[from "Manx Idioms", 1897]

Manx Idioms

[reprinted from The Isle of Man Examiner of May 1st 1897]


On Wednesday night the Rev T. E. Brown, M.A., the well-known Manx poet, lectured to the Castletown Literary and Philosophical Society at the Town Hall, Castletown, taking as his subject " Manx Idioms." There was a fair audience, among those present being the leading people of Castletown. Mr James Mylchreest, H.K., presided, and the meeting was opened with prayer by the vicar of Malew (Rev J. M. Spicer), who is president of the society.

The Chairman, in introducing the lecturer, said he was sure they would all be very glad to see their old friend Tom Brown here this evening. It was twelve months since Mr Brown entertained them with a lecture, and he had been good enough to come here this evening to deliver another. If any Manxman could deal with the Manx dialect he (the chairman) believed they had that Manxman with them to-night in their venerable and reverend Castletown friend Mr Brown (applause). Mr Brown's lectures were not only always instructive, but were thoroughly amusing ; and he (the chairman) felt sure, if the lecture was not too long, Mr Brown would please them tonight.

The Rev T. E. Brown proceeded to deliver his lecture, which was throughout a most interesting and delightful one His frequent employment of the Manx dialect, and his imitation of the gestures of those persons who make daily use of such dialect, render it impossible to give, in cold type, any good report of Mr Brown's speech-in fact only by a combination of the kinematograph and the loud sounding phonograph would it be possible to faithfully reproduce the lecture. Mr Brown at the outset said that an idiom was some peculiarity in the use of a language. Idiom was from the Greek idioma, which might mean any kind of peculiarity-a peculiarity of speech, a twang, a tone. He wanted to confine himself to Manx idioms. He wished them to understand that what was commonly called Manx was the old Celtic language of their forefathers. That was the Manx language, but there was also the Manx dialect-that was to say the Anglo-Manx, or the peculiar, the idiomatic English spoken by Manx people. English, as spoken by natives of the Isle of Man, had assumed many of the characteristics of the real Manx language - irrepressible characteristics that would come to the front. He would give them instances of that before long, but in the meantime they would understand that by Manx he meant real Manx - the Kys to shiu (laughter),-and by the Manx dialect he meant the ordinary mode of young Manxmen-and still better of old Manxmen - of speaking the English language. The first peculiarity he would illustrate was the use of the word "though." This word was constantly heard in the mouths of Manxmen, and was used in a sort of apologetic or deprecatory or cautious sort of way. The Manxman would say, for instance,


(Laughter). The word in that sentence expressed caution. He supposed that the person using it, if his sentence was extended thoroughly, would express himself something like this-" It was a miserable day this morning, and most days are miserable in the Isle of Man, and this may be a miserable day, but notwithstanding this I am hoping that it is going to be a fair day, and if that is so it will be a fine day yet " (laughter). Then a man would say "That's a nice drink, though" (laughter). What in the world was the meaning of the word "though " there ? It meant " though you generally have abominably bad drink in the Isle of Man"-which was a dreadfully libellous thing to say-" yet it is a singular and most remarkable fact that I enjoy this liquid of ,yours." It was a very curious word was " though " as employed in the Manx dialect. An expression very like it in effect was "for all." "How are you, for all." Why "for all"? It was the same idea of caution-that of not being too peremptory in an assertion, or even in a question. It was the same as saying " Most people are unwell ; you look dreadfully unwell, but on the whole I think I may venture to ask the fair question `How are you'?" That was what was meant by " How are you, for all ? " (laughter). Another expression in very common use was


(laughter). That was a thoroughly Manx expression, and had considerable force. Two men were arguing, and one perhaps was getting the worst of the argument-as indeed one of them was bound to. Then the one of them who was getting the worst of it would say " Aw, but you'll get lave." He meant by that "I don't care what you say ; you may be a very clever fellow with a multiplicity of arguments on your side, but you'll get lave." That meant " You may talk until Doomsday, and cite any books, and adduce any arguments, but all the same I don't agree with you, and I don't intend to." There was one very quaint Manx expression-" Are you comin' ? " and sometimes "Are you comin' togatha ? " (laughter). That was splendid ; that was per fectly lovely. Two young people were strolling along for an evening walk-he needn't say any. thing about them being of opposite sexes. They met this young couple, and if they were kindly minded, they would say to them "Are you comin'-are you comin' togathar." Or very possibly the couple may have taken a seat, and what would they say then ? They would, if they were kindly and polite, say " Are you ressin'." Ah it was only a Manxman who could feel the true force of that expression: Up in the North he saw two young people "ressin'." He had a habit of which he was not ashamed-feeling and expressing sympathy with young people under such circumstances. Well, there was a boy and gel sitting yandhar, and it's happy they were ter'bil (laughter). The beauty of the thing was the sweet innocence of the girl, and the dignity-the sternness almost-of the young man. The young man looked at him in somewhat determined fashion ; but she looked at him frankly and with hearty approbation of his (Mr Brown's) opinion that they were the happiest of human beings. He went along heartily endorsing the sentiment, and of course he said to them as he passed, "Are you ressin'," and they were evidently very much pleased. There were several words in the Manx language that had an intensive meaning. There was the very fine word, " Mortal,"


