Sunday, 30 October 2011

Much obliged...

When the Postman knocked on the door recently and asked the Shah to sign for a package (which he did with the pen clasped in a chubby fist and the tip of a pink tongue protruding cutely from between his lips) he left us with a cheery wave and a “much obliged!”

In the same way that the smell of our son’s shared university house transported me back to my own student digs, just this one phrase was enough to instantly place me back with my long-dead grandparents, decades ago.  Suddenly, all the sayings that were common currency during my childhood came flooding back – expressions such as ‘mustn’t grumble’ or ‘fair to middling’ described one’s physical health or state of mind.  Going on a trip to the shops, Granny would insist that our mode of transport was Shanks’s Pony and if we walked really quickly, we might be going like the clappers.  If I bickered with my brother en route, I’d have told him to shut his cakehole or offered him a kick in the cobblers whereupon I would have been told off for behaving like a guttersnipe and told “I’ll have your guts for garters young lady!”  Dodging out of the way of a clip round the ear, I could come a cropper and drop whatever I was holding because I was so cack-handed.

Do something a bit daft (there’s another one) and I’d have been a Nit or a Nitwit or possibly a Clot or a Chump; maybe even a soppy date or a daft ha’porth.  Asking an obvious question would have provoked the instruction to use your loaf.  Over-excited children were acting the giddy goat; an adult doing the same might well have been called a BF (bloody fool) or a silly sod – quite mild reproaches compared with the ease with which today’s teenagers blithely instruct each other to f*ck off quite unashamedly.

Something a little disturbing would have caused the adults to nod knowingly at one another and describe it as a rum do or perhaps a diabolical liberty.  My mother still likes to opine that there’s nowt so queer as folk.  But then she hails from an era when gay meant happy and queer meant odd.

Gordon Bennett! (who he?) was a favourite exclamation along with Lord love a duck!  and Oh my giddy aunt! 

While I don’t regret that language moves on – it has to, otherwise we’d all still be thee-ing and thou-ing – it does seem a shame that it has become coarser in so many ways.  Years ago, pretence at sympathy might have resulted in someone saying hard lines or hard cheese.  Today, you are more likely to hear 'tough tits'. 

Whereas people routinely live together before (or instead of) marriage these days, when I was a child it was called living over the brush and much frowned upon.  However, the cost of living today means that coughing up for a wedding would leave many couples stony broke

There are so many regional variations too – idioms that are particular to one area of the country.  One that I’ve only ever heard from my maternal Grandmother was “you’d laugh to see a pudding crawl” usually employed when a bunch of grandchildren had a fit of the giggles.  I still have no idea why puddings might crawl...

Perhaps you could enlighten me or at least tell me how many beans make five...?


  1. You must be pleased as Punch with this post. It really is the bee's knees. And the cat's whiskers.

  2. Haha Tim! I'd forgotten about the cat's whiskers - another blast from the past!

  3. Is it to do with Jack's magic beans? Did he have five?
    I often come out with expressions I assume people know, only to realise they are definitely Geordie phrases, like "having a neb" which means "having a nose around" and "jumping in the clarts" (mud).

  4. One bean, two beans, a bean and a half and half a bean. At least it was according to my granddad (in a singsong voice).

    You're welcome.

  5. What colourful phrases - in the old sense of colourful! We were definitely labeled with a few of these when we were small, 'daft ha'porth' being a favourite of my grandmothers. I recognise neb as a word I discovered in the midlands when I started work: nebbing was not an attractive atribute!

  6. Trish - the How Many Beans Make Five saying was a favourite of my dad's. No idea where he got it from! I've never come across nebbing or clarts before - we have such a colourful language!

  7. So Andy - does that make you (or your Grandad) a bean counter? Haha!

    HF - Daft ha'porth was a favourite of my granny as well,but nebbing is a new one on me....

  8. Oh I do love all these expressions. Great post. Even though I'm a Kiwi, loads of these were in daily use downunder along especially as our grandparents were from Manchester and some 'ee up chooking" going on. Stiff cheese was a NZ version of hard cheese.

  9. Hey oop our Jody! I just commented on your blog that I am now wondering about your accent - and I still am!

  10. Oh so many of these are familiar to me.....isn't language wonderful!

  11. They bring back some great memories don't they Libby? I love language too - it's a source of endless fascination for me.


Oh go on - say something for God's sake...