Notes on Notes Arise: A Note on Browne's List of Norfolk Provincialisms

Based on a note in the 1846 Wilkin edition of the Complete Works

The admirable Miss Gurney, whom we have already seen in the notes to the tract On Languages, an unidentified Mr. Black of the British Museum, and the Rev. W. Forby* in his Vocabulary of East Anglia supplied Wilkin with the following notes on Browne’s list of provincialisms:

Bawnd: swollen. Not in present use; at least, not known to be so. Isl. bon, tumidus. (Forby)

Bunny: a common word for a rabbit, especially among children (Black) — A small swelling caused by a fall or blow. Perhaps a diminutive of bump. One would be glad to derive it from the Greek βουνος, a hillock. It may be so through the Gothic. (Forby)1

Thurck: appears to mean dark, if it be the same as in the Promptorium Parvulorum Clericorum. (MS. Harl. 221):2 — Therke or dyrk, tenebrosus, caliginosus; terknesse or derknesse. (Black) — Dark. So say Hickes and Ray; may have been for ought we can say to the contrary. (Forby)

Enemmis: Qu. et neanmoins? (Gurney) — I will not say that this is the old word anempst for anenst (anent in modern Scottish), about, concerning; because I know not its proper collocation. (Black) — Of very obscure and doubtful meaning, like most of Sir Thomas Browne's words. Hickes says it means lest (ne forte), and he derives it from Isl. einema, an adv. of exclusion, as he says. It may mean, notwithstanding, N. Fr. nemis. Or it may be an adjective, signifying variable, as emmis is in L. Sc., which Jam. derives from Isl. ymiss, varius. But as the word is quite extinct, it is impossible to decide upon its meaning, when it was in use. (Forby) — The word is not extinct, but still used in Norfolk in the sense of lest: though its usual sound would rather lead us to spell it enammons.

Sammodithee: Samod o’ thi; the like of that. (Gurney) — Sammodithee is an old oath or asseveration, sá mót I thé, so may I thrive. “Als mote I the” is common in ancient English, and “So the ik” in Chaucer. See Tyrwhitt’s and other Glossaries, in v. The, which is the A.S. dean, to thrive. (Black) — This uncouth cluster of little words (for such it is) is recorded by Sir Thomas Browne as current in his time. It is now totally extinct. … Dr. Hickes has taken the liberty of changing it to sammoditha, and interprets it, "Sayme how dost thou"; in pure Saxon "sæg me hu dest thu". “Say me,” for “tell me,” is in use to this day in some counties. It is in the dialect of Sedgmoor. Ray adduces, as a sort of parallel to this jumble of words, one which he says was common in his time: muchgooditte, “much good do it thee.” (Forby)

Mawther: the same as the vulgar mawkes, a wench. (Black) — A Girl. Tusser uses it. So does B. Johnson: “You talk like a foolish mauther,” says Restive to Dame Pliant, in the Alchemist. It seems peculiarly an East Anglian word. So at least it was considered by Sir Henry Spelman. It is highly amusing to find so grave an antiquary endeavouring earnestly, and at no inconsiderable length, to vindicate the honour of his mother-tongue; and to rescue this important word from the contempt with which some, as it seems, through their ignorance, were disposed to treat it. “Quod rident cæteri Angli,” says he, “vocis nescientes probitatem.” He assures us that it was applied by our very early ancestors, even to the noble virgins who were selected to sing the praises of heroes. They were called scald-moers, q.d. singing mauthers! “En quantum in spretâ jam voces antiquæ gloriæ!” He complains that the old word moer had been corrupted to mother, and so confounded with a very different word. We distinguish them very effectually by pronunciation.… Dan. moer. Belg. modde, innupta puella. (Forby)

Kedge: I should rather think is the “Kygge or Joly, Jocundus, Hillaris”, of Prompt. than “cadge, to carry”, of Wilbr. Appendix3. (Black) — Brisk, active. This is Sir Thomas Browne’s spelling. We pronounce it kidge, and apply it exclusively, or nearly so, to hale and cheerful old persons. In Ray, the word CADGE has the same meaning. It is by mere change of vowels cadge, kedge, kidge. Dan kaud, lascivus. Lowland Scotch kedgie and caigie. (Forby)

