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Lost for words - saving the mother tongue

Mouth generic
Lost for words: the death of industries can also kill swathes of words

Harassed mothers used to apologise that their homes were "a bit through other."

What with the "weans", they had had little time to "red up" but how about if they were to "wet a pot of tea"?

A new survey carried out for Collins Dictionaries lists regional expressions in England that are dying out.

Words like "ommuck" for sandwich and "drangway" for lane are no longer popular. But the unique Northern Ireland "speak' is also under threat.

Linguistics expert Professor Loreto Todd from the University of Ulster said many of the words linked to the shipyard were disappearing and the language of the linen industry was almost extinct.

"As long as a language lives it will grow and parts will drop off," she explained.

NI Colloquialisms
Gutties - trainers
Poke - ice cream
Starving - freezing
Mitch - play truant
Beak off - play truant
Snicket - alleyway
Mucker - friend

"Farming has changed over the last 50 or 60 years. As techniques have changed, so have the words used to describe the techniques.

"It is sad that everyday words are going. For example, the expression 'wetting the tea'. You hardly ever hear that anymore. It is 'making the tea'.

"With general education and with more people moving to towns and cities, older words drop away. I personally think it is sad. There is a history and a tradition."

Some old country words are still popular. A "sheugh" is a ditch, "foundered" is feeling very cold and the verb "to gurn" means to complain.

"A dialect was described once by a Norwegian as a language without an army or a navy. In other words, a dialect was a language that belonged to the ordinary poor, often uneducated people," Professor Todd said.

"It had much less prestige than the language of London or major city."

And when country people move to the city, the more unusual words can drop away.

"I remember my father telling me that there was an incredible dialect in the shipyard. The men had words only used in terms of the shipyard and the traditions and trades there. But again, with mechanisation, these fell away.

"We will lose a lot of the farming words and we have already lost a lot of words associated with the linen industry.

"In a sense we are all becoming more educated, more media-influenced. We are speaking the language of the radio."

A 2005 online survey of the words we use, called the Word Map, found that "mutton dummies", a term for soft shoes, was unique to Northern Ireland.

"Snow coned" and "tweddle", both meaning "cold" were only submitted in Northern Ireland.

The 10 most popular words for "friend" across the United Kingdom included mate, pal, butty and dude.

Visitors to Yorkshire should be aware that "oppo" is a non-threatening term, as it also means friend.

However the word "boyo", meaning friend, is out of fashion. It was submitted by one single person in all of Wales.



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