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'Emmets' by Julie Hine

As Jarvis Cocker, Britain’s alternative poet laureate and philosopher in chief (OK, lead singer in the band Pulp and all-round good egg) once sang, “everybody hates a tourist.” And you have to admit, he has a point.

Granted, the people who have no right to hate tourists include people who run local businesses, bellhops, taxi drivers, street vendors, branches of local government, ice-cream vendors, coach trip operators… anyone, in fact, who is likely to benefit from the injection of cash into the local economy that tourists tend to bring.

However, everyone else hates them. And with good reason.

They come over here with their cameras and their tans and their biological inability to pronounce local place names correctly and their pearly-white smiles and then block up the pavement – yes I said pavement not sidewalk, you’re not back home in *airquotes* Poughkeepsie now – by stopping and forming themselves into a perfectly-arranged road-block to take pictures of every single member of their family and entourage, one by one, in front of the horse trough by the war memorial, and here am I, carrying two heavy bags of groceries, unable to get past, having to just STAND and WATCH while Stan Junior sulkily flops out of position, to be replaced by Brittina-Marie, a perky tot in a Miley Cyrus T-shirt who clearly loves the camera just as much as the camera loves her, and who demands to be photographed in six or seven different positions – rock star, pole dancer, pole dancing rock star – while the straps in my carrier bags cut off first the circulation, then the skin, then the subcutaneous fat and finally the very fingers themselves from my poor weeping hands and of course I can’t say “excuse me” or “would you mind?” because then you have to have a conversation about what kind of day it is, how fascinating the shops are, and whether there is such a thing as a Taco Bell within a fifty mile radius, like I’d have the first idea what kind of a bell would be made of tacos, so of course I just stand there and sigh and roll my eyes while Stan Senior snaps away and his wife Dilys holds a fluffy toy over his head and shrieks “WATCH THE BIRDY!” at her starry-eyed daughter until her desperate need for constant attention is finally satiated or my thumbs fall off, whichever is first…

In fact, such is the deeply held enmity some rural communities feel towards being invaded in this way (and let’s be clear, some of these rural communities have plush seaside resorts that would collapse into dust without the fresh injection of cash that the tourist industry brings), they have even developed special words for outsiders.

In Cornwall, where I live, there are two. If you move here from somewhere else, you are an incomer (did someone just strike up “Duelling Banjos”? No? Must be mistaken). If you’ve only popped over for a holiday, you’re an emmet.

Aemmette is the Old English word for ant, and you can see how someone with a vinegary eye might look over the influx of new people that arrive in Cornwall every summer and liken them to scurrying insects.

In Devon and Somerset, which is North and East of Cornwall, the term they use instead is grockle.

Now, grockle is a much newer word than emmet, probably mid 20th Century in origin and quite hard to pin down. It’s thought to have been taken from a 1950s comic strip called Jimmy and the Grockle, about a boy and his dragon. Knowing the fierce rivalry that exists between Devon and Cornwall, it may well have been siezed upon as a convenient, nonsensical local alternative to the damning emmet, just because they wanted one of their own.

Of course, once they had the ball, Devon ran with it, and soom came out with various tourist baiting terms: they’d call a hotel a grockle coop, they’d refer to an influx of grockledom to their towns, and even describe the silly souvenir postcards and merchandise that forms the life-blood of the tourism industry as grockle-bait.

Which just goes to show how stroppy and ungrateful it’s possible to be, when you find yourself living somewhere that is beautiful.

Note: None of this applies to you, of course. We love you. You are welcome to come over and visit us any time you like. Bring the family, make a day of it. Just keep an eye out for people with heavy shopping and you’ll be safe as houses…

What British slang shall we do next? Tell us here:

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Filed Under: Fraser's Phrases
By Fraser McAlpine