Boats in Penzance harbor, Cornwall (Photo: Milangonda/AP Images)
Boats in Penzance harbor, Cornwall (Photo: Milangonda/AP Images)
Boats in Penzance harbor, Cornwall (Photo: Milangonda/AP Images)

Cornwall is a place in which the English language is subject to a number of warping influences. That’s partly to do with the lasting twist of the Cornish language. Once thought to have died out, it has been the subject of a fierce revival in recent years, bringing fresh perspective to local slang terms that long ago made the jump over to English-speaking mouths.

Then there’s the local accent, a most vowelly affair—half slur and half sneer—that has its own rhythm and poetry. And that’s before you factor in the natural Cornish instinct towards warm welcomes, honest appraisals and withering scorn. All of these things give extra meanings to familiar words and create words that are not used elsewhere in the U.K., and with good reason.

Here are 20 of the most commonly used examples:

Dreckly
On the surface of it, this means the same as directly. But in the context of finding out when someone is about to arrive at an appointment, deliver something, or complete an urgent task, it also means the same as “When I am good and ready” with an undercurrent of “Don’t worry, I’m on it” and a hint of “Stop tapping your wrist, we don’t do things this fast around here.”

Essentially dreckly is the Cornish version of mañana.

My ‘ansum
An affectionate greeting that is generally used for men but not exclusively, and based loosely on the English term my handsome, but lacking the all-important noun.

My bird
An affectionate greeting that is generally used for women but not exclusively. It is a noun, but it’s used differently from the sexist British slang term birds in that there’s a feeling that this is someone you cherish, not disparage.

My lover
An affectionate greeting that is unisex, but not an incitement to actual sex. Use it the way you might use dearie, and you’ll be fine.

Emmet
An emmet is a tourist, the kind of tourist who walks slowly down the middle of any available pavement, looking up at the sky or out at the scenery. Or drives down the A30, Cornwall’s main road, dragging a slow caravan and a furious traffic jam behind them, even in famously laidback Cornwall. It’s a very hospitable place, Cornwall, but don’t get in the way, alright?

Incomer
Someone who is from up-country (parts of the U.K. that are not Cornwall) or abroad.

Wasson?
A contraction of “What is going on?” that is often used as a greeting in conjuction with “my ‘ansum” or “my bird.”

Shag
Used as a noun, usually to your face, this is a term of endearment and not an instruction.

Tuss
A word with its roots in the old Cornish language, it’s thought to have some connection to male genitals, but has come to be used as a more general term of contempt. If you are called a tuss, either the person addressing you really doesn’t like you, or they’re so sure of your friendship that they’re using it affectionately.

Dearovim / Dearover
Contractions of “dear of him” or “dear of her,” these terms are used in the same way as you might say “bless their heart” at the end of a story in which someone has done something admirable or cute. Or as a way of expressing sympathy for someone undergoing a rough time.

Teasy
Also spelled teazy, this is thought to derive from the Cornish word tesek meaning hot-tempered or irritable, and that’s exactly what it still means. Most commonly used to refer to a grumpy child—”come on, you’re only teasy ‘cos you’re tired”—when applied to an adult it effectively calls them out for being both tetchy and a big kid.

Rich
This is a new meaning that has nothing to do with either wealth or luxury. Rich means lovely, beautiful or hugely endearing. So a newborn cousin or a friend’s new puppy might be called rich.

Geek
Another word derived from Cornish, in this instance gyki, which means to quickly look over. So you might hear someone say they’re off to take a geek at something. This does not mean they’re offering a nerd-delivery service.

Bleddy
An extremely Cornish way of pronouncing bloody, as in bloody hell. Used more as punctuation or a point of colorful emphasis in a sentence than for a wish to express anger.

Scat
Nothing to do with bodily matters, scat means to knock down in quite an aggressive manner. If you hear someone wants to scat you down, leave.

Jumping
Not an expression of happiness, although confusingly people do still jump for joy in Cornwall. But if you meet someone looking disgruntled, and they say they’re jumping, especially if they’re really obviously not physically jumping, it means they’re really angry. The good news is this is most often heard in the past tense, as in: “When she said that to me, I didn’t know where to look, I was jumping!”

Hanging
Nothing to do with hooks or gravity, if someone Cornish describes your dinner, your new haircut or your personal odor as hanging, it means they think your food is gross, your haircut is an abomination and you smell like a wet dog rolling in a cow field.

Diddy?
Nothing to do with any American rappers, this is a contraction of “Did he?” and is used to mean either “Is that true?” “Did you?” or “Did he?”

There’s also diddah? which means essentially the same thing.

Issuh?
See diddy?

Proper
A confirmation of quality. Proper is most commonly associated with job to form proper job, which is used to refer to anything that is done well. Your new car is proper job just as much as a very tasty meal made for you by a loved one or an item of work that has been performed properly. Very flexible with their slang, the Cornish.

Sources: Matador, Huffington Post, Clare’s Cornwall Pages.

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By Fraser McAlpine