Are They Cornish Words?

The Duchy of Cornwall

How Did You Say That?

When I started going to school I discovered that the other children pronounced some of the words we used in a different way. Because of this I began to listen more carefully to the way things were said at home. I'd always thought that the way my parents spoke was the correct one. Now I was confused. My mother, father and grandparents did not even all say some words the same way as each other. Which was right? Who should I copy? I didn't want to be different from the other children but they did say some words in a funny way, and some of the words I spoke they didn't even understand.

One year we were there for this!
One year we were there for this! | Source

English Words

In our family, there were words that came up in conversation, such as 'auction' and 'vase' that were especially noticeable.

Auction: Dad, who was Welsh and Irish but born in Australia, Grandma, who was Cornish, but born here, and Grandpa, who had migrated from Cornwall all said 'awkshn', but Mother, who was second generation Australian, said 'okshn'. Who was right? The children at school said it the same way as my Mother, so I settled for that.

Vase: This one was even trickier. Grandma and Grandpa both said 'vawz.' An American I'd heard speaking on the wireless (between the static) I was sure had said 'vayz'. Dad and Mother said 'vahz' and so did the teacher at school, so that's what I chose to call it, too.

Cornish Kinsfolk (My prize-winning family history)
Cornish Kinsfolk (My prize-winning family history) | Source

That Cornish 'r'

I loved listening to the Cornish burr when my Grandpa spoke, recited whole chapters of the Bible, or sang me funny little songs. It sounded so pretty and just right, but I couldn't copy that, as no on else at home or at school spoke that way. However, as I grew older one of my teachers was Scottish and she sometimes taught us how to speak 'properly.' We did not have to copy her 'r' sound within or at the beginning of words, but we learned to hear the difference between words that ended with an 'r' when the next word began with a vowel, and those that ended with a vowel and the next began with a vowel.

Words ending with an 'r' when the next begins with a vowel: such as 'batter up', 'water over', 'Father in Heaven'. With these phrases we pronounced the 'r.'

Words ending with a vowel when the next begins with a vowel: such as 'law of', 'draw a'. We were told most definitely that we must NOT use an 'r' sound between the two words - and not a glottal stop, either! One vowel must glide gently into the next. A particularly difficult one was 'draw-ing', as many of us said 'drawring'.

St. Piran's Flag (The Cornish Flag)
St. Piran's Flag (The Cornish Flag)

Were they Cornish Words?

I also found that some of the words I used were not understood, so I thought they must have been Cornish words. Some that I remember and still use are:

Tifling: Pronounced 'taifling', which meant a small thread hanging from some clothing, often from a hem or a collar. It's not in the English Dictionary and I don't think there's an English word to replace it.

Trug: The basket that I carry my gardening things around with me. Although this isn't in my Dictionary I did find it on my computer, but it was said to be a word from Sussex. No one in our family had ever been there at that time; it had to be a Cornish word, and probably Celtic. Who knows?

Slooch: Now this one got me into some trouble. A friend was dragging her shoes along the ground and I said, "Don't Slooch, you'll ruin your shoes and your Mum will go mad."

"Don't what? You mean slouch!"

"No, I don't. Slouch is when you bend over at your desk instead of sitting up straight. Slooch is when you don't lift your feet properly when you walk."

"There's no such word!"

"Is so!"

Does anyone else know this one?

Do you find that your family uses words that seem to be special to you and none of your neighbours use?

  • Yes
  • No
See results without voting

Language is Interesting

There are more, but you get the idea.

Now I'm wondering if other people of Cornish descent, and people from other cultures - even to the third generation in their adopted country as I am - find similar problems. It would be interesting. So many words from other cultures have been adopted and adapted into English, which is what helps to make it such a richly varied language. Language is interesting and the way we use it so important in our communication and interaction with each other.

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Venkatachari M profile image

Venkatachari M 5 months ago from Hyderabad, India

This is an intelligent topic. Many words are spelled in different styles by people of different regions. I also find some problems in spelling certain words. I spell them differently and my sons spell differently.

In the above examples, I spell vase as "vayz" and auction as "awkshn". the letter "r' is left silent in many cases, especially when it is at the end.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 5 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

That is interesting. This is a delightful article, thanks

Jodah profile image

Jodah 5 months ago from Queensland Australia

I found this a very interesting and enjoyable hub, Blossom. My family also had a few unique words that only they seemed to use.

suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 5 months ago from Taos, NM

I love words and their origin. Slang terms are fascinating to me also. I have lived in Ohio and New Jersey here in the US and have spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Pennsylvania. Just between those three states there are differences in the words used and their pronunciations. Then there is the Italian side of the family and that whole linguistic lesson. I really like this article and enjoyed reading it. It is fascinating to read of the Cornish words interspersed in your family's lexicon.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

Very interesting my friend. I love articles like this one that actually teach us something about different cultures, so thank you!

MsDora profile image

MsDora 5 months ago from The Caribbean

I've got join the others with "very interesting." I grew up accepting the sounds I heard in the Caribbean. My children suffered the confusion from the additional Texan and other American dialects they heard. We can all identify. Good read!

always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 months ago from Southern Illinois

I also enjoy topics such as this. I do not have any unusual words used by my family, but I've been told many times that a person could tell that I was from Southern Illinois because of a certain ' twang ' lol..

