Sunday, March 24, 2013

Am I, or amn't I confused?

Grandson gives Granddaughter a little rock in her rocking chair / car seat. All together now: aaaahhhh. Yes, she does appear to be dressed, seasonally, as a rabbit.

What a lot of interesting comments on my last post.

I’m Scottish and have lived all my life in Edinburgh. Here, as in (I imagine) most areas, there are quite a lot of dialect words that we use or are at least very familiar with. I might write about some of these in another post; and on the whole, we’re aware that they are Scots words. But sometimes I’m not sure whether our use of what seem like normal English words has a particularly Scottish twist or not – such as my use of “I can reach it fine” the other day. (In that case, it seems not.)

I know that “fine well” is a bit Scottish … or at least, I think it is – as in “I know fine well that you broke the vase” or “I knew fine well that I should have brought it, but I forgot”. There’s a derogatory tone – a suggestion that I might be supposed not to know, but I do - and trouble may ensue.

“Squint” is another word that I discovered relatively recently isn't used (is it?) in England to mean “crooked”. Here, pictures can be squint; teeth can be squint, or noses, or handwriting. (Also eyes, but I think this is also true in Standard English. Or is it used only as a noun or verb? “a squint” or “to squint”?)

And I don’t think English people say “amn’t”. I can’t think why, since it’s jolly useful: “I amn’t sure if I can be there on time”. All right, we could (and sometimes do) say “I’m not sure if I can be there on time”. It’s probably more common in the question form: “Amn’t I lucky / right / clever / taller than you etc ?” I suppose we can be formal and say “Am I not lucky?”, but it seems to me that this throws emphasis on the “not”. I think – correct me if I’m wrong - an English person would tend to use “Aren’t I lucky?”

I’m interested that Australians use “fortnight” (though not Americans - or Canadians?) and that only English service stations actually say “jackets” instead of “jacket potatoes”. Actually, now I think of it, I could believe that in my youth, we may also have said “jacket potatoes” – not that we ever actually ate such things very much so it didn’t arise. (I can't imagine why we didn't eat them. We didn't have a very varied choice of vegetables in 50s Britain but we did have potatoes. I'd have been delighted to get a nice baked potato with cheese.) I wonder if the term “baked potatoes” is the American form and has come here from over the water?

In 1970 I spent some time in America and remember hearing the expression "a tad". I'd never heard it before and had to work out the meaning from context. Now it's common here, though I don't think I use it much. Does it mean something different from "a bit" or "a little"? Is it smaller?


  1. Just browsing around and looked in from Potter Jotter! Dialect has always been second nature to me being Yorkshire born and bred! My son had fun at college in Lancs where they apparently didn't understand much of the time...his favourite is 'cop hod' as in get a hold of this!!! Lovely to meet you.

  2. Scroll down for a New Yorker's recent use of this construction

  3. I am English and have never come across " amnt". I remember having trouble with some words when we lived briefly ( 4 years ) in Morpeth, having moved from The Midlands. We would call a small crusty round lump of bread a " cob" but not heard of in the NE! Can't recall what they did call it though....and " stottie bread" was totally new, and very nice with ham and pease pudding ( another foodstuff I had never come across) As for the geordie dialect...that was something else.... It It is my favourite now!

  4. We use a tad here in Ni to mean a bit/little. I must go back and see what caused this fascinating linguistic debate!

  5. I'm also rather interested in the actual practice of eating baked/jacket potatoes, and your saying that you didn't much when you were a child. We tended to have them as kids as a really special treat, specifically on Guy Fawkes night (- do you do GF Night in Scotland; it's terribly anti-Catholic and not very nice really, in Lewes in Sussex they still burn an effigy of the Pope. And as it was James VI/I who was the target it might be a bit of a bone of contention for Scots...)

    Anyway, the JP/BPs were baked in the oven but I suppose originally they were baked in the embers of the bonfire. Initially we didn't eat the skins, which again was probably a carry-over from when they were blackened from the fire, but then we discovered how good the skins were and ate the lot. But my dad never did, so my sister and I used to fight over eating his potato skins. My mum used to quote a little rhyme that went

    'Dearly beloved brethren, is it not a sin
    When you peel potatoes, to throw away the skin?'

    I've googled it but no one seems to know quite where it came from.

    As I say, it's still not really a popular way to eat potatoes here in France; there's something of the notion that one is eating animal food, as with sweetcorn. But we did go to quite a posh restaurant up on the coast once that was serving them, so perhaps that will change.

  6. Ahhh, those babies are just toooo darn cute -- you must be having a grand time with them!

    How fun it's been to read your discussion and then comments about dialect. I'd never heard the term Amn't. We would say "Aren't I lucky", but we wouldn't say "I are lucky", so why is that? We would say "I am lucky". Amn't now seems to make so much more sense.

    And I don't know that I'd ever really paid attention to the term woobie. I've certainly heard it, although, we would never use that term for our babies' blankies. It must be a think like pacifiers. Everyone uses a different term for them.

    The other term that I've always smiled at is jumper. For us, it's a type of dress, similar maybe to what you might call a pinafore? Certainly not a sweater!

  7. Tad is used to mean just a tiny bit more. You'll hear it more in the south than in other regions.

  8. 1. Never heard of "fine well" - in the US it's "good and well".

    2. Here (US), "squint" is what you do with your eyes when you're trying to read something without your glasses. We never use it to mean "crooked", we just say "crooked".

    3. The only person who would say "amn't" is one who's got a good sense of humor and likes to play with words. We all do it, but it's not proper.

    4. We never say "fortnight" here - I'm always confused if that means four nights, or forty nights, or four months of nights.

    5. The only time you'll hear the word "jacket" in the US is if you're talking about a light overcoat or the packaging of an LP or CD (as in "dust jacket"). Baked potatoes are assumed to have the skin on, so we don't mention it.

  9. "Tad" - I have always taken this to mean a smidgeon's worth - but used in an affectionate manner. eg "a tad late". Not used to describe an object.

    Love the toys in the background - so homely and familiar!

  10. I always thought "tad" was scottish! Don't know why, it's in common use in Australia / NZ, I'm quite disturbed that it's an americanism. It normally means just a little bit, but my husband's name is Brad, so when he offers me more wine I say "just a tad, Brad!" which means keep on pouring :)

  11. I love these discussions you initiate from time to time on your blog, regarding the variations in the English language from country to country, even town to town in the case of the UK!
    I often use 'tad' in my conversations..."I was a tad annoyed at his comment" (just a bit peeved off, lol)
    My English sister in law had never heard of knot rolls before she came to Australia and when she pointed to one and asked what it was called, the salesgirl said "Knot Roll". Robbie said "well, if it's not a roll what is it?" and was shocked when the salesgirl got cross with her, thinking she was just being smart!

  12. I think "fine well" must be Scottish - I have never heard anyone use that expression before in real life, although I have heard it on Scottish dramas on the TV :)