and sometimes the still more intense " Mortal Bran' urromassy show " (laughter). " Urromassy," he supposed, would mean something beyond the power of mercy-so wicked that it could not find mercy. But they exhausted the bad meaning, and left the intense meaning. "Mortal" must have meant "deadly," and how could the word deadly be called nice ? " Deadly pretty" though, would do-for they could always secure the verdict of a beautiful woman by saying she was a mortal fine woman-that was, so fine that her beauty was mortal or likely to lead to death. He wished to introduce to them a Manx preposition-he was the funniest beggar in the world in the way he skipped about. This was the preposition "at.", In Manx." at" had two meanings different from the ordinary meaning of the word in English. "I have got heaps of goold at me," and again, "Yandhar gel has got heaps of nice dresses at her, and see the rings arrar. Aw dear" (laughter). There was a subtle difference in the pronunciation of the preposition. When they added the word him or her they changed "at" to "ar," "ar him," "arher," instead of "at him," " at her." They did not for a moment think of saying, " ar me," or " ar them." In connection with the use of this word Mr Rydings, of Laxey, who, though not a Manxman, had written some delightful tales in the Manx dialect, made a mistake, of which he (Mr Brown) had apprised him. Mr Rydings said "arrem," meaning " at them," but it would never mean that, in fact it was not Manx dialect at all. But did they not think it was a singular thing that in their little neglected dying dialect there should be such a subtle distinction so carefully maintained ? but so long as the Manx language lived these little peculiarities of dialect would live. Then; they had the word " lek " or " laak " (like). This was a perfectly common word, and it was often used in quite superfluous fashion by Manx people. It was used when it was not wanted at all, as "it was funny lek though," or ░░ it was strange lek." Why was it, he wondered, so used at all ? It was another word used in the apologetic strainas an apology for having an opinion at all. They did not say, " The man is big," but, " The man is big lek"-the man was something big. Then did they know the word "ones." They spoke of


(laughter)-which meant the people who live at Kelly's house. It was a very common expression throughout the Island, and yet he did not think they would find it in any part of England. And now he had an extremely difficult problem to propose to his audience. This was to account for-for he confessed he could not account for it himself-the extremely Manx expression "'Deed on Harry" (laughter). That was an unmistakably Manx expression. The meaning was clear enough, for the expression meant sudden surprise at success or something else remarkable in the life of this man Harry. Harry might not have been expected to marry a rich wife, but did so, and then it was "'Deed on Harry." Harry was not expected to get on in the worldto make a fortune. Not him. Harry, the bogh ! (laughter). But Harry went to Australia or America, and returned successful and rich, and again it was "'Deed on Harry." But how did it come to mean that ? Then they had an expression in Anglo-Manx " What's doin' on ya ?." (laughter). That was a strange use of the preposition "on," and really the curious use of prepositions was the most singular feature in the Manx dialect. He did not know the reason for the use of the word " on " to this case, but the secret might be found in a study of the prepositions of the Manx language. He was not prepared to go into that, for the subject was a practically inexhaustible one, and was one that should be taken up by one of the many men who were more learned in the Manx language than he was. Yet another typical expression was


That was very common in the Island. A plain enough statement was made, but the responsibility for it was put upon "the man" (laughter). When he was a boy he often used to go through the fields with an old farmer, who would, it might be, pick up a turnip. "That's a mortal fine turnip, as the Scotchman said" (laughter). He never said " as I say," or simply " It is a fine turnip," but "it is a fine turnip," as was said by some man of some remote country such as Scotland. He (Mr Brown) could remember to this day the very look of that man as he said that. His name was James Gelling, and he was the tenant of the glebe of Kirk Braddan-as hearty and pleasant a soul as ever lived. His (Mr Brown's) mind went back to those old times, and to the pleasant associations, and the sweetness and the loving kindness of the old days and the old people (applause). Now he came to the expression


