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Do you speak Norfolk? East Anglian words Bishy barnabee and billywitch added to dictionary

PUBLISHED: 17:30 01 May 2018 | UPDATED: 18:32 01 May 2018

A ladybird at Foxley Wood. Picture: Liz Murton

A ladybird at Foxley Wood. Picture: Liz Murton

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“Look out Billy, yew has suffin on yer collar! Cud be a bishy barnabee!” “Popple! That fare a billywitch, I’ll higgle!”

A cockchafer, also called a May bug, doodlebug or, if you're in parts of East Anglia, a Billywitch. Picture: Mark AldronA cockchafer, also called a May bug, doodlebug or, if you're in parts of East Anglia, a Billywitch. Picture: Mark Aldron

While the above language might not be everyone’s idea of ‘normal for Norfolk’, two common regional terms for bugs are about to be recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

The definitive record of the English language is planