Young wives tales rooted in the IW

By Keith Newbery

Published on Friday, March 08, 2013 - 15:55


THIS ISLAND LIFE LA Hofton’s a wise old bird and I was particularly taken last week by her airy dismissal of the alleged derivation of the word 'posh’.

Popular folklore has it the word is an acronym of the phrase 'port out, starboard home,’ which was supposed to have been the preferred travel arrangements of the ladies in the 19th century as they sailed out to India with their husbands to keep an eye on the empire.

Apparently, it ensured they were permanently in the shade and protected their sensitive skin from unseemly ruddiness — which was the mark of more common folk.

People do not tend to rush to me with their sextants and compasses for lessons on matters maritime but even I could see this explanation, while magnificently plausible, was a load of old toffee.

Surely all sides of a boat are subjected to sunlight at certain times of the day and instead of scampering from one side to the other, the gentlewomen of yore had only to position themselves under a lace-trimmed parasol before sipping Earl Grey and getting on with their needlepoint in relative comfort.

However, the cellar-dweller’s revelation that posh is, in fact, a Romany word for dandy came as something of a surprise.

In our house, when I was a kid, it always stood for Pompey Outstanding, Saints Horrific.

But it’s fascinating to learn the two words which describe those at opposite ends of the social spectrum, posh and chavvy, both emerged from gypsy dialect.

In recent years, and thanks primarily to the internet, a cottage industry of what can only be described as young wives’ tales has sprung up around familiar sayings whose origins were thought to have been lost in the mists of time.

However, they tend to rely more on imagination than historical research, such as the daft explanation of 'raining cats and dogs’, for example.

This is said to have had its genesis in the 15th century, when these creatures clambered into the roof to keep warm during winter.

However, when the rain penetrated the thatch of their humble abodes, they slipped on the wet rafters and tumbled to the ground — hence 'raining cats and dogs.’

I counter this claim with two simple questions — how often do you see a dog climb and how often do you see a cat fall?

However, I think we should invent IW explanations for well-known sayings and I’d like to begin with 'between the devil and the deep blue sea’.

This originated in the early 19th century, when ferry boats first plied their trade between the Island and the mainland.

Travellers were forced to choose between extortionately-priced trips aboard vessels provided by Ye Olde Wightlinke, or taking their chances on locals willing to convey them across the turbulent brine in small rowing boats for a farthing.

This unenviable choice became known as having to choose between the devil and the deep blue sea.

The phrase 'old codgers’ comes from the ancient Island verb 'to codge’, which means 'a tendency in the elderly to amble slowly around supermarkets two abreast before stopping for no apparent reason and remaining there staring bemusedly at a shopping list while the trolley traffic builds up behind’.

There will be other IW young wives’ tales in future editions.

Good service worth a lot

To say the IW Council has a lot of detractors is like saying a dog has quite a few fleas. And the council, like the dog, knows that no matter how effective the treatment, there’s always going to another one along to bite it on the bum.

This column has never been slow to ladle its share of opprobrium on County Hall in the past, so it’s only fair to deliver a pat on the back when it is warranted.

My mate, Malc Lawrence, attempted what he thought would be the simple process of transferring his parking permit (for which he is charged £46 a year with no guarantee of a parking space) to his new vehicle.

However, he was greeted with an unacceptable lack of service and courtesy from a woman in the parking department, who also attempted to make him and his wife jump through a series of hoops made of red tape.

So he decided to go to the top and eventually made contact with the economy and environment director, Stuart Love, whose other unofficial title around County Hall at the moment is next chief executive in all but name.

He offered his apologies and quickly referred the matter to the manager with direct responsibility for such things, Alex Minns, and after he and Malc had exchanged a couple of pleasant phone calls, the matter was resolved.

Mr Lawrence, like all our generation, was brought up to believe manners and good service cost nothing.

He told me: "I can’t speak highly enough of Messrs Love and Minns. Their friendliness and professionalism more than compensated for the initial rudeness we encountered."

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