That was a good Manx expression, and still implied the same caution. They would not say that such and such a man was drunk, but " I wouldn' thrus' but that he had a drop though " (laughter). That was to say that it was impossible to trust any one in matters of this kind. It meant " I can't trust a man, I don't care who he may be. Even the paazon himself, I wouldn' thrus' him." This was a dreadful sentiment, and sprung from a perfect scepticism. There were still some words of the Old Manx employed by the Manx people when speaking their dialect of English. They said that a man was


and quite right, for it meant that he was a genial, kindly man-a gennal man. They also used the word butch for "witch," but not so commonly. Did they ever hear of a


It's lek they had (laughter). Castletown was still so lovely in it's old fashion. If they looked at the backs of the old houses it was astonishing to see the old roofs of some of them. He did not think that some of these roofs could have been mended for at least 150 ,years, and they were quite beautiful to behold. A chiollagh was a chimney in the house-a hearth, and that which hung over the chimney, the hook, by which the pot hung, was called the slowry. Then there was the meddha, which was a small vessel, or pitcher, With only one handle. ' Then there was the thing called the dollan, which was a sheepskin stretched on a circular frame or hoop and used in the operation of winnowing. Here then were some of the old fragments that had come floating down from the genuine Manx language and that were heard to this clay in the country places. He went one day to


-as he would call the place with all deference to those who called it Port Erin-and strolled by the Struan Snell, which led round by Cregneish, and they were terbil to keep up the Manx over yandhar (laughter). He determined to have some fun, and spoke to a man he met, adopting the most refined English accent, "don't you know " (laughter). The man said "It's laak you are English ? " He (Mr Brown) replied " Oh no, not English, certainly not." " Aw, indeed" answered the man, "if you are Manx what do you call to this," and he pointed to a large whelk. He (Mr Brown) was proud to exhibit his knowledge of things Manx and replied that it was a Mutlyag. " Oh my gogh, " said the man, "you're a Manxman anyway. I hev'n heard that word for years ; it's dying out completely." Then he (Mr Brown) thought he would ask the man a question, and he asked him what they called the mutlyag at the north side of the Island. The man didn't know, so he (Mr Brown) told him that they called it a buckie. The man remarked that they were queer fallas at the Noss anyway, and 'didn' understan' Manx properly, or English either for the matter of that. Buckie, he said, was the berry on the dog rose. This was only one of the many differences between the North and the South. (He only wished that some person could be found who would go thoroughly into this subject, which was a very interesting one. He had had overtures made to him to take it up, but he was getting very passÚ indeed, and could not do so. Did they ever hear of the word


If any boys were out in the farmyard, and the farmer wanted to check their zeal for such work as tearing stacks about and so on, he would say furree, furree, which meant slow-" be aisy." There were lots of other words which he might refer to, such as " middlin'," but that was as much used in some parts of England as in the Isle of Man, and was of course intended to disguise one's opinion. Then they had the word boosley, which he thought was a corruption of beastly. The original must have meant something disagreeable, but the word had come to lose that meaning, and it now meant nice, just as the English word "beastly" did, for schoolboys described something as "beastly rot" or "beastly nice" (laughter). Another word in constant use in the Island was "capers." A letter came to him the other day from Oxford, from the editor of the English Dialectic Dictionary. They told him that in a certain dictionary of phrases the word "capers " was stated to mean "men of the Cape." That completely knocked him out. But there was worse to come, for they said that another definition was " the term applied in the Isle of Man to fishermen from Cape Clear " (laughter). Now when did they in the Isle of Man ever come into contact with fishermen from Cape Clear? When he was a boy they saw very little even of fishermen from Kinsale. The fishermen from other places that came were mostly from Arklow, and they called them-Heaven knew for what reason


(laughter). "Tommy Artlaw" came to mean a very dirty fellow or a very dirty boat. If a man was dirty and didn't keep his boat clean he was spoken of as a "regular Tommy Artlaw" ; or if a person had an untidy boat he. would be asked " Aw, bless my soul, is it a Tommy Artlaw you've got to be?" (laughter.) One other strange Manx expression was "Things that's theer." He did not think they would get that out of the original Manx, at least he could not find it. It meant wretched things-contemptible thingsand he thought it a very fine expression indeed. Did they know the meaning of the word "in"?

