More Dido lingo

19th-century whalers processing whale blubber

In “Croopus! A Dido Twite Lexicon” I listed some of Dido’s colourful language in the Wolves Chronicles, some of it genuine — variously Cockney and from other parts of Britain — and some of it Joan Aiken’s own invention (which, oddly enough, often seemed perfectly genuine). There undoubtedly were the inevitable omissions and, as further novels in the series are read, there’ll naturally be additions. Here’s the first of what will probably be part of an ongoing exercise (expect more addenda as time goes by) listing terms used by Dido in Night Birds on Nantucket.

Dido’s Dictionary of Phrase and Lingo: addendum 9/2016


Cor, love a lily-white duck: amplified version of Lord, love a duck. [possibly Cockney, dating from the 19th century; I like to think it could be derived from Sir John Lubbock, Lord Avebury (1834-1913) who instituted Bank Holidays in Britain in the 1870s: Lord love us > Lord Lubbock > Lord love-a-duck]


Blue-devilled: bored.
Goshswoggle: empty-headed person. [perhaps related to swaggle, to sway or stagger as a drunken man, once common from Cumberland to Warwickshire and Suffolk, a compound of ‘sway’ and ‘waggle’; Crystal]
Hawkersniff: idiot.
Jobberknoll: idiot. [jobbernowl is a dialect term from Scotland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Suffolk and Devon meaning a dunce, dolt or blockhead, possibly from French jobard ‘fool’ and Anglo-Saxon noll ‘head’; Crystal]
Sapskull: a stupid person. [Webster’s Dictionary 1913]
* Dido clearly has a wide vocabulary to express opprobrium of individuals


I ain’t bamming you: I’m not deceiving you. [perhaps from early 18th-century ‘bamboozle’ or its variation ‘bamfoozle’, common in Cornwall, Somerset and Yorkshire; Crystal]
Queer in the attic: utterly foolish.

And now a few terms from the pages of Night Birds that might flummox the casual reader: williwaw is a sudden blast of wind descending from a mountainous coast to the sea, such as might be encountered by a whaler off South America; the game called pachisi that Dido plays aboard the Sarah Casket is a pastime from the Indian subcontinent, ancestor of the once popular modern board game Ludo; and a terremoto is an earthquake, literally the land in movement.

  • David Crystal is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Bangor and a prolific writer of the history and development of English. In this post I’ve profited from some of the entries in The Disappearing Dictionary: a treasury of lost English dialect words (Macmillan 2015 and Pan Books 2016).

15 thoughts on “More Dido lingo

    1. Cheers, Dale!

      With regard to CrickLit, I was singing in a concert yesterday so unable to steward, but today it’s a talk by academic Helen Taylor on Gone With the Wind and its female fans (‘Scarlett’s Women’), and tomorrow Robert Penn on all the things that can be and over the millennia have been made from ash wood. I may well do a post reporting on the week afterwards …

      Liked by 1 person

      1. earthbalm

        Sorry, I’m dim. The ash of wood or the wood of ash? Ash is a fine wood for solid body guitars, I have an 80s Ibanez made from it and it has great sustain. Enjoy the talk and please let me know some of the content.


  1. Excellent. There has recently been much talk on radio 4 of Roald Dahl’s additions to the lexicon. I think you’ve made a good case for Joan Aiken here.


    1. Yes, Aiken’s neologistic achievements, in the Wolves Chronicles especially, seem more sustained because spread over a longer time period while employing a conscious effort to sustain continuity.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love them. It is, as you say, hard to tell which are made up and which come from genuine dialect. The beauty of them is that one can sense the meaning from the construction, though maybe not the williwaw.

    Fun to launch on the same tack nautically. Walking rudderbust? Flapbrained? Uncleated thought? Reefedthink? Swampedwallow?


      1. They are out of the hop of my ted! Were you bacon tin?
        Spoonerisms are easier than rhyming slang — it is hard to find latter ones as good as Adam and Eve where the sense can be sensed even if not sensed before.


        1. Spoonerisms are both easier and harder, I think, as ideally they need to give the illusion of sense when they’re nothing of the sort! Even better are poetic misconstructions like ‘blunder and frightening’ for bad weather …


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