Forest Dialect by Dr Michelle Straw

Forest Dialect since the 1800s

Dr Michelle Straw

Meeting of 13 September 2018

Dr Straw’s research is part of the HLF funded Forester’s Forest programme; she wants to trace the Forest Dialect and its features as far back as possible, perhaps to Anglo-Saxon times. A copy of the Old Gloucestershire ballad George Riddler’s Oven was found in Speech House in the 1700s; so the dialect must be older than this. In the mid-1800s there were already publications on dialect. In 1891 J Drummond Robertson sent out 331 leaflets to the Forest clergy asking them to help with his dialect research. Before this the words were rarely written down and varied from village to village, so according to our audience Mr Robertson was not always right! This is why it’s so important to have local knowledge.

The Victorians were responsible for both recognising the dialect and starting to eradicate it – with the Universal Education Act of 1870 all 5 to 12 year olds were in education. Received pronunciation was taught and pupils were told regional dialects were wrong.

As well as through education, young women travelling out of the area and working in smart houses would lose their dialect. Unfortunately, it was generally the women who passed on the way they spoke to the children – another reason why the dialect starts to die out. The men working together down the pit developed and passed on local words. Dialect words tend to reflect life – so around here many are to do with mining and nature.

Speech also evolves (we would still be speaking Anglo-Saxon if not!) and much is passed on through word of mouth. Poetry and story-telling are vital. In the 1600s a lot of West Country people moved to America and there are still areas in the States where they sound Gloucester!

Examples of Forest dialect include:

Bannut – walnut

Mooch – blackberry / to pick blackberries (then became ‘to truant’)

Hoosuck – hacking cough

Butty – mate

Nub – small piece of coal / small person

Briz – gadfly

Humbuz – cockchafer beetle

Dumbledore or Dumbley Dory – bumblebee

Buzzcock or neddy – donkey

Maggot – magpie

Equaw – woodpecker

Cooten / noaf / nogsman / ninny-hammer – stupid person

Typical of ‘Varest’ is that inanimate objects become he or she. ‘d’ replaces ‘th’ (and sometimes ‘t’) so we heard ‘dramway’ on a recording. ‘v’, ‘zh’ or ‘v’ replaces ‘s’, ‘sh’ or ‘f’ - so we get ‘zummer’. ‘I’ replaces ‘ee’ – which gives us our local fields of ‘ship’.

Dr Straw is researching and recording the Forest dialect before we lose it.

Do please get in touch with her if you would like to be involved. She is using a lot of early recordings held by Dean Heritage Centre and is after people to help on the project and with information on the people recorded and local knowledge. Many of the recordings recall school days, maybe you have pictures of Forest schools in the late 1800s and early 1900s to go with them? CS

Chair: Claire Scales 01594 836191

Find out more on

23 November – Volunteering Workshop Day at Dean Heritage Centre – to help work with the recordings and pass on local knowledge

Contact Dr Michelle Straw: 07815507495