Of course it was an ordinary preposition. " He is in the house" and so on ; but when a Manxman said: "Iss theer ghoses in" (laughter), he did not mean "Is there ghoses in the house," but are there ghosts in existence. " Iss there ghoses in? I don't know indeed. I navar seen the lek and I don' think the lek iss in" (laughter). Another curious work was "takin." "There's plenty of fairies takin' up at Glen Auldyn theer," which meant Glen Auldyn was haunted by fairies. Then all the young people would remember the word " tuk," which was the great horror of his childhood. He might have wanted to go somewhere after a bird's nest, and then he would be told "Well, you may go, but you'll be tuk" (laughter). A curious and very nautical expression was


"To give sheet" meant to run away, and obviously, of course, was derived from the sheet which was paid out by a lugger or any vessel when sailing away before the wind. No man who studied language would blame him for mentioning and trying to verify, if possible, the words used in calling animals. They differed in every part of England, and in the Isle of Man were very peculiar. Now, if they wanted to make two dogs fight-he trusted, though, they did not-but if they wanted in the Isle of Man to make two of these noble animals fight, they called "Sthirrr, sthirrr" (laughter). He never heard any persons encouraging two cats to fight by shouting " Sthirrr," and he supposed that would have no effect on cats. Well, in Kirk Braddan if they wanted to call a cow they shouted "Hor, hor" (laughter), and if they wanted to drive a cow away they shouted " Piree, piree," but it can't be represented in letters. You're done, you're clane done! Well, then, with regard to the pig, that lovely animal, if they wished to drive it away, as they usually did, they shouted " Hudjags, Hudjags " (laughter), which, no doubt, had a wonderful effect, and if they wished to call a pig they shouted " Treeah, Treeah." He would ask his friends from the country what they called a calf. (A voice: Hor). No; they called " PEE VEG " (laughter).-Mr Brown, in conclusion, spoke as follows:-And now my friends, I have kept you for a very long time. I am sorry to say that I am rather hoarse tonight, and so cannot do full justice to my subject; but let me say one or two words before I conclude. I am here speaking in the very hall in which I first raised my voice to speak publicly in my native land- (applause)-here it was, in this very place. Now there are many things that compel me to recognise that I must submit soon to the inevitable, and which indicate to me that it may be that this night I stand for the last time upon a platform in Castletown. That is a very solemn thought, but it does not make me unhappy. In Castletown I spent the brightest and happiest part of my life (applause), and nothing-when I think of those days-can make me unhappy. It was such a happ7, such a loving life, that the memory of it-the sweet memory-must go with me into the world to come (applause). There are some things deeper than the boldest of you would imagine, and this little place has been the nest, as it were, of my inmost convictions (applause). I long for its prosperity, and now that I look back and think what has happened here, I rejoice with you in your prosperity. I long for you to be prosperous--I long that Castletown,


should be prosperous. So here this night I will pray for Castletown ; I will pray that God will bless it; I will pray that He will make it pure, and strong, and holy; that He will pour out His Holy Spirit upon it. Oh, my dear friends, let us pray for this then, that you may have a pure and happy town, and that God may walk there as He walked in the Garden of Eden in the " cool of the day." May God grant this, my dear friends, for Jesus' sake. Amen. (Loud applause).

The Attorney-General (Sir James Gell) said he had great pleasure in moving a vote of thanks to the lecturer for his very interesting and instructive lecture. It had been especially pleasant to him, for it had brought to his recollection many an old expression which he had often heard in his younger days. These ought to be preserved, and he did not know any man better qualified for the task than was Mr Brown. There was one expression used in the Isle of Man which doubtless Mr Brown would remember. When people were taking food, and were asked to have some more, they, when they refused, said, " I have no use for it" (laughter) ; and he thought that that was a much nicer expression than the American one, "I am too crowded" (laughter). Mr Brown, too, in speaking on the word " at," brought back to his mind the expression "It's forgot at me" (laughter). That expression " You'll get lave," was always a favourite one of his. He had always found his countrymen when they were beaten in argument, but refused to give in, would say, " You'll get lave." He remembered many a pleasant hour spent with Mr Brown in the town hall in the old days, and that Mr Brown always took a very active part in instructing and amusing the people of Castletown. He was sure he was expressing all their feelings when he said he thanked Mr Brown very much for his lecture (applause).

The Rev J. M. Spicer, in seconding the motion said that the information they had received upon expressions which they heard in every day use, would be very useful to them.

The motion was carried with acclamation. The Rev T. E. Brown returned thanks, and referring to the many Manx people who had left the Island, and had reflected honour on the land of their birth, he asked his hearers to makg them welcome whenever they visited the Island.

The proceedings then ended.

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