Dialects and dimpsy doddermen

Time for a recap of what I’ve been writing for Macmillan Dictionary Blog over the last few weeks. The theme for July was small talk, so a couple of my posts are on this subject. In “Small talk is no small matter” I make some general remarks about chit chat and its uses:

[S]mall talk serves a useful phatic function. It helps us tune in to other people’s accents and dialects, and to get used to their presence and the ways they express themselves. Before moving on to more contentious topics, such as finance or politics, we will have spent time sharing images and idioms and agreeing light-heartedly about various uncontroversial matters.

If the context is business, talking about travel and accommodation is apt to be both interesting and potentially useful to the parties involved. We can share tips, learn about one another’s tastes and habits, and bond over common frustrations and experiences. [more]

A guddle through the dialectal wordbank” offers a quick rummage, or guddle, through some of the vocabulary I encountered in a project by the British Library that aims to collect regional English words. I also introduce deargadaol /,dʒærəgə’ði:l/, an Irish word that crossed over into my idiolect when I was a child. If you were wondering about the dimpsy doddermen in the post title, wonder no more:

I like dodderman for snail (Norfolk / Suffolk), dimpsy for twilight or just turning dark (Somerset), nesh, meaning weak, delicate, or susceptible to the cold (northern England), and guddle, meaning rummage about (Northumberland and parts of Scotland).

Many dialectal words are given to plants and animals, and they often have colourful histories. Bishybarnabee, a Norfolk word for a ladybird, might be a reference to the 16th-century bishop Edmond Bonner, aka “Bloody Bonner”, because the insect’s red and black colours were associated with the bishop’s clothes – or with his notorious deeds. [more]

Back to small talk, with an Irish flavour: in “Top of the morning to yourself” I examine a well-known Irish greeting that no one in Ireland seems to use anymore except in jest or irony. I also write briefly about Irish people’s fondness for reflexive pronouns:

“Top of the morning to you” would, like begorra(h) (a minced form of by God), be considered an Oirishism or a Paddyism, something popularly associated with stereotypes of Irishness but which is seldom or never used by Irish people themselves. As a recognisable caricature it has a certain commercial value, so it occasionally appears in marketing campaigns as a shorthand for Irishness and whatever else that’s intended to convey.

I mentioned the traditional response, “And the rest of the day to you”, but the last word would be just as likely to take the form yourself. Reflexive pronouns are very common in Irish English, often used for slight emphasis, e.g., “Good man/woman yourself”, “Ah, ‘tis yourself!” [more]

Dialectal drift” was a brief response to a lively recent debate over Americanisms, which I hope to address at greater length in a future blog post. Copyediting newsletter was kind enough to call it “the voice of reason”, but as I said to someone elsewhere, these things are relative; I read a lot of unreason on the topic. Anyway, here’s an excerpt:

Given that languages and dialects undergo constant change, and blend and blur into one another, the purist point of view seems misguided to me. . . . Catchphrases and idioms (often AmE) spread quickly, and grievances over new coinages and linguistic conventions are often knee-jerk objections that develop over time into pet hates. But some of these neologisms eventually become standard, widely used, and even loved. . . .

The history of English is a history of many languages and dialects mixing with one another. It’s what they do. I think linguistic diversity can and should be enjoyed and embraced. Instead of getting wound up about phrases we dislike, we can celebrate not only the great variation that exists but also the fact that so much mutual comprehensibility remains. [more]

Finally, there’s “Are you open to open kimonos?”, a short account of the phrase open kimono. A rather strange but memorable metaphor, it has recently become popular in business jargon:

Given the widespread taboo over exposed genitals and even underwear, open kimono – often seen in the verb phrase open the kimono – is a vividly effective metaphor for conveying transparency and frankness.

It’s semantically similar to an open book, which refers to people, but open kimono refers to a way of dealing with information, especially sensitive information like strategic plans or financial data. It is consistent with how Diane Nicholls describes honesty in her article about its metaphors: “honesty is bare and open”, something I discuss further in this post. [more]

You’ll find all my articles for Macmillan archived here, and my introductions to them are here. Comments in either location are welcome; I’m particularly interested in people’s favourite regional words and their feelings about small talk.

11 Responses to Dialects and dimpsy doddermen

  1. Dimpsy, doddermen? I’ve not come across these before. I really do like them. I am quite fond of Geordie-isms like bray (to beat) and hoy )to throw)

    I’ve not come across open kimono before. I can imagine that it would grate to hear

  2. Fran says:

    I’d not heard ‘open kimono’ either. I’ll ask my daughter if she has – she’s in Japan at the moment.

  3. Stan says:

    Jams: They were new to me too. Dimpsy, also dimpsey, is in the Shorter OED as a noun and an adj. meaning “dusk, twilight” and “dusky, dim”, respectively. Dimps (n.) is there too, with the same meaning. I like hoy. I don’t suppose it came from hurl, but it reminded me of it.

    Fran: Thank you. It doesn’t seem to be widely known. I’d be curious to know if she can throw any light on it.

  4. It looks like the word hoy is used in Scots too

  5. wisewebwoman says:

    I love the word “Dimpsey” that is a keeper, added to gloaming which is another lovely word not used in North America. I would have thought it might have migrated to Newfoundland. Not so.

  6. Stan says:

    WWW: Gloaming is a lovely word, very old, and related to glow, which is apt. It might not have spread throughout Newfoundland, but it enjoys occasional outings in one household at least! In a similar vein, I’ve always liked crepuscular.

  7. Claude says:

    I very much enjoyed your post, Stan. Having learned English by immersion, at different places, I’ve collected a few “small talk” expressions. I feel comfortable using them in an informal conversation because I can explain it if it’s not understood. When it comes to writing though, I am very hesitant. Often I don’t even know how to spell the words. It’s been amusing to find out that Google seems to have digested every word I ever heard, and will serve it back to me, but not always appropriately. Or so I think!

    I didn’t know crepuscular was used. It makes me happy! I’ve always been so fond of the very poetic crépuscule. Then, when I heard “twilight”, my soul was elated. Both languages truly respond to my vision of what a moment should be. I would probably find the same beauty in other languages.

  8. Stan says:

    Claude: Google would excel at small talk, I think, if it put its mind algorithms to it. Already it knows an eerie amount about our backgrounds, circumstances, and pet preferences! Crepuscular is a lovely word, and it translates well. A friend on Twitter recently posted a beautiful photo titled “Luz crepúscular rosa sobre Manhattan”. I’ve always liked twilight too – the word and the time.

  9. Sean Jeating says:

    Enjoyed this galore.
    As the average German does not wear Kimonos, the “vividly effective metaphor for conveying transparency and frankness” is die Hosen ‘runterlassen.
    – “Laß (Lass) die Hosen runter”! or “Lassen Sie die Hosen runter!”

    Interestingly no one would demand “Hose (singular) runter!”

  10. Sharing a post from another favorite writer, this one a specialist in language itself. Fascinating! […] Time for a recap of what I’ve been writing for Macmillan Dictionary Blog over the last few weeks.[…]

  11. Stan says:

    Thanks, Sean. It’s interesting – you could even say revealing! – that adjusting clothes to expose one’s genitals (or undergarments) is apparently such a widespread metaphor for frankness and transparency. Mind you, die Hosen ‘runterlassen is all very well until you need to make a quick getaway.

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