National Poetry Day and the OED
National Poetry Day 2017 takes place on the 28th of September, and for the occasion the BBC, working with the Forward Arts Foundation, will commission 12 local poets across England to each write a poem based on a distinctive local expression. The chosen expressions will be taken from words that have been suggested by listeners to BBC Local Radio, on social media, and in interviews and discussions. The words suggested will also be considered for inclusion in the OED.
The starting point for all OED entries is evidence and sometimes, in the case of regional vocabulary, that evidence can be hard to find. A word or expression may be in common use in a particular town or county but rarely make its way into written sources. That is why we are so excited to receive evidence of usage from the public. A tip-off about the currency, meaning, or geographical spread of a word can be the starting point for further research and we’re looking forward to tracing the history and usage of candidates for inclusion. To whet your appetite here are just a few of the local words which have come to our attention and which are currently being researched by lexicographers.
Dinlo n. a foolish person, an idiot.
‘Dinlo’ (also ‘dinlow’ and ‘dinilo’) is a word found in the south-east of England and one which is ubiquitous in Portsmouth. It has its origins in the Romani word dinilo and the earliest evidence we have seen so far of the English word is when it is being used by Roma, such as in this example from the 19th century:
1873 H. Smith Tent Life with English Gipsies in Norway xxxvi. 425 Ambrose can talk, can’t he? The mumply dinlo!
Whilst still used among Roma, the word has also acquired a wider currency and ‘dinlo’ is now a common slang expression in the south-east of England, expected to be understood by Roma and non-Roma alike, as the following 2015 example from the Portsmouth News shows:
It requires almost superhuman concentration to stop these dinlos overtaking on narrow country lanes.
Tansad n. a pushchair.
Whilst some regional words have their roots in Old English others are of more recent origin. We’re all familiar with the phenomenon of a trademark or manufacturer’s name being transferred to any example of a product with which it’s particularly associated—‘hoover’ for ‘vacuum cleaner’, for instance. The city of Hull, though, seems to be almost unique in still remembering the Tan-Sad Chair Company—a Midlands-based maker of toys, prams, and folding chairs which seems to have ceased trading in 1975—and in still using ‘tansad’ as the generic name for a folding pushchair or buggy (although we’ve also seen examples from Waterford in Ireland and Dundee).
Jacob’s Join n. a meal or event where each of the guests contributes a dish of food.
In Lancashire and Yorkshire a potluck meal will often be referred to as a Jacob’s Join. Our research has traced this term back to 1913, where mention is made in The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star of a Jacob’s Join held in Trawden in Lancashire. But who is the Jacob in a Jacob’s Join? The fact that the expression is often used to refer to gatherings of churchgoers suggests it may be Jacob, brother of Esau who is referred to. Could there be a reference to the Book of Genesis, which mentions the mess of pottage for which Esau sold his birthright? We hope further research will provide elucidation.
The poetry of regional words
Whilst words such as ‘tansad’ may have prosaic origins, other regional words or expressions have a poetry of their own. It is often the case that a word that has been the standard expression for something slips out of common use, but can still be found in particular local dialects and simultaneously in elevated or poetic language. Examples include ‘even’ (evening), ‘oft’ (often), and ‘ope’ (to open). We’re excited to see how the 12 chosen poets will transform their particular regional word into poetry. Poets have long taken inspiration from local words and expressions. So, for example, Tennyson had noted the Cornish expression ‘the calling of the sea’ and used it in the poem ‘Enoch Arden’:
While Enoch slumber’d motionless and pale,
There came so loud a calling of the sea,
That all the houses in the haven rang.
W. B. Yeats used the verb ‘pern’, meaning to spin or revolve, in several of his poems and writings (often coupled with ‘gyre’). Although the verb is Yeats’s own invention, it has its origins in a particular regional term:
When I was a child at Sligo I could see above my grandfather’s trees a little column of smoke from ‘the pern mill’, and was told that ‘pern’ was another name for the spool, as I was accustomed to call it, on which thread was wound.
This practice of employing a region’s distinctive cadences and vocabulary for poetic ends continues to this day from the north country chant of ‘to go into the hare gets you muckle sorrow, muckle care’ in Ian Duhig’s ‘The Lammas Hireling’ to Daljit Nagra’s polyphonic explorations of Britain and its Englishes.
Perhaps above all, the competition’s focus on regional English provides the OED with an opportunity to engage with communities around the country whose distinctive language may be under-represented in mainstream dictionaries.