Croopus! A Dido Twite Lexicon

Young Joan Aiken (photo: http://joanaiken.com/pages/gallery.html)
Young Joan Aiken (photo: http://joanaiken.com/pages/gallery.html)

Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962) has already achieved recognition as a modern children’s classic, and quite rightly too. It spawned a dozen or more sequels, all set in an alternate history universe (“uchronia”) in a world a little like ours but with some alternative geography (“utopia”). The majority of them feature that wonderful Cockney sparrow Dido Twite, though she didn’t appear till the second volume, Black Hearts in Battersea, only to seemingly drown.

I started taking notes on the sequence in 2012, fifty years after the first story appeared, but never got round to reviewing all the titles. In preparation for a re-read I intend to publish some of those notes on this blog in the hopes they may be of interest to diehard fans as well as to new readers yet to fall under Aiken’s spell. This first occasional post is about Dido’s colourful lexicon, and here I acknowledge the influence of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (this first appeared in 1870, though my edition dates from the 1980s) and The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (re-issued in facsimile in 1994). Here it is then:

Dido’s Dictionary of Phrase and Lingo

Dido’s vocabulary is made up of cockney terms (she is a Londoner, after all), thieves’ cant and her own idiosyncratic words and phrases. This list is not exhaustive, though it can be exhausting read all in one go. It’s very tempting to resurrect some of the more obscure slang words and oaths, is it not?

Exclamations
Blimey! Also Blister! / Blister it! or Blow me! Oaths.
Butter my brogans!
Croopus! Also Crumbs! or Crumpet! / Crumpet it! More oaths.
Fish-guts!
Holy Peggotty!
In the name of jugganaut! Also Jeeminy!
Slumguzzle to you!
Tough turkey!
Who/why the pize! What the devil!
Why in the name of Morpus…!

Lingo
Addlepate: numbskull, addlehead.
All rug: Alright, Okay.
Banbury / Bunbury sauce / story: fib, cock & bull tale. [perhaps like cheek (“sauce”) from a “Banbury man” or Puritan bigot Brewer]
Bosky: drunk. [“on the verge of drunkenness” Brewer]
Cagged: preoccupied.
Cove: bloke, fellow. [thieves’ cant]
Cully: term of endearment. Cull: “a man, honest or otherwise”. [cant: 1811 Dictionary]
Downy: untrustworthy. [Downy cove: “a knowing or cunning fellow up to or, as formerly, down to every dodge” Brewer. Down: “aware of a thing. Knowing it” 1811 Dictionary]
Frampold: wretched.
Fubsy: strange, odd. [Fub or fob:”connected with Ger. foppen, to hoax” Brewer]
Gull: an innocent, a nodcock. [“Elizabethan synonym for one who is easily duped” Brewer; “a simple credulous fellow, easily cheated” 1811 Dictionary]
Hack: hackney carriage, carriage for hire. [from O. Fr. Haquenée, “ambling horse” Brewer]
Half-seas-over: blind drunk.
Havey-cavey cove: suspicious fellow. [havy cavy: “wavering, doubtful, shilly shally” 1811 Dictionary]
Ken: kennel, hovel. [cant]
Lay: plan.
Loblolly: coward, scaredy-cat. [loblolley: “water gruel prescribed for the sick” 1811 Dictionary]
Looby: idiot. [“An awkward, ignorant fellow” 1811 Dictionary]
Mill-ken: rogue. [to mill: “to rob”; to mill a ken: “to rob a house” 1811 Dictionary]
Mint-sauce: money, cash.
Mortallious: annoyed.
Mux: confuse.
Nabble-head: idiot, gull.
Naffy: lovely.
Nodcock: an innocent.
Peach: grass, inform on. [“blow the gab, squeak, or turn stag” 1811 Dictionary]
Peevy: untrustworthy.
Prog: food. [“used in the 16th century for to forage for food” Brewer; “provision; be on the hunt for provision” 1811 Dictionary]
Quod: jail.
Rabshackle: a dibble-dabble fellow.
Scrobble: kidnap.
Sharp-set: hungry.
Skimble-skamble: underhand. [“rambling, worthless” Brewer]
Twig: divine, guess. [“to observe” 1811 Dictionary; Irish tuigim, “I understand” Brewer]

Phrases
“As crooked as a pair of croquet hoops”: bent, corrupted
“Can’t tell an egg from an Austrian”: can’t tell one’s arse from one’s elbow
“Don’t fret your fur”: don’t worry
“Ducats to dumplings”: as like as not
“Lob your groats”: vomit, be sick
“Right, left and rat’s ramble”: everywhere
“Turpentine Sunday”: never, rarely, once in a blue moon

* * * * *

Acknowledgements: thanks to mini-reviews of the Wolves Chronicles by Lory Widmer Hess at http://emeraldcitybookreview.com for the inspiration to revisit the world of Dido, her family and friends.

