Of Dialects and Dwarves

I have been fascinated by dialects and accents ever since a young age. I am originally from Birmingham, England, where I’m known as a Brummy / Brummie, so derived from Brummagem, one of the variants of the name Birmingham throughout history. Ozzy Osbourne is perhaps the most famous Brummie and still retains his original accent. I also spent some years of my youth living in a small village in Italy, its local dialect widely different from general Italian.

Although Birmingham is at the heart of the region known as the West Midlands, non-locals often mistakenly refer to all Midlands accents and dialects as Brummie. To the west of Birmingham lies a region called the Black Country. Some think the name originally came from its heavy industrialization during the 1800’s with foundries, coal mines, glassworks, brickworks and steel mills heavily polluting the local area with soot and smoke. Others think the origin of the name refers to a 30ft thick coal seam that ran close to the surface across the area.


Incidentally, one of the local forges and chain makers, Hingley & Sons in Netherton, made the anchors for both the legendary Titanic and its sister ship the Lusitania.


Most towns and villages have their own particular variation of the Black Country dialect, rooted in archaic early modern English and Middle English, even going so far as to still use the words ‘thou’, ‘thee’ and ‘thy’. Brummies call Black Country folk ‘Yam Yams’, so-called due to the phrase ‘Yow am’ – meaning ‘You are’. Brummies bristle at being called ‘Yam Yams’, and Black Country people hate being referred to as Brummies.

Derelict old houses, factories, and foundries are still being replaced to this day, but the Black Country Museum, in Dudley – or Duddlay in local speak – retains many examples of old architecture from around the region.


The Black Country flag, shown below, was designed based upon a quote from Elihu Burrit, who was an American consul in the 1860s. In referring to the Black Country, he described it as ‘black by day and red by night’ – the black of the pollution and the red of the glowing furnaces and steelworks. The chain alludes to the famous chain works, the white cone in the center a brick cone chimney from a glass works.


Some Black Country Phrases

Ar – Yes
Ay – Haven’t
Ayt – Eat
Backerds – Backwards
Bai – Am not, as in ‘I bai gooin’ – ‘I’m not going’
Bist – Are, as in ‘How bist?’ – ‘How are you?’
Bisn’t – Aren’t, the opposite of bist
Bonce – Head
Bonk – Bank or small hill
Bostin – Very good or great as in ‘We ‘ad a bostin time’ – ‘We had a great time’
Caggy or Caghanded – Left-handed or clumsy
Cag-mag – Bad or rotting meat
Catlick – Quick wash
Chuffed – Pleased or happy
Clarnet – Idiot / fool
Clammed – Hungry
Cocka / Cocker – Mate / Friend
Coot – Coat
Darecent – Dare not
Donny – hand
Fairce – Face
Fun – Found
Fust – First
Gamgee – Cotton wool
Gob – Mouth or spit
Ivver-ovver – Hesitate
Jack squalin’ time – Early morning or very late night
Joobus – Dubious / Suspicious
Kaylied – Drunk
Lamp / Lampin’ – To beat / hit
Lezzer – Meadow
Loff – Laugh
Mon – Man
Nairun – None / not one
Nuss – Nurse
Ockerd – Awkward
Odge – As in ‘Odge up’ – ‘Move up’
‘Ommer – Hammer
Ooman – Woman
Opple – Apple
Oss – Horse
Ow – How
Owamya – How are you?
Pail – Beat as in ‘Gave ‘im a pailin’
Riffy – Dirty
‘Safta – This afternoon
Sate – Seat
Shek – Shake
Sanp – Food taken to work for lunch
Spake – Speak
Suck or Swaites – Sweets / Candy
Swilker – Splash or Spill
Taters – Potatoes
Tek – Take
Twethree – A few /Several
Thaten – That one
Thissen – This one
Thrape – Thrash / Beat
Tranklements – Bits and Pieces / Small Possessions
Tunky – Fat pig
Wammel – Mongrel dog
Wench – Girl
Wik – Week
Woa – Won’t
Yow – You

So, why the dialects and dwarves in the title? Yesterday in The Writers’ Block, I was having a conversation with @damianjayclay about various accents around England – he’s also English and recognizes my (I think at least) soft Brummie accent. He sounds much like the Southern softy he is – sorry Damian, love you really.

Damian suggested a story title, The Dwarves Under the Bonk. If you read the list above you’ll already know that bonk isn’t an adult activity in this context, but a bank or small hill. This set my brain into gear thinking up a story whereby the title characters speak with a Black Country accent and dialect.

While I think it would work, I would have to be careful not to overwhelm the reader with too many words that they can’t understand. Sure, I could use a glossary, like the list above, but really, who wants to have to keep referring to one? Often I have read fantasy books with a glossary and rarely consulted it. I need to have the characters speak in a common tongue with just enough dialect thrown in. Having another character act as a translator would be tedious.

I’ll leave you this video of comedians speaking about the Black Country dialects and accents.

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