Dialects are interesting tools for thinking about ourselves — what we treasure and keep and why, like beloved family recipes; what we don't want or need and throw away, like so many mouldy leftovers.
The notion of "dialect" — from an ancient Greek word meaning "discourse" — can tell you as much about a people as a place.
According to the classic Encyclopaedia Britannica, dialects are "varieties of a language distinguished from one another by features of their sound systems, word and sentence formation, or vocabulary." There are two main types of dialects: those distinguished by geographic location and those by social factors, such as class, educational levels or occupational groups.
Simple variations in word choices are only part of distinguishing dialects but they're an easily digestible starting point. For instance, people in England call a roast — as in roast beef or lamb — a joint. Likewise, what we call French fries or, more simply, fries are known to the English as chips, something we seamlessly adopted in the context of that very English working class fare from 1860s London — fish 'n' chips.
The clarion call in America to rename French fries "freedom fries" after the 9-11 terrorist attacks and France's fiery opposition to what most of the world now agrees was a totally misguided strategy — the U.S. invasion of Iraq — is a perfect example of the cultural reflexivity of vocabulary.
Lately, social media has had a huge impact, often a diminishing one, on how we name and talk about things, not only food. Springboarding off of the overused "foodie" — something I've written about often due to its abuse and misuse — two University of Toronto professors parsed this very idea of social media and food discourse in their 2009 book, Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape.
Of course, most of these ideas can be extrapolated to just about anything in our world, but it's the idea of disappearing words that caught my attention while reading David Crystal's recent release, The Disappearing Dictionary.
Sub-titled "A Treasury of Lost English Dialect Words", this wondrous book jumps off from Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary, a six-volume work of love with an amazing 117,500 entries that took 23 years to compile and seven years to publish, starting in 1898. Talk about taking the long view — as antithetical to a Tweet as we could imagine and something all the more wondrous given it was pre-computer.
In terms of language and thinking, The Disappearing Dictionary is an oasis of contemplation and celebration — of Mr. Wright's work in general; of the many English dialects in Britain; of how many other words there are to talk about something that we simply never use.
It all makes me wonder about what disappears before our noses that we're not aware of until we're ready to see it.
In the name of enriching your personal drop-down menu for your own discourse about food and drink beyond the very limiting "foodism" and all things "foodie," here are a few tidbits from The Disappearing Dictionary.
To start, I love "blawp" from Scotland. This is both a noun and a verb that means belch or burp. Mr. Crystal explains that it's a contracted form of "blow up" with the open Scots vowel shown by the "aw" spelling. What enchants me about it, and so many of the words from dialects, is its onomatopoeical quality — it sounds exactly like it means. So I expect to hear you all blawping away next time you come over for a bowl of our famous chili along with a good beer.
Along similar onomatopoeical lines is "blodder." This little gem hails from Westmorland in North West England and is used to describe the flow of liquid out of a vessel with a narrow opening, such as a beer or wine bottle. The usage example gives you an inkling of its sound and context: "It's o'bloddered away oot o' t'bottle." But here we'd more likely say something like, "Quit bloddering my beer like that," next time our host or server pours too fast. Lord knows that the frothy head is never right when beer is bloddered.
Next time you're up in Pemberton at a strawberry U-pick farm, you'll no doubt come across some "scrigs," and you can pretty much tell what's meant from just the way it sounds: The small fruit left after a crop is gathered. Related words with similar meaning are "scriggins" and "scriggle," the latter an undersized apple left in a tree as worthless.
You can easily incorporate this one at your next tasting at Bearfoot Bistro: "Shupernacular" meant superior or excellent in Shropshire and was used to describe any liquor of a fine quality.
To "slench" means to hunt about privately with a view to stealing food, much like your cat or dog does. It was used in a number of counties across England. I'm all for resurrecting it far and wide, and not just when your best friend is slenching around the dinner table for anything that falls to the floor.
A "mulligrubs" is a stomachache; to "mumple" is to seem like you're going to vomit. To "granch" or "graunch" is to eat noisily or grind your teeth, and "frowsty" is something musty or ill-smelling.
After all this, I hope you're not feeling havey-cavey (meaning precariously balanced). Instead, you might have your own mullings, and maybe even some unique disappearances or creations to add.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist whose havage has some words of our own.