Good Old Sussex Words & Phrases

(Adle to Cut Your Stick)

When I was at primary school in Stonegate forty years ago my parents said I had a Sussex accent, an accent I acquired from the farmers’ sons and daughters I schooled with.

It’s ever more rare these says.  Just as the spread of television, BBC and estuary English has obliterated local dialects around the country, Sussex has lost out more than most because of its proximity to London and the influx of commuters.

But there are some lovely Sussex words.  I pilfered these from a dictionary of Sussex dialect published in 1875 by W. D. Parish, the Vicar Of Selmeston.  But then these aren’t the late vicar’s property; they belong to all Sussex folk to keep polished and to be taken out for use on the high days of the Sussex calendar, most of which seemed to have involved pudding or going from house to house demanding apples and beer.

Adle. [Ang. Sax., ddl.] Pronounced ardle. Stupid. “He’s an adle-headed fellow.”

Agwain. Going.

Alltsinit, m. [All that’s in it.] Merely.

Ammuts, m. Emmets; ants.

Appleterre.” [Apple and terre, French.] An orchard.

Applety, e. [Apple, and tye an enclosure.] An apple-loft, where the fruit is kept.  This word is used on the borders of Kent, in which county the word tye means an enclosure, whereas in Sussex it means an open common.

Balderdash.* [Probably derived from Ang. Sax., Baldwyrda, a saucy jester. ] Obscene conversation.

Bannick, m. To beat.  “I’ll give him a good bannicking if I catch him.”

Beat the Devil round the Gooseberry-Bush, e. To tell a long rigmarole story without much point.  An old man at Rye said he did not think the new curate was much of a hand in the pulpit, he did beat the devil round the gooseberry-bush so.

Beeskep, e. [Scep, Ang. Sax., a basket.] A beehive, or the straw hackle placed over the hive to protect it.  There is a superstition in the county, that if a piece of black crape is not put round the hive after a death in the family, the bees will die.

Bettermost. Superior; above the average. Generally quali­fied by the word rather.  “The new people who have come to live down at the cottage seem rather bettermost sort of folks.”

Biscuit. In Sussex the words biscuit and cake interchange their usual meaning. A plum biscuit, or a seed biscuit, means a plain cake made of either of these ingredients.

Bishop-Barnaby, e. The lady-bird.  In some parts of Sussex the lady-bird is called the lady-bug; in others, fly-golding, or God Almighty’s cow, by which singular name it is also known in Spanish (Vaca de Dios). The children set the insect on their finger, and sing,—  “Bishop Bishop-Bamabee, Tell me when my wedding shall be ; If it be to-morrow day, Ope your wings and fly away.”

Blackeyed Susan, m. A well pudding, with plums or raisins in it.

Blobtit, m. A tell-tale.

Boffle. A confusion or mistake.  ” If you sends him of a errand he’s purty sure to make a boffle of it.”

Brave, m. [Brave, French.] Well in health.  “How are you, John?” “I’m bravely, thank you.”

Bread-and-Cheese-Friend, e. A true friend as distinguished from a cupboard-lover.  “He’s a regular brencheese friend he is, not like a good many, always after what they can get.”

Bronk, m. A disdainful toss of the head.  “She didn’t choose to see me, so she just gave a bronk and passed on.”

Burnish, *. To grow fat. The expression, “You burnish nicely,” meaning, “You look well,” is frequently used in East Sussex, and is meant as a compliment.

Butter-my-wig, m. A strong asseveration. ” No I wunt; butter my wig if I will!”

Cab.* [Cabaler, French, to plot.] A small number of persons secretly united in the performance of some undertaking.

Carfax. [Carrefourgs, Old French, crossways.] A place where four roads meet, as the Carfax at Horsham.

Catterning. To go catterning is to go round begging for apples and beer for a festival on St. Catherine’s Day, and singing,—

“Cattern’ and Clemen’ be here, here, here, Give us your apples and give us your beer, One for Peter, Two for Paul, Three for him who made us all; Clemen’ was a good man, Cattern’ was his mother; Give us your best, And not your worst, And God will give your soul good rest.”

Clemmening. Going round from house to house asking for apples and beer for St. Clement’s Day. c  (Sussex people need little persuasion to go out asking for apples and beer).

Cocker-up. To spoil; to gloss over with an air of truth.  “You see this here chap of hers he’s cockered-up some story about having to goo away somewheres up into the sheeres; and I tell her she’s no call to be so cluck over it; and for my part I dunno but what I be’ very glad an’t, for he was a chap as was always a cokeing about the cupboards, and cogging her out of a Sunday.”

Cuckoo-fair. Heathfield fair (Heathfield is often called Heffle in Sussex dialect), held on April 14th. The tradi­tion in East Sussex is that an old woman goes to Heathfield fair, and there lets the cuckoo out of a bag.  In Worcestershire the saying is that the cuckoo is never heard before Tenbury fair (April 21st), or after Pershore fair (June 26th).

Cut Your Stick. Be off.  This expression is either simply equivalent to a recom­mendation to prepare a staff in readiness for a journey; or it may be connected with the old way of reckoning by notches or tallies on a stick, and so imply a settlement of accounts before departure.

Find more good old Sussex words and phrases.

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3 Responses to Good Old Sussex Words & Phrases

  1. Pingback: Old Sussex Words And Phrases: Dallop to ‘Dutch Cousins’ | Land of Oak and Iron

  2. Alan Beck says:

    Very interesting. The notch tally was like abacus, I think, maybe for livestock count. I gather Herstmonceaux is ‘hersmncir’. Posted from New Zealand.

  3. Bob Morris says:

    If you live local Herstmonceux is pronounced erkimooe. And I knows tis cos we jus bin talkin bout it tonight. An that’sbout right.

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