BACK in the ‘80s, Colin Fairweather and I recorded long interviews with Islanders, then in their 80s, talking about their childhood and early working lives.

One subject that often came up was the ‘Isle of Wight dialect’.

William Cassell was a farm labourer who lived in Hulverstone all his life.

He told us: “We always used to say ‘Shorrel’ for Shorwell, ‘Whittle’ for Whitwell, and ‘Nippert’ for Newport.

“Most country people did. Some of the older ones in my time used to say things that I didn’t understand.

“I used to have to ask me father what they meant. T’was a language on its own, really.

“We used to say such things as ‘cold s’marnin you, I warr’nt it’, and we said ‘gurt’ – never said, ‘great’, and ‘skidderways’ and ‘thirt’ – ‘Go over thirt’ meant go over there.”

Fred Long told us: “Yeah, some of those old fellers what we used to work with used to speak it, but you could understand it.

“There’s no words in the Isle of Wight dialect that I don’t know ­— I knows the meaning of nearly all of ‘em.”

We asked Fred about the word ‘harled.’

He said: “Well, you get’s harled up, don’t you? If you got in copse, got in a lot of brambles ­— hung up.

“Where are you? In here ­— bloody well harled up!”

We asked Fred if the shop girls in town would understand people who spoke dialect when they came to buy something.

“Well, she did they days ­— ‘cause she wan’t much better than them.

“But I don’t know whether they would now or not.

“I gets cussed sometimes ­— I beg your pardon? ­— when I goes to the shops, although, I suppose I talks broad to what some people do.”

We also asked Fred about local sayings.

He said: “It looks a bit bright over Will’s mother’s.

“Yeah, used that thousands of times.

“Well, you tell me where Will’s mother is ­— I been trying to find out all me life.

“A heifer or summat-or-other would get out, you’d chase it a mile, and then lose it and the old chap’d say, ‘Have you found it?’


“Where the hell is it then?

“I dunno ­— the last I see of it, it was going right away to Will’s mother’s somewhere.”

Some older readers will know the phrase ‘a whim wham for a goose’s bridle’.

Fred said: ‘Well, ‘What are you making?’, kids’d ask you.

“Oh, a whim wham for a goose’s bridle.

“You always poked a kid off with some yarn.”

In 1886, W.H. Long published his Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect ­— a book much quoted from to this day.

Cliff Mathews, well known timber merchant, had a wide knowledge of the dialect.

According to Cliff, when we recorded him, Long’s dictionary was not 100 per cent accurate.

“The dialect was already gone in the town when I was a child, but in the country it lingered on,” said Cliff.

“There was a cowman at the nunnery at Whitcombe back in the ‘60s who spoke as near to the Isle of Wight dialect as anyone I’ve ever heard.

“You could almost imagine he was reading from Long’s book, but he wasn’t so awkward with the pronunciation as Long has written it.

“I think there were a lot of words that were never really pronounced like Long says, although some were.

You’ll often see an ‘h’ in front of an ‘r’ in the Isle of Wight dialect, ‘hrun’, for example, instead of ‘run’.

“I remember when those ‘h’s were in front of words.

“The cowman would have pronounced it, ‘hrun’.

“Over on the next farm here, Herbie Dennis used a lot of dialect words and he would put that ‘h’ in front of the ‘r.’

“The nunnery cowman would have had difficulties being understood if he had gone into shops in Newport to buy something.

“The girls would probably have gone and got some older woman and said, ‘Here, can you tell me what this man’s saying. I can’t understand him’.

“If we had anyone else in the office when he was talking to me they wouldn’t have known what he was saying.

“My uncle Charlie used a lot of the dialect words.

“He would say, ‘Wants a bit of wood, Cliff, only a mote’. And so I knew he only wanted a little piece.

“They often used ‘v’s for ‘f’s, ‘vrom’ instead of ‘from’ and, of course, they always used ‘z’s for ‘s’ like ‘Zatterday.’

“Arthur Cheek would come in to my woodyard.

“Here, Cliff, I wants some of they wol zaws.

“Now, if he didn’t see me and he’d seen my aunt, he’d say, ‘Better tell the guv’nor I wants a bundle of saws, Mrs Matthews’.

“Instead of ‘old woman’ he would say, ‘wol doman’.

“I put a roof on a building years ago and when we got it done, Herbie says to his brother Leslie, ‘Well there y’are, Les. What you wants to do now is find yourself some wol doman and get yourself married and live in there’.

“That was normal conversation.

“The reason I say I feel Long is not always right is because if you try and read it out, you can’t comfortably pronounce his words.

“In 200 years time, anyone who picks up W.H. Long’s book thinking that’s the Isle of Wight dialect will be sadly mistaken.”