A Word In Your Ear - July 31, 2014

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“Sorry, you’ll have to speak up!” My retired joiner pal, John, apologised. “I’m a bit ‘mutton’.”

I understood the Cockney rhyming slang he used to mean ‘deaf’, it developed from an old American strip cartoon called Mutt ‘n’ Jeff.

We were on the sun-drenched terrace at Blackpool Cricket Club enjoying, as they say, a couple of ‘Richard Geres’.

“Isn’t our English language wonderful?” I said reflectively. “What a diverse and colourful heritage, even in slang and dialect.”

“A shame it’s dying out,” agreed former bookie Bill, another regular. “That’s because of television. Everyone talks the same, embarrassed to be different.”

John (“They called me ‘two by one’ on building sites”) told us he had once asked directions off a yokel in East Lancashire, who told him to turn left “up by yon’ robots”. John had driven on, expecting something from Doctor Who. However, the ‘robots’ turned out to be traffic lights.

That was a few years back. More recently, John himself received a funny look off a supermarket girl, when he struggled with an electronic device and told her: “Sorry, love, my mince pies aren’t so good.”

“Mind you,” observed Bill, “those aren’t to be mixed up with ‘pork pies’ – or just ‘porkies’, as the saying has become.”

“Then there’s our collective nouns, too,” muttered Jack, an old matelot (an historic word itself). “They’re very imaginative as well,” he explained, “like a ‘murder’ of crows or a ‘quarrel’ of 
starlings.”

“And a ‘bloat’ of hippopotamuses,” I announced, pleased with myself.

“Or a ‘shrewdness’ of apes,” added Jack.

“You lot must ‘ave gone doolally!” complained someone behind, fed up with our talk.

“Now, doolally, there’s an interesting word,” I began . . .

“Best get up ‘apples and pears’ first, for the ‘pigs ears’,” suggested John.

“Or the ‘King Lear’,” added Bill.

For once, I was lost for words.

n For Roy’s books, sponsored by the Arts Council, visit www.royedmonds-blackpool.com.