a worst-case scenario, that’s for sure, and I’d be really gutted, like, at this moment in time if someone came on board who is well good at saying “What we are saying is … ” and then says nothing at all.

There’s nothing wrong in showing enthusiasm or even going slightly over the top when given a chance to pass judgement on a serious subject, event or person. Even so, “unbelievably awesome!” on collecting third prize at the village flower show or “absolutely fantastic!” on a stag night you can’t even remember do smack of overdoing superlatives.

Social media, with its rash of trite abbreviations for those who go AWOL when asked to put a sentence together, must be due for some sort of prize for reaching new ways of prompting those with nothing to say to say it longer and louder than before.

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Our local dialect, too often dismissed as ugly, lazy, embarrassing and an obvious signpost to ye olde land of thick yokels, deserves to be handed a key role in any campaign to return proportion and respect to important strands of our much-abused language.

For example, “Cor, blarst me, if that ent a rum’un!” serves admirably to cover a multitude of occasions calling for instant reactions to surprising news, an unlikely occurrence or even the most obvious or predictable state of affairs.

A dash of irony coated in understatement adds to the fun.

“Git on yer wick!” and “That dew crearze yer!” make it clear matters are not going too well. “What a load o’ ole squit!” is the perfect summary of someone or something unworthy of any attention.

“Thass a masterpiece!” invites admiration.

Allan Smethurst, The Singing Postman, proclaimed: “Aeroplanes go along o’ noffin” and “the clocks go along o’ now”. No need to dress up simple truths and images in swanky clothes to make an impact.

“Hev Yew Gotta Loight, Boris?” could catch on as the new Westminster Sound.

Skip’s Aside: For something written off so many times, Norfolk dialect remains in rude health. Every time a funeral is organised, the “corpse” sits up and mocks the pall bearers.

Even ardent supporters over two centuries ago felt they were merely launching a final flourish in publishing their glossaries and other tributes to our local tongue.

Harry Cozens-Hardy, who edited the first Broad Norfolk booklet published in 1893 from letters sent to the Eastern Daily Press, prophesised the dialect would do die out within a generation under influence of Board schools.

Well, here we are nearly 130 years later and our vernacular has survived a whole host of influences, including standard BBC English. One of the reasons for not going under could be the fact many newcomers continue to be as interested as natives in a special strand of life in the area where they’ve settled.

It will take much more of this sort of teamwork to fight off inevitable cries of “anachronism!” to dismiss something far too strong, too precious to let go. Our dialect has lasted best in more isolated areas where several enthusiasts are “bilingual”. That means they use the local vernacular within their own communities but switch to Standard English for benefit of outsiders or when they’re away from home. That kind of versatility may well become more commonplace.

Indeed, it was evident well over a century ago. Thomas Hardy captured such a state of affairs well in Tess of the d’Urbervilles in 1891 when he wrote:

“Mrs Durbeyfield habitually spoke the dialect; her daughter, who had passed the Sixth Standard in the National School under a London-trained mistress, spoke two languages; the dialect at home, more or less, ordinary English abroad and to persons of quality”.

Many delightful words and expressions have disappeared with the trades and pursuits that inspired them. Horses used to rule the furrows on Norfolk farms. The old horsemen, and those who worked in associated trades like the blacksmith’s shop, had a language all of their own


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