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Originally published 2018
Or how to practice for the Norwich 10k, if you’re familiar with the Norfolk accent.
Having moved here from the midlands, I can confidently say that the Norfolk accent and dialect is a pretty unique one. A friend of mine got married at Hautbois Hall in 2016, and I honestly didn’t know it was pronounced ‘Hobbis’ until about a week ago (although I do think that the moniker they gave their best men – ‘the hot boys of Hautbois’ is still particularly ingenious). Since then I have also learnt how to pronounce more localities: Costessey is said ‘cossy’, Happisburgh is ‘haze-bruh’, Wymondham is ‘wind-ham’, and Postwick is actually ‘pozzick’.
Norfolk – on a limb on the east of England – is a place that by its very geography has been heavily influenced by a long history of European settlers, which perhaps accounts for its unique linguistic identity. Travel around the county and you’ll likely encounter one of many ‘hams’ – Dereham, Stalham, Sheringham, Waxham and so on. Around the coast you’ll find ‘tons’: Morston, Bacton and Winterton.
Going back all the way to about 450AD, and for settlers arriving by the North Sea, ‘ham‘ meant ‘home’. In Sheringham’s case, the town’s name is derived from being the home (ham) of the ing (or ‘people of”) of Scira. So altogether the town’s name means ‘the village of Scira’s people’.
Back to Norfolk’s ‘ton’ villages and from the same settlers, ton comes from their word ‘tun’, which meant ‘homestead’. Winterton was the village where local people lived in the winter, and you’ll find Somerton just down the road.
Since then, Norfolk’s vocabulary and accent has been influenced by Danish Vikings, the French Normans, The Romany from India and the Dutch Strangers. In fact, by 1579, 37% of Norwich’s 16,236 inhabitants were native speakers of Dutch or French! The Dutch influence can still be seen very clearly here in Norwich, where we have Plains instead of Squares; a legacy from the Dutch ‘plein’. You can find Bank Plain, St Andrews Plain and Brazen Plain, to name a few.
Not only is the Norfolk accent one of a kind, but there is also a vocabulary here that you won’t hear anywhere else. Here’s a brief list of some other Norfolk-isms.
‘Ass rainen – “it seems to be drizzling outside”
Bishybarnybee – A ladybird, would you believe. Comes from ‘Bishop Bonner’s bee’. Bishop Bonner, from Dereham, was an infamous burner of protestant martyrs during the reign of Queen Mary.
Dickey – A donkey! The original word for this majestic creature was ‘ass’, but changes in the English language made the pronunciation of this word dangerously close to the word ‘arse’. This led to a whole load of euphemisms being used instead, most of them derived from men’s names: Donkey comes from Duncan; in Scotland a Cuddy comes from Cuthbert; you might have heard Neddy which comes from Edward, and of course Dickey is from Richard.
Dodman – a snail. Nobody’s quite sure why.
Gret – great. “Thass a gret ole lobsta yew’re get there bor!”, or “my, what a big lobster that is Sir”.
Sosh – ‘On the sosh’ means not straight. People here also say ‘on the huh’ for the same thing – that was pretty baffling the first time I heard it.
Norfolk is a truly wonderful place, with an eclectic history that has made it the place it is today. You can find out more about the mysterious Strangers who arrived here in the 16th century, at Strangers’ Hall on Norwich’s Charing Cross, and The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell is a fantastic place to visit if you’re interested in how ‘Norridge’ came to be; it’s been recently refurbished so there’s loads of interactive exhibits to get involved with.
Or if you fancy going out and about and discovering Norfolk for yourself, you could take a trip to beautiful market town Wymondham, where you can visit their amazing Abbey for free, or head up to the north of the county to Burnham Overy-Staithe; a beautiful winding village by the sea, complete with pubs and a wintery walk down to the beach.