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20 thoughts on “Croopus! A Dido Twite Lexicon

  1. Thanks, Chris, for the list, as well as for the resources. My fave: “can’t tell an egg from an Austrian.” Dido’s (i.e., Aiken’s) linguistic play never ceases to make me laugh.
    For anyone without analog access to your sources, the 1811 Dictionary is available online at Project Gutenberg, and Brewer’s Dictionary (probably 1952 edition) at Internet Archive. Reading for a dark and stormy night?

    1. I love Aiken’s wordplay, Lizzie, the snatches of verse she incorporates in her stories, her ability to make the commonplace magical and the extraordinary somehow to be expected. Glad you found the list useful!

      I’m still tronking through my reading challenge, but I’m hopeful I’ll fit in something seasonally spooky, perhaps Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber for The Emerald City Book Review.

  2. What a great list! Fantastic. I remember ‘peach’ from Oliver Twist, I think and know a few more from Horrible Histories sketches! Lovely phrases, though the dialogue must be pretty hard to read with too much of this sprinkled in a conversation.

    1. Hard to read? Surprisingly not, Lynn, as the import of each word or phrase is easy to guess at from the context. A lot of the vocabulary is enjoyable in a Roald Dahl-ish sort of way, the nonsense punctuating the derring-do, scrobbling, and fun and games.

      1. Sounds interesting. I really should read more of her books – I read Midnight is a Place as a kid and loved it. Not sure why I never got round to reading The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Too many good books to read …

    1. Yes indeed, Lory, we must celebrate difference in cases like this! What I find interesting about Dido’s slang is that it stems largely from ‘unconscious naivety’ (to adapt a phrase from Dodie Smith) — there are no airs or graces in her speech, in her attitudes — and that unlike most slang, street talk or in-group argot it’s not excluding: you get the import of what she’s saying even if you don’t recognise the words. That honest inclusiveness of hers is what for me makes her such a sympathetic character, a real unpolished gem whom we instinctively root for. Genuinely one of the great literary creations though surprisingly underrated.

      There’s plenty more where that came from, you’ll be pleased to know!

  3. earthbalm

    Great posting. I’m currently be-sotted with Joan Aiken’s “Wolves of Willoughby Chase” sequence. The character Dido Twite has to be one of the best realised in children’s literature.

    1. Glad you’re part of an ever growing legion of fans! I’m planning 2016 as a reread of many of my favourite novel sequences, and the Wolves/Dido Twite chronicles will definitely be one of them. Wirh reviews of course!

      1. earthbalm

        I’ll look out for them and will read them with interest. I have the Brewster’s dictionary but will be getting the “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” as a result of reading the post. Cheers,
        Dale

          1. earthbalm

            Thanks for the link. I have the Gutenberg download already thanks – I just love ‘real’ books and would like a physical copy. I’ll go straight to your review!
            🙂

  4. Hello there…rather late to the party, but here’s another (now rather racy sounding) Dido-ism that has crossed over to Mrs Jones – an Aiken Mrs Malaprop who holds forth unstoppably in the Arabel and Mortimer books – see this quote – https://twitter.com/hashtag/readingchildrensbooksonmydayoff?src=hash

    and I came across a Neil Gaiman reference to characters getting ‘scrobbled’ which he uses and credits to reading John Masefield – definitely one of Joan’s favourite authors…

    plus it has now taken on an internet use of its own, wonder if its ‘inventor’ was a Dido fan?

    1. I’d forgotten (if I’d ever consciously clocked it in the first place) that Masefield used ‘scrobbled’ in The Box of Delights, or maybe it was The Midnight Folk. It’s wonderful the labyrinthine byways through which obscure words or phrases pass on their way to common usage, whoever originated them! I shall forever associate the word with Dido, though, Lizza!

      As for the malapropism, I’d missed that in the ‘1811 Dictionary’ — what larks!

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