Seele: is this our sell, haysell, or seel time? (Gurney) — Take these from Prompt.sele, horsys harneys, arquillus.” “Selle, stoddying howse cella.” “Sylle of an howse. Silla Solma.” I cannot offer any thing else. ([the ever-helpful] Black) — Seal, time, season. Hay-seal, wheat-seal, barley-seal, are the respective seasons of mowing or sowing those products of the earth. But it goes as low as hours. Of an idle and dissipated fellow, we say that he “keeps bad seals,” of poachers, that they are out at all seals of the night; of a sober, regular, industrious man, that he attends to his business at all seals, or that “he keeps good seals and meals”. Sir Thomas Browne spells it seele; but we seem to come nearer to the Saxon sæl, opportunitas. (Forby)

Straft: Iratus, irâ exclamans, vox in agro Norf. usitata. Hickes derivat ab Is. straffa, objurgere, corripere, increpare. L. Junuis Etymol. I cannot find the passage on a cursory examination of Hickes in his little Dict. Islandicum. In the 2nd vol. of the Thesaur. p. 89, Hickes gives “Straff, gannitus,” but the usual meaning is punishment, and this is the meaning given by Biorn Halderson. (Gurney) — I will adduce a word from Wachter’s German Glossary.Straff, rigidus, durus, astrictus, severus.” (Black) — A scolding bout; an angry strife of tongues. Isl. straffa, iratus. (Forby)

Clever: perhaps some unusual meaning of our present adj. unless the first vowel should be pronounced long. (Black) — Dextrous, adroit; Ray says, neat, elegant: in either sense it is so very common and general, and appears so to have been for so many years, that it seems difficult to conceive how Sir Thomas Browne should have been struck with it as a provincialism, and still more, how Ray, long afterwards, should have let it pass as such without remark. If not when Sir Thomas wrote his tract, certainly long before the second edition of Ray, S.E.C.4, published by the author, it had been used by Butler, L’Estrange, and South. In L’Estrange, indeed, it might be positively provincial; in Butler low, ludicrous or even burlesque; in South too familiar and undignified for the pulpit; but in neither provincial. But what shall we say of Addison, who had also used it? In Todd’s Johnson it is said to be low, and scarcely ever used but in burlesque, and in conversation. A colloquial and familiar term it certain is; but assuredly not provincial, nor even low. Sir Thomas Browne is the only guarantee of its insertion here.5 And if it must be ours, let it by all means be taken with our own rustic pronunciation, claver. (Forby) — My friend Mr. Black’s suggestion,— that there is some unusual meaning attached in Norwich, to the word, which justifies its insertion among provincialisms,— is correct. The poor in this county, speaking of any one who is kind and liberal towards them, say very commonly, “He is a claver gentleman!” “Twas a claver thing he did for us!” “He always behave very claver to the poor.” — Moor says that it means handsome, good-looking;— e.g., a clever horse, a clever gal (girl). [This last, from the pointing, must assuredly be Wilkin.]

Matchly: perhaps may mean proportionately, or corresponding. (Black) — Exactly alike, fitting nicely. Another of Sir Thomas Browne’s words, happily explained by modern pronunciation, mackly. A.S. maka, par. (Forby)

Dere: dire, sad. But it is Old English. Chaucer has it, and Shakespeare, in “Love’s Labour Lost”: “Deaf’d with the clamour of their own dear groans.” Dr. Johnson observes that dear is for dere. And yet the words “own dear” may seem to come very nearly to the sense of the adjective φιλος in Homer; φιλον ητορ, φιλον ομμα, φιλα γουνατα. It is a sense of close and particular endearment, in which certainly we often use those two words, in speaking of any thing we particularly cherish, as our beloved kindred or friends, or, as in Homer, the limbs or organs of our bodies. (Forby)

