Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Informal English

English may be an international language, but that doesn't mean the people of one English-speaking country speak quite the same language as those in another English-speaking country, or even that the English spoken in one region is identical to that spoken in another region of that same country. And even in the same region, different groups of people, different generations and so forth use words and phrases that sound strange to others.

Jeffrey Kacirk collects many such regionalisms in his 2005 book Informal English.  Some of them I particularly like.

across lots - to take the shortest route. This reminds me of the time Mrs. Bollinger, our neighbor, complained to my mother when my friend and I went "across lots" and left tracks in the snow of her yard. But it was the shortest route from his house to mine.

all turkey - equally good. White meat or dark? It doesn't matter. It's all turkey.

balditude - baldness. Mark Twain used the word in Huckleberry Finn.

bigging it - exaggerating.

blackwash - to magnify defects. The opposite of whitewash.

bossy in a bowl - beef stew.

Easter before Lent - Kacirk says this was a Creole expression used when a baby was born too soon after the wedding.

ensmall - to condense. If we can enlarge something, why can't we ensmall it?

forgettery - a Nebraska word for a poor memory.

get a wiggle on - hurry.

happifying - making happy.

Methodist feet - A term once used in Newfoundland for someone who can't dance.

newity - a novelty.

prayer-handles - knees. This was once a common term in northern New England.

pult - Some country doctors supposedly once used this word as the singular form of pulse.

scandiculous - a blend of scandalous and ridiculous once common in Montana.

scroobly - untidy, in Nebraska.

seedfolks - ancestors.

squoze - past tense of squeeze, in parts of Missouri. This reminds me that Dizzy Dean used to say slud as the past tense of slide when commenting on baseball games.

teacherage - If the parson lives in a parson, why shouldn't the school teacher live in a teacherage?

Some of these terms, especially begging it, blackwash and scroobly, are good enough that they should have caught on.

Several of the terms Kacirk mentions, including "get a wiggle on," have been familiar to me since childhood. Others include "cuts no ice," favor (as in "he favors his mother"), jerkwater, poor mouth, redd (as in "redd up the kitchen" or tidy it up) and whole cloth (a lie from beginning to end).

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