Tony Crowley’s new Liverpool English Dictionary is a treasure trove for anyone interested in the rich variety of spoken and written language found in this country. I suspect that even the most dyed-in-the-wool Liverpudlian connoisseur of local language is going to come across terms and quotations in the book that they have never encountered before.
As a Glaswegian, I definitely detected an affinity between the way these two great port cities view the world, and reflect it in their language (even down to sharing very similar terms: browsing through the book again this morning, I came across ‘Mrs woman: a general term for a woman’, which brought instantly to mind ‘Missus Wummin’, a phrase I remember hearing as a child in anecdotes where the speaker didn’t know, or couldn’t be bothered to recall, the name of the woman in question).
The book is full of words I’ve never heard before: ‘conny-onny: condensed milk […] conny-onny butties are the stuff of legend; generations of Liverpool schoolchildren where allegedly brought up on them’; ‘bum-droops: condition attributed to person long in the trunk and short in the legs’; ‘jigger-rabbit: a stray cat’. There are also words which are familiar but take on distinctive usages in Liverpool: so ‘to leg it’ (run away) takes on an unexpected transitive use (to chase): ‘The conductor jumped out and started legging us down the road’.
As his aim is to record the language of Liverpool past and present, Tony doesn’t shy away from offensive terms – racist, sexist, sectarian – and signals their abusiveness when he does so. Given his city’s history, it’s probably unsurprising that terms of abuse have not been in short supply. Of the city’s role in shaping its language, Tony says:
What happened to language in Liverpool is what happens in any location that has enormous population growth which is mostly constituted by immigrants. Which is that a new dialect is produced over generations by the contact between large numbers of people speaking different forms of the same language, and different languages, with their own vocabularies, idioms, grammars and modes of pronunciation. In the case of Liverpool […] this new form – Liverpool English – was forged from the bitter, impoverished and often conflictual reality that lay beneath the town’s gilded surface.
Listen to the interview to hear about Tony’s own background and how he compiled the dictionary. We also discuss whether Scouse is dying or spreading. The Liverpool English Dictionary is published by Liverpool University Press. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, ‘der’s beer fer dogs’ means there’s plenty of drink to go around. As in: ‘Let’s ave a do at are ouse; dur’s beer fer dogs’.