Nicked: cheated; as yet among the vulgar. I think to have seen (in Wachter) nicken, obstinate. (Black) — Exactly hit; in the very nick; at the precise point. Another of Sir Thomas Browne’s words, at which one cannot but marvel. The very same authorities are produced by Johnson, for the verb nick in this sense, as for the adjective CLEVER;— Those of Butler, L’Estrange, and South. It is not possible to conceive that the word had at that time any other sense in which it might be considered as a provincial word.6 Ray explains it thus: Nickled, beaten down and intricately entangled, as growing corn or grass by rain and wind. Might not this be the word meant by Sir Thomas Browne, and imperfectly heard? (Forby) — Both these are wrong; the following is the correct explanation: To nick is to notch the under part of a horse’s tail, to make it stand out or erect. An instance occurs in the Monthly Mag. for 1812, part I, p. 28, in the memoir of John Fransham; who, when at Norwich, could not bear “the cruel practices there carried on of cropping, nicking, and docking horses.” I transcribe this from a more recent communication from Mr. Black. But that a Norfolk man (Mr. Forby) should have been ignorant of the meaning of so common a provincialism, seems singular.

Stingy: with a soft g, commonly means parsimonious. (Black) — This is its commonly received sense. Its provincial acceptation is given by Forby: 1. Cross, ill-humoured; 2. Churlish, biting, as applied to the state of the air. It was most probably in one or in both these senses in which Sir Thomas Browne remarked it as provincial. He must surely have been acquainted with it in its commonly current sense. That, indeed, seems to be perverted from another word, of very different origin. This of ours, in both its senses, is very clearly from A.S. stinge, aculeus. (Forby) — Moor remarks that “in bees the propensity to hoard and resent is proverbial”; here the two principal meanings of the word stingy equally apply.7

Noneare: Lye thus explains this word between brackets, marking it as an addition of his own to Junius’s Etymol. Angl. [Modò—vox Norf. etiamnum in usu, ab Isl. nunoer idem significante, ut monet Hickesius L.] I cannot find it in Hickes. Nor is the compound word nunoer in Biorn Halderson’s Ice. Dict. but it is, in fact, now-near, anon. (Gurney) — Not til now. So says Ray. But we know nothing of the word whatever. Sir Thomas Browne might. Isl. nunoer, modo. (Forby)

Feft: Prompt, feffyd, feofatus; but not likely to be the right word. (Black) — to persuade, or endeavour to persuade, says Ray in pref. to N. C. W.8 Yet he adds that in his own county, Essex, it meant, to “put off wares”; but that he was to seek for an etymon. So are we. But it is of no importance. It is one of Sir Thomas Browne’s words become obsolete. (Forby)9

Thepes: or rather thapes. Gooseberries. I cannot find any word resembling this as a fruit; but Tap in Danish is the uvula of the throat. V. FAPES. (Forby)

Gosgood: A vulgar London word for a gooseberry is goosgog. (Black) — Yeast. Ray says, that in his time, it was in use also in Kent. But he does not say, nor is it possible to conceive, how it is entitled to so exalted an interpretation as he bestows upon it—God’s Good! A meaning much more suitable and seemly, and surely not improbable, may be conjectured. It may have had its origin from A.S. gos, anser. In Norfolk, if not in every part of East Anglia, yeast dumplings have been immemorially associated with a roasted goose; and when properly soaked in the natural gravy of the fowl, are of a very delicious savour to a true East Anglian palate. In this sense yeast may be said to be good with goose, and called goose-good, or in the most ancient form, gos-good. But the word is now utterly extinct. The taste remains. (Forby)

Kamp: May, perhaps, be the game of foot-ball, from these words in Prompt.Camper, or player at foot-ball,” also “camping.” I suppose so named by reason of the space required for this game. (Black)

