The next post will appear on or before Sunday October 1st


Never underestimate the charismatic power of language, and especially that which you have borrowed from another person, who might just treacherously have made it up themselves in the first place. As a variation on which, there is reported the frequent and mysterious utterance of a woman who works in an office in the north of England, but who was not born in Great Britain nor was her first language English. She regularly uses a very archaic West Cumbrian dialect word and asks her colleague to ‘skop’ her for example a pencil sharpener. The word skop means ‘to throw’ and is a mimetic one of old Nordic origin and refers to the elliptical leg motion of a pawing horse. The foreign lady doesn’t know any of that of course, she just thinks it is a very nice and apt word and she uses it often. The key to the mystery as you might have guessed is that her colleague is my daughter Ione who works in an office in Leeds, and it was Ione who first thoughtlessly asked her to ‘skop her’ a box of paperclips, and thus started the bizarre linguistic transfer rolling. However things aren’t quite as simple as that, as Ione was raised in rural NE Cumbria where no one ever uses the word ‘skop’ and the villain of the piece is in fact her Dad me who grew up near Maryport on the Solway Firth, West Cumbria. I have employed that verb for most of my life (I’ve always been prone to throwing things, including tantrums and towels in) and not only did I pass the word on to Ione, I still use it here on a daily basis in Kythnos in 2017, at least when like many a writer I am poetically monologuing to myself, or alternatively discoursing to my attentive cats or alternatively talking to Ione when she visits me and I ask her to skop me the low sodium/elevated potassium salt from the far end of my capacious dining table.

Ione was visiting me at the start of this month and that was when she told me about the foreign lady saying skop. She currently shares a house with 4 people all born in the late 1980s, and some of the very dubious in some cases invented words that she got from me, and which I first heard in respectively 1957 and 1977, are circulating in that Leeds house, some 60 and 40 years later. Thus of her 4 housemates, the single male aged 30 in Ione’s house, will regularly refer in 2017 to his arse, and to everyone else’s, by employing the very peculiar term ‘jid’. The semantic route is that I first heard it from my 6-year-old playmate Toots (not his real name) in our West Cumbrian pit village in 1957. He would say charming things like ‘I hez an itchy bliddy jid’ and would proceed to rectify (oops, nearly) the problem by appropriate vigorous scratching and pummelling underneath his shorts. Since then I have never heard anyone else in the world use the term jid, other than in imitation of me who in turn started to imitate Toots back in 1957. Toots got most of his charismatic words and especially the less polite ones from his older brother Reg who chainsmoked at the age of 12 and had remarkably puffy eyes and the rawest gruffest voice I have ever heard. It was from Toots I also got the words which I still use at the age of 66, ‘tassy’ and ‘chitter’, both superlatives meaning ‘great’. They were both Reg words and I would hazard that tassy sounds as if possibly colloquial French though perhaps only used by colonial outpost soldiers in Northern Gabon in one particular garrison in the winter of 1947. How Reg became privy to that Gabon Gallic mess table argot remains to be elucidated by the most rigorous of philologists and professors of linguistics and I wish them a most salubrious bon voyage.

On that analogy, the backside word ‘jid’ sounds decidedly Arabic and for colonial connections we might look to the former Aden protectorate (ha ha) now Yemen. Reg in his lengthy all of 6 mile travels between Workington and Maryport might just have met a squaddie who had served in Aden and been stationed in a hill village where the weirdest of dialect words had circulated including ‘jid’. As for ‘chitter’ it sounds to me definitely of Indian origin, possibly a dialect of Hindi and we can look to Reg perhaps one day hearkening in amazement to a retired old geezer from the Indian army of the Raj. I still regularly lapse into Tootsese or Regese when in the company of an educated British friend or student visiting me here on Kythnos, and exclaim as we bask on an exquisite and deserted beach, This is bloody tassy! or This is absolutely chitter! Not once have any of them asked me for qualification, as they know what I mean without a translation, meaning that Tootsese and Regese are effectively universal languages like say Volapuk or Esperanto.

Finally there is the case of secondary neologisms of a truly surreal kind and which fascinatingly connect Cumbria and Kythnos, aka obscure regional England and obscure Cycladean Greece. The phenomenon originates innocently even puerilely enough, somewhere around the summer of 2000 when Ione aged 11 and me aged 49, started making inane diminutives out of many a word, as if we were gung ho WW2 RAF pilots or 1920s partying hedonists minus the Charleston. Like them we would chop the given word and then add ‘ers’, so that the quiet market town where we lived Brampton became ‘Brammers’ and the nearby Lanercost with its ancient hallowed priory became absurdly ‘Lanners’ and both the country or anyone with the word Holland as a surname, ludicrously became ‘Hollers’. And yes re the latter, one or two classically Cumbrian surnames of a dolorous and comical cast, actually did the trick themselves, so we didn’t need to add, only subtract. Hence it was that one of Ione’s 12 year old acquaintances called William Mumberson, became the extremely onomatopoeic Willy Mumbers as Mumbers ne  Mumberson was indeed always a doleful little bloke.

Fast forward now to the summer of 2016 when Ione and I were lying on the beach nearest to the port here. It is called Martinakia and a whole 3 amnesic years had elapsed without either of us giving it its due Roaring Twenties abbreviation. Until one inspired day that is.

“Martinakkers,” said Ione very suddenly and in a revelatory tone, and it was as if she had created a whole world or possibly a whole universe as she spoke.

Just as inspired I said swiftly:

“He was a nice guy, but he was always bad with money. Divorced 3 times as he drove all his women mad. He lived down Millom way near Barrow in Furness and that didn’t help.”

She looked at me questioningly and a split second ensued.

“Marty Knackers! “I said. “So called because of his grubby and dishevelled appearance. As if he either worked for a knacker’s yard or was fit for entering it himself. That’s what all his wives said, anyway.”

And all the rest is history.

For non-UK readers. The word “knacker’s” can refer to either a slaughter house for old horses, or, minus the apostrophe, to the male testicles. From the former comes the verb-derived adjective ‘knackered’ often used in the politest of companies to mean ‘tired’ or ‘exhausted’

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