Old Devonshire Dialect


Torquay, Devon in 1811.

Snippets 80. In the mid 18th Century Mary Palmer wrote Devonshire Dialect, a work of fiction that is highly significant from an historical perspective as it offers such a valuable insight into the language of the county at the time. Her grandson had part of the text published in 1837, to which was attached his own Glossary of Devonshire Words, which he compiled while staying in the area for health reasons. He offers the disclaimer that the glossary represents only the language of the “northern parts of the county, and will probably be found defective in many particulars.” It is my experience that authors of the time were modest to a fault. The following is an abridged selection of some of the most interesting dialect words from the second half of the alphabet (to see a selection from the first half, please take a look at Snippets 70). Anyone with knowledge of any of these surviving today is most welcome to make use of the comments section.

“Nan!” – What did you say?

“Nestle-draft” – the last and weakest child of a family.

“Newsing” – the common phrase for gossiping.

“Niff, niffy or take niff” – to take offence at trifles, be huffy.

“Oonty” – empty.

“Pame” – a Christening blanket.

“Paper-skull’d” – silly, superficial.

“Parwhobble” – to talk continuously, so as to engross the conversation.

“Pindy” – musty.

“Pisper” – to make mischief by whispering secrets.

“Pottle-bellied” – big-bellied

“Presents” – white spots on the fingernails, which are supposed to augur some approaching good fortune.

“Querk” – to grunt, to moan from pain.

“Roile” an abusive female.

“Rumple” – a large debt collected by little and little.

“Scat” – a passing shower.

“Scrunch or Scrumpee” – to crush with the teeth any harsh brittle substance, as unripe fruit.

“Shug” – menacing.

“Siss” – a huge fat woman.

“Slin-pole” – a simpleton.

“Steeved” – stiffened, as e.g. ‘steeved with cold’.

“Stuerdly” – thrifty, housewifely.

“Sweethearting” – courting, gallanting.

“Thicklisted” – short-breathed.

“Tittle-goose” – a foolish blab.

“Tossy-tail” – topsy turvy.

“Vustin-fume” – a bursting fume or great rage.

“Wanged” – tired.

“Zidle-mouth” – with a mouth all on one side; an ugly fellow.

“Zogging” – dozing.

Some terms mentions have fallen into common English usage, such as “quandary”, “ragamuffin” “shirk” and “spick and span”.

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One Response to Old Devonshire Dialect

  1. Great post. Very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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