Sibrit: or Sibberet; means the banns of marriage; “sibberidge” in Wilbr. and “sybrede banna” in Prompt. (Black) — It is one of Sir Thomas Browne’s words, and in full use at this day. It is explained by Hickes, A.S. syb, cognatio, and byrht, manifestus, q.d. a public announcing or proclamation of an intended affinity. This is unquestionably preferable to the unfounded notion, that the word is corrupted from “Si quis sciverit,” the supposed first words of the publication of banns in the Roman Latin service. (Forby) — This word has been derived from sib, said to mean akin; and to imply, that by banns the parties have a right to become akin, that is, sib-right. Some say it is rib-right, the right to take a rib. Ray has this proverb: As much sibb’d as sieve and riddle that grew in the same wood. p. 225. And he says that “sibb’d means akin, and that in Suffolk the banns of matrimony are called sibberidge,” which is correct; though sibirit be most common. Both are in extensive use. Sib is also Scottish. It occurs twice in the sense of relationship in Scottish colloquialism in Guy Mannering, ii. 183, 219. It occurs also in the Antiquary, iii, 75; — “By the religion of our holy church they are ower sibb thegither.” Again, “They may be brought to think themselves sae sibb as on Christian law will permit them wedlock.” I do not find, however, that sibrit or sibridge is Scottish. (Moor)

Fangast: A marriageable maid. The word is not now known, and is, therefore, given with Ray’s interpretation and etymon. A.S. fangan, capere, and gast, amor.10

Sap: sapy, foolish: perhaps only sappy, ill pronounced. (Gurney) — Mr. Forby was unacquainted with the meaning suggested by Miss Gurney, and in which I have often heard the word used.—a silly fellow is called a sap; he is also termed sapy or sappy. The comparison intended is possibly to the sap in timber, which is of little value, and soon becomes unsound and useless.

Cothish: is likely to be an adj. from this noun in Prompt.cothe, or swowning, sincopa.” (Black) — Cothish, cothy, adj. faint, sickly, ailing. There can surely be no doubt of the identity of these words: the former is Sir Thomas Browne’s the latter the modern form. Yet in the pref. to R.N.C. it is interpreted morose, without a word of explanation or proof. It never could have been used in that sense. Its derivation is so very obvious, that it is wonderful it escaped Ray. It is amply justified by modern and very frequent use. A dog is said to be cothy when he is meek and delicte. A.S. cothe, morbus.11 (Forby)

Thokish: thoke, as on-sadde (sad meant firm) fysh, humorosus, insolidus, Prompt. applied to boggy land. (Black) — Slothful, sluggish. This is Ray’s interpretation, and may be right for ought we know. (Forby) — The sense suggested by Mr. Black I believe to be the true one.

Bide-owe: interpreted by Ray (Pr. to N.C.) “poenas dare.” It may be so. It is impossible to assent or gainsay, as it is totally extinct. It is one of Sir Thomas Browne’s words. (Forby) — Let us, in such failure of authorities, hazard a conjecture; that it means “wait a while,” — bide a wee.12

Pax wax: synewe,” Prompt. It is still used dialectically for our pathwax or packwax. (Black) — The strong tendon in the neck of animals. It is a word which has no proper claim to admission here, for it is quite general; yet must be admitted, because it is on Sir Thomas Browne’s list. It must certainly have been in use in his time. And it is very strange he should not have heard it till he came into Norfolk.13 Ray, in the preface to N.C., makes no remark to this effect, but takes this as he finds it with the other words. Yet he had himself used it in his great work on the Creation, and to all appearances as a word well known. He spells it pack-wax, indeed, but that can surely make no difference. He not only gives no derivation, but declines giving one, at the same time declaring his own knowledge of the very extensive, if not general, use of the word. The fact is, that it is not even confined to the English language.14 It is used by Linnæus, somewhere in the Upsal Amoenitates Academicæ. A friend, who undertook the search, has not been able to find the passage; but it is not likely that any thing explanatory would be found. Indeed, it is a sort of crux etymologorum. They, very reasonably, do not care to come near it. And they might all frankly avow, as Ray does, that they “have nothing to say to it.” BR. has fix-fax. (Forby)


* Robert Forby — I do not know where Wilkin gets the "W" — 1759-1825. His The Vocabulary of East Anglia (1830) was reprinted in the 70's of the twentieth century.

1 Good heavens! But cf. bunion and its alleged Italian origin.

2 By Alfridus Anglicus (London: Richard Pynson, 1499). It has been reprinted several times since the early 19th century.

3 Presumably (because I haven't gone and looked) Roger Wilbraham’s An attempt at a glossary of some words used in Cheshire, 2d ed. with considerable additions (London : E. Lumley, 1836), based on a presentation given before the Society of Antiquaries in 1817.
     This might be a good place for me to complain loudly about the inexcusable habit of abbreviating source works without ever giving a full version. Browne himself does it, but the 19th century was absolutely the acme of indecipherable sourcing.