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 5 months ago from USA

Very interesting! Having moved all over the U.S., I've noticed a variety of words, sayings and pronunciations that are specific to. Certain geographies.

BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 5 months ago from Victoria, Australia Author

Venkatachari M: That's true, we do spell some words differently, even within families, and we find in the dictionary that either can be correct, depending on the community where we live, and the same goes for pronunciation.

Ericdierker: So glad you enjoyed it. Thank you.

Jodah: Yes, and the same goes for some of our Aussie words, some seem to be regional and we only hear them in that area.

suzettenaples: Yes, the way we communicate with each other is interesting, and especially the influence of family heritage, even when it comes from some generations back.

billybuc: Thank you! Although the country where we live is home we seem to continue to be influenced by our inherited culture. What we inadvertently bring can be enriching - not sure about those Cornish words - but many are adopted by our new abode.

MsDora: That's true, although these days we often say 'the world is a village', there are so many dialects as well as separate languages, but because of the 'village' aspect our languages and cultures influence each other.

always exploring: So glad you enjoyed it. Yes, the way we say words, or even just the inflection of our voice can place us. My late husband was born in Australia, but his parents came from Britain and it always amazed me how he could tell just where in Britain people came from.

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 5 months ago from southern USA

Hi Blossom,

Yes, language is interesting indeed! In southern USA, we tend to draw our words out a bit. The Boston accent is a lot different and they tend to add an "r" to word when the actual words does not contain and "r" ...confusing, yes!

I pronounce it "vayz" and "awkshn" ...

Thank you for sharing this interesting article.

Karen Hellier profile image

Karen Hellier 5 months ago from Georgia

Gosh that must have been hard for you to figure out as a child. I've never met anyone that had this problem before. Glad you got through it! Thanks for sharing.

BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 5 months ago from Victoria, Australia Author

Flourish Anyway: It is interesting - and it can be confusing at the same time, can't it? (A long time ago one of my theses was on tag-questions) Lovely to hear from you - twice! I love your comments. Many blessings.

Karen Hellier: Well, yes, it was a 'puzzlement', but I think it's not really so uncommon with so many families moving around the globe, and as I wrote, it really contributes to the enrichment of our English language.

Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 5 months ago from Shelton

this is a wonderful topic for a hub.. No matter how the words sounded to me.. when my parents spoke.. they were always right.. even when they were wrong... :) I enjoyed the hub Blossoms

BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 5 months ago from Victoria, Australia Author

Frank Atanacio: Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I do agree that we always thought our parents were right when we were young - it was a given that they were correct, but it was a problem when I discovered that they did not always pronounce words in the same way as each other.

Larry Rankin 4 months ago

Great read.

BlossomSB 4 months ago

Larry Rankin: Thank you!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 2 months ago from San Diego California

My hillybilly Mother used to use the word "warsh" instead of "wash," as in "let's warsh the clothes. I don't where the r came from, but I grew up saying it too, without knowing. When I joined the Navy and moved to California, people began to make fun of me, so I learned to suppress the hillbilly 'r.' I think it is a uniquely western United States thing. Great hub.

BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 2 months ago from Victoria, Australia Author

Larry Rankin: Thank you! I did reply before but didn't sign in first.

Mel Carriere: I also replied to this yesterday, but again didn't sign in and it seems to have disappeared entirely. Sorry! I guess I'll get used to all these innovations one day! I loved your story about 'warsh'! We often do funny things with our language, but as it's primarily for communicating it did that for you and your mother, so it met your family's criterion. You understood it and that was what was important.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 months ago from Wales

So very interesting and thankyou for sharing.

BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 2 months ago from Victoria, Australia Author

Hello Eddie, how lovely to hear from you. Both my mother's parents were Cornish, it was Dad's side that was Welsh.

annart profile image

annart 6 weeks ago from SW England

I love the use of words like this and I don't find it a problem, I find it fascinating; always did when I was a child too.

'Trug' is used in Sussex but it doesn't seem to exist in Somerset, though obviously in Cornwall. I think some of these Southern words have been adopted in various southern counties but not others, probably a random thing. I'm guessing it's Celtic or Saxon; I favour the latter as the south is more influenced by this, though the Celts affected the far west and Wales far more.

We have 'twitten' for a small path between houses in Sussex. Others look at me strangely when I say it and say 'a what?!'

I think it's very important to retain these regional words. They enrich the language and come from a culture that is, sadly, fast waning, so the more we treasure, the better.

Thanks for a great hub, Bronwen!


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 6 weeks ago from Victoria, Australia Author

Thank you for your lovely long response. I, too, think it's important to retain regional words and sayings, it helps to make our language so much more varied and interesting - and surprising at times, too. Well, until someone proves it otherwise I'm sticking to 'trug' being of Cornish, or at least Celtic origin, as both my mother's parents used it; one was born here of Cornish parents and the other came from there.

I love the word 'twitten' - I haven't heard it before, but it's very descriptive.

norlawrence 3 weeks ago

Great article. I learned a lot and really enjoyed it. Thanks

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