The only way is Essex: A is for…arsy-varsy

Like many of my readers, I cannot resist a good rummage around an antique or junk shop. My recent foraging uncovered an excellent book, which I just have to share with you.  An Essex Dialect Dictionary  is a dictionary of the dialect of early twentieth century Essex, and was written in 1923 by Edward Gepp – the then retired vicar of High Easter (a small very rural village in North-West Essex – a few miles from Great Dunmow).

The blurb on the front is a delicious description of folk living in north Essex in the 1920s. I’m not sure that Mr Gepp would be able to call the folk of Essex “peasants” today and live to tell the tale!

An Essex Dialect Dictionary by Edward Gepp
A very valuable contribution to dialectical lexicography, the result of seventeen years’ continuous work amongst the Essex peasantry.  Incidentally it throws much interesting light on rustic life, character and humour.  Essex singularly remote as it is from railways and main-roads, is a peculiarly favourable county for the observation and collection of uncontaminated folk-speech and folk-lore and Mr Gepp has devoted endless toil and special knowledge to the compilation of his work.

Although only an honourary Essex girl – I was born in Surrey and raised in Gloucestershire but have spent my adult life in Essex – many of the words and terms in the dictionary I recognise from my own childhood within rural Surrey/Gloucestershire.  Gepp’s examples of how the words were used in local Essex speech are somewhat curious and show the type of terms still in use in rural Essex at the beginning of the last century.

Do you recognise any of this small sample of words and terms – all of which begin with “A”?

AGIN: against – “I hain’t got nothin’ agin ye” “she live agin the pump” “have ut ready agin I come back

AHUH: awry/crooked – “Them there post-es is all ahuh

ALARMING: used as a verb – “She goo on stuff’n ‘larm’n

AN: if – “There’s t’ many ifs an’ ans

ANDRER: a buffon  (a dialect abbreviation of merry-andrew).  An old woman asked why she did not dress in white replied “Why, I should look like a andrer

ANGLE: vaguely, a locality, direction “A knowed ’twas somewhere about that angle

ARGAFY: to argue “That don’t argafy” (i.e. it cannot be argued); “I can’t stand argufying here about charity

ARSY-VARSY: upside down “The estate of that flourishing towne was turned arsie varsie

ASK: to publish banns of marriage.  When the banns have been published three times the parties are said to be out-asked.

High EasterThe village of High Easter in the early twentieth century

High EasterGepps Close in High Easter village

I look forward to bringing you more terms from this fascinating book about Essex country-life.


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You may also be interested in the following
– The dialect of Tudor Essex
– Great Dunmow’s Tudor dialect
– Reformation wills and religious bequests

© Essex Voices Past 2014.

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