4 John Ray’s A Collection Of Words Not Generally Used, With Their Significations And Original: in two alphabetical catalogues, the one of such as are proper to the northern, the other to the southern countries; the S.E.C. referring to “South and East Countrey Words”. The first edition was published in 1674, the second in 1691.

5 The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say (s.v. clever): “Early history obscure: app. in local and colloquial use long before it became a general literary word. A single example of cliver is known in ME., but the word has not been found again till the 16th c., and it appears not to have been in general use till the close of the 17th, since Sir Thos. Browne specially mentions it as East Anglian, and Ray explains it among his dialect words. Outside Eng., Koolman gives EFris. clüfer (from clifer), clever, skilful, alert, ready, nimble, and klöver, klever is used in same sense at Ribe Stift in Jutland (Molbech). The early example suggests relation to ME. clivers ‘claws, talons, clutches’, in the sense ‘nimble of claws, sharp to seize’, and the 16-17th c. examples (also of cleverly) show it connected with the use of the hands, a notion which still remains in the general sense of adroit, dexterous, having ‘the brain in the hand’. Cf. also cleverus. Clever appears to have come into general use about the time that deliver, formerly used in the sense ‘expert’, became obsolete, but there is no trace of any influence of the one upon the other. The sense-development has analogies with that of nimble, adroit, handy, handsome, nice, neat, clean.” The dictionary gives one example from L’Estrange (1704), but none from Butler or South. Clever is also a variant of claver, to clamber or climb.

6 The word also has the meaning of “deny”, often used with pleonastic “nay”, e.g., “to nick him nay”. This use was very common before the 16th century, but was dying out in Browne’s day (and is presumably dead now, although Scott uses it). It is a fault in logic to deny that a word could have been a regionalism at one point because it was used by literary folk 100 years later.

7 Although explaining the change in both vowel and consonant requires the positing of an unattested (though perfectly plausible) OE (or PrimG) word.

8 North Countrey Words.

9 Mr. Forby seems to have shared one of the more unendearing and more common traits of etymologers, that of dismissing what he cannot explain or fantasize about. We might equally say that none of this is of importance; but then why read the tract at all? Perhaps “feft” is one of the (numerous) local borrowings of “feoff” to mean some special things.

10 The Oxford English Dictionary has this to say about fangast: fawnguest. Obs. [? f. fawn v. + guest. Possibly an etymologizing spelling of some dialect word. Nashe was an East Anglian; can the word be identical with fangast, given by Sir T. Browne without interpretation in his list of words peculiar to that region (Misc. Tr. viii. 146)? Hickes (Ags. Gr. 1689), however, says that in Norfolk a fangast wench meant 'virginem viro jam nunc maturam et virum quasi expetentem'.] a. A fawning parasite, a sycophant, toady. Also attrib. b. One who robs or swindles another under the guise of friendship. 1592 Nashe Strange Newes Wks. B iv/1 Nuntius, a Fawneguest Messenger twixt Maister Bird and Maister Demetrius. 1596 Nashe Saffron Walden T iii/1 He may be a fawn-guest in his intent neuertheles. 1602 Rowlands Greene’s Ghost (1880) 15 There be certaine mates called Fawneguests, who..will..say..a friend of yours..gaue me this bowed sixpence to drinke a quart of wine with you for his sake. 1602 Rowlands Greene’s Ghost, (1880) 15 Such Fawneguests were they, that [etc.].

11 The word cothe or its form coe is used (at least in England) as a name for the disease of sheep commonly called “rot”.

12 Or, what the hell, why not “mortgage” (from byde, a dwelling, and owe, to owe)?

13 Perhaps Browne had had little commerce with sheep before he moved to Norfolk. The word appears also as “fig-fag”, “fix-fax”, “pickwax”, “paxywaxy”, etc. The nuchal ligament, especially in sheep and cattle, where it is rather large and quite strong.

14 German haarwax may be the same formation. Both elements of the coinage (pax or fex and wax) are Germanic.

This page is by James Eason.