Research into the lost dialect and proverbs of Kent
Accent and Pronunciation
For an appreciation of the way that the Kent dialect was spoken it is probably best to turn to the Introduction of Parish and Shaw’s The Dictionary of the Kentish Dialect and Provincialisms in use in the county of Kent, part of which is reproduced below. To preserve formatting the excerpt is displayed as an image, if a larger version is required click on the image to open a pdf file of the text.
Aside from the dictionaries and word collections, probably the best way to get a feel for the pre-industrial Kentish dialect is to read the doggerel poem most commonly known as Dick and Sal at Canterbury Fair, written in the first quarter of the nineteenth century and attributed to John White Masters. This ballad of one hundred 4 line verses describes how Dick and Sal walked to Canterbury and the sights and sounds of the town and fair, written largely in a dialect quite unlike that spoken in modern day Kent. The most commonly available version is contained in Parish & Shaw’s Dictionary of the Kentish Dialect, which I have extracted and made available in this pdf document. This version, published in 1888 is however quite significantly different from the first edition which was called Dick and Sal; or Jack and Joanses Fair and is thought to be a more faithful representation of the Kentish dialect, free from the reinterpretations imposed by the Victorians. It is interesting to study the differences and also to work out the meaning of the dialect words. There are some definitions of the dialect words and phrases used in Dick and Sal available online and in books, but I have been working on a more complete set which I hope to upload soon. Please contact me if you are interested to know more.
There are also a few other works, which incorporate some Kentish dialect, including Dame Hobday, and her grandson, and a whale, And Noah’s flood, and may other things! – A TALE, Edward Nairne, Sandwich, 1791 and Lays and Legends of the Weald of Kent, Lilian Winser, London, 1897.
Proverbs and Sayings
There are many proverbs and sayings that pertain to Kent or which are regarded as particularly Kentish. Many of the books I have listed in the resources contain some of these gems of folk wisdom, but I have picked out a few below which I particularly like.
The first are sayings generally about Kent or Kentish inhabitants.Kent is famed for hops, fair maids and civility
Kentshire, Hot as fire
As great as the devil and the Earl of Kent
Lythe as a lass of Kent
Neither in Kent, nor Christendom
A Knight of Cales*
A Gentleman of Wales
And a Laird of the North Country
A Yeoman of Kent
With his yearly rent
Will buy them up all three
*a man of low fortune made up to a knight by Robert, Earl of Essex so offending Queen Elizabeth I because it made the knighthood common.
Some sayings about towns and villages are very derogatory and probably indicative of local town rivalries.Long, lazy Lewisham. little Lee,
Dirty Deptford, and Greenwich free
Sutton for mutton, Kirby for beef,
South Darenth for gingerbread, and Dartford for a thief
This refers to the fertile meadows along the Darenth Valley and the fair at Dartford.
Starv'em, Rob'em, and Cheat'em
Stroud [Strood], Rochester and Chatham as known to the soldiers and sailors posted there.
He that rides in the hundred of Hoo,
Besides pilfering seamen, will have dirt enoo'
Smoky Charing lies in a hole,
It had but one bell and that was stole
Surly Ashford, proud Wye,
And lousy Kennington lieth hard by
And a variation
Naughty Ashford, surly Wye,
Poor Kenninington hard by
Proud Wingham, wicked Ash, and lazy Sandwich
Get on anyhow, as they do at Rainham
Why, you've only two sticks and a piece of paper, like a Rainham fire
Refer to how poor the people of Rainham were.
From Berwick to Dover, three hundred miles over
From Dover to Dunbar
Meaning from one end of the land to the other.
When its dark in Dover,
'Tis dark all the world over
As sure as there's a dog in Dover
Dover, a Den of thieves.
Dr. Smollett in his 1872 work Smollett's through France and Italy says ''Dover is commonly called a den of thieves",
Deal, Dover, and Harwich,
The devil gave his daughter in marriage;
And, by a codicil of his will.
He added Helveot and The Brill*
*Helveot and The Brill are both sea ports in the Netherlands. This ditty known as the Devils Daughter’s Portion is said to reflect the shameful impositions practised by the inhabitants of those places, on sailors and travellers.(Grose)
Deal Savages, Canterbury Parrots,
Dover Sharks, and Sandwich Carrots.
Ramsgate capons, Peter's lings,
Broadstairs crabs, and Margate kings
Speaks of the various products of the Isle of Thanet
And there is also the great British tendency to try to predict the weather.Folkestone washerwomen
These are the white clouds which commonly bring rain.
Earl Godwin and his court are hungry
An expression used when a storm is blowing up, by the Deal fishermen, referring to the swallowing up of the vessels by the Goodwin Sands, which were supposed to be the property of Earl Godwin, and under which they used to believe he still kept court.
A north-east wind in May
Makes the Shotover man a prey
Shotover are mackerel. There is some dispute whether this proverb refers to the danger of this wind in the Channel at this season for the fishermen (shotover-men), or if the wind is a benefit, bringing the mackerel in towards Dover.
If they blow in April
You’ll have your fill
But if in May
They’ll all go away
An attempt to forecast the potential harvest of cherries
A drip in June
Keeps things in tune
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