Do you know your apple-catchers from your tittamatorter? Take a crash course in the UK’s local languages

With experts warning that regional accents could disappear within decades, our sometimes quaint and, often, bizarre dialect words are becoming ever-more precious.

For such a small island, the UK contains a wealth of diversity. From the geological foundations up, the architecture of the houses we live in, the plants we can grow, the food that we eat and the words that we use are all affected by the area we live in. Some of these things, such as the rocks and the soil beneath our feet, remain largely unchanged, yet others such as language are constantly evolving.

Experts have warned that regional accents — an instant way of recognising ‘our people’ — are becoming homogenised to the extent that they may disappear altogether. Northern accents in particular, according to researchers from the Universities of Portsmouth and Cambridge, are at risk of giving way to southern pronunciations and may be a thing of the past in the next 40 years or so.

Similarly, regional dialect words can fall from use as the things they describe — perhaps ploughing fields with a horse or the medicinal use of plants — fade in our memories. Yet these words, from the charming to the amusing and the downright rude, contain a valuable potted history of our isles that should be treasured and kept alive. Here are just a few that surely deserve a place in the modern lexicon.


Apple-catchers (Herefordshire)

Big knickers. The opposite of a G-string. Somewhere you could also stash a few pieces of fruit, if the occasion called for it.

Bange (East Anglia)

A certain lingering dampness in the air. The type of weather that tricks you into leaving your coat at home, then soaks you to your underwear.

Beat the Devil round the gooseberry bush (Sussex)

To tell a long, rambling and very probably anti-climactic story. If you don’t know anyone who does this, it’s likely that they can’t get a word in, thanks to your own proclivity for pestering Satan.

Blaefummery (Scotland)

Utter nonsense. For example: ‘This article is a load of blaefummery.’

Cag-mag (Lincolnshire)

Cheap and nasty cuts of meat. Originally an 18th-century term for a tough old bird (a goose, rather than your Aunt Phyllis). Can now be taken to mean anything a bit rubbish.

Clish-ma-claver (Scotland)

A good old gossip. The more idle, the better.

Coopy down (South-West)

To crouch down on one’s heels, resulting in a fair imitation of a hen laying an egg in its coop.

Cuddy-wifter (Scotland/North)

A person of the left-handed persuasion. If we take the Scots definition of ‘cuddy’ as meaning donkey, this can be translated roughly as ‘donkey-wafter’.

Daggy (North-East)

Scruffy and dirty, resembling the unsightly dags hanging from a sheep’s bottom.

Dardledumdue (East Anglia)

Quite simply, a daydreamer. The perfect word for a blissful state of being.

Dew-bit (Dorset)

A pre-breakfast snack or meal, preferably taken outdoors amid the early-morning dew. Was there ever a more poetic way to explain away the munchies?

Doxy (Cornwall)

The object of one’s affections. Possibly not one to use in a Valentine’s card, due to its 16th-century implication of promiscuity.

Emmet (Cornwall)

A tourist. Thanks to its other definition of ‘ant’, the Cornish locals use this word to describe the summer influx of inept surfers swarming all over their county.

Fernticles (Northern Ireland)

Freckles. From the Middle English farntik-ylle, meaning ‘resembling the seed of a fern’. Almost sickeningly sweet.

Forkin robbins (East Riding of Yorkshire)

An earwig, rather than a brand of ice cream. The fork makes sense (little forked bottom, Latin name of Forficula auricularia), but heaven only knows what those East York-shire earwigs have been doing to the local robin population.

Garyboy (East Anglia)

A fairly recent concept — think 1990s — meaning someone who drives a fast car with loud music blaring. May go some way to explaining the distinct lack of baby Garys in recent years.

Gobslotch (Yorkshire)

A greedy and probably lazy individual. If ever an insult needed reviving, it is this one.

God Almighty’s cow (Dorset)

A ladybird. Defies explanation, as they are quite clearly far too small to milk.

Griggling (Wiltshire)

Knocking down the ‘griggles’ — the runty, inferior apples — from the trees after the good fruit has been gathered. This is a Wilt-shire tongue-twister in the making: ‘The boys wiggled and they giggled as they griggled all day long.’

Hookem-snivey (South-West)

A wonderfully Victorian term for trickery or deceit — monkey business, if you will — as in Devon-educated author Eden Phillpotts’s Miser’s Money of 1920: ‘No man plays hookem-snivey with me twice.’

Leather (North-West)

A thorough spanking. Presumably involving leather. Let’s leave that one there.

Mardy (Midlands/North)

Petulant or sullen, especially when relating to a child. Can be used as a particularly fine insult: ‘mardy-bum’ or ‘mardy-arse’.

Moldwarp (Scotland/North)

A mole. Derives from the Middle English moldwerp, meaning ‘earth thrower’.

Neb (Midlands)

To nose about. The literal definition is a bird’s beak — from the Old Norse nef — making it a cunningly subtle way of accusing someone of sticky beaking.

Niddy-noddy (Lancashire)

An April Fool. ‘Noddy’ generally has been a nod to the fool as far back as the 16th century. For example: ‘This person who is driving in front of me at a steady 12mph yet still brakes whenever they see a corner is a real noddy.’

Nuddle (Suffolk/East Anglia)

To walk quickly with your head down — an old word that would adequately describe most teenagers walking and consulting their mobile phones simultaneously.

Off-comed ’un (Yorkshire)

Someone not from the area. Hopefully, you should be able to shake off this tag about 500 years after your family has moved to the village.

Plodge (Northumberland/Scotland)

To wade through or splash about in water or mud. A jolly fun thing to do, until you pass the age of 10.

Polliwog (South-East)

A tadpole. Translates roughly as ‘wiggling head’, which is evocatively accurate, if ever so slightly repulsive.

Quilt (Liverpool)

A Scouser’s take on a wimp or ‘wet blanket’.

Ram-stam (North/Scotland)

Headstrong or reckless. Variations on the theme abound: ramstamphish, ramtamlat, ram-tambling — take your pick.

Shrammed (South)

Somewhat to incredibly cold — or ‘brass monkeys’, to reference an old Navy phrase.

Skopadiddle (Yorkshire)

A cheeky or mischievous youth. Far more socially acceptable than some of the commonly used alternatives.

Slammakin (Devon)

An untidily dressed woman. Essentially, the majority of relatively recent mothers and/or remote workers.

Snicket (North-West)

The passageway between two houses. Amazon drivers, take note: ‘Left in the snicket’ is infinitely more charming than ‘Dumped behind (or, in particularly unfortunate circumstances, in) the bins’.

Tittamatorter (East Anglia)

A see-saw, although you can see that ‘Tittamatorter, Marjorie Daw’ was unlikely to catch on.