Planning a trip to North Devon soon? At The Carlton we think that part of what makes Devon so charming is the local language. Tourists and first-time visitors may find colloquialisms and common words by Devonians a bit odd, sometimes a complete mystery, but these phrases make sense once you read our guide to understanding the locals and Devonian dialects.
The Devonian Dialect
Are you ready to learn some of the local language? Check out these common phrases! Then you’ll be ready for your next visit to The Carlton!
Overly energetic children are the bane of a parent’s existence, but even these little rascals have an endearing term applied to them. ‘Angletwitch’ refers to an excitable, fast-moving child or creature, typically one that can’t seem to stay still. We have to say the name is kinder than what many others would refer to these children as.
“Ee’s as ‘ard as a dug’s ‘eed.”
Try saying this one three times fast! Although this seeming jumble of words makes perfect sense to Devonians, it takes a bit of translating for those who’ve never heard it before. The phrase “He’s as hard as a dog’s head”, spoken with Devonian dialect (as seen above), means that a person is tough. Dog’s skulls are notoriously hard, so if anyone ever says this about you, take it as a compliment!
“Yoom es ma-dde as a bar-bed wire Badd-ger!”
Yet another confusing phrase is this one, which translates to “You’re as mad as a barbed wire badger!”. This phrase comes from a well-known Devon fact that badgers can sometimes get caught in the wires of a trap that was meant for rabbits. Should the unlucky hunter stumble upon the badger, it was a dangerous job to get them out. Once free, the badger was likely to chase the hunter through the woods. Essentially, it means “You’re crazy!”.
When someone says they’ll “see you dreckly”, it means they’ll see you soon, but at an unspecified time. Will it be thirty minutes from now, or will it be several hours? It could even be a few days or weeks. The only way you’ll know is by asking the person, and they still may not give you a direct answer!
If someone says they’re “dustin’ [their] squinches”, they’re doing a full house cleaning. Squinches refer to the many nooks and crannies found in a building. The cleaning is likely to take them ages. If anyone asks you to dust their squinches, pause to think about whether or not you’re ready to take on the job.
The term ‘God’s Cow’ is a puzzling one. Those attempting to figure out what this particular cow is are bound to be pondering it for hours. This west country phrase is talking about the ladybird, or as many far westerners know it, the ladybug. The ladybug is commonly found in Europe and the United States and has a doppleganger called the Asian beetle, which releases a pungent smell when in danger.
This gem of Devonian dialect has to be the cutest phrase we’ve stumbled upon. The word ‘snishums’ is what Devon locals call a sneeze! Whether it’s a quiet snuffle or loud enough to merit a “Gesundheit!”, your nasal expulsions will hereto be referred to as ‘snishums’.
“Alright, me ‘andsome!”
When western cultures think of famous poets, they picture a statuesque figure who speaks ‘proper English’ and greets you with a “Good morrow, sir!” or a tip of the hat. Rumour has it that the famous Devonshire poet Coleridge welcomed friends and acquaintances with a less sophisticated phrase: “Alright, me ‘andsome!”. This quaint greeting translates to something like “Hello, my good friend!”.
Looking for a bit of entertainment for your night out in Devon? Instead of asking what events are in the area, try using the common Devonian phrase “Wasson?”. “Wasson” is short for “What’s going on?” and can be used to ask a person or group what they and others are doing. This phrase is more reserved for people who are at least acquaintances, but you can blend in with the crowd if you follow the dialect with phrases like this.
The word ‘dummon’ sounds suspiciously like the words ‘dumb one’, but use it to insult someone you know, and you may end up offending them more than you thought you would. ‘Dummon’ is actually the affectionate name for your wife. Even the locals aren’t absolutely sure it’s a kind term, but it’s endearing to wives nonetheless.
Other Devonian Terms
Sometimes, it’s the way you say a word that makes it part of your local community. Devonians use these common phrases and terms to describe things and people:
- Spurtin’ arrishes = growing stubble
- Apple drain/jasper = wasp
- Drummel drain = bumblebee
- Tom toddy = tadpole
- ‘Ade like a bool = head like a bull, pig-headed
- “I was savage” = I was very annoyed
- Drawin’ yer mouth abroad = yawning
- A temper like a Torpoint chicken = used to describe a person who is easily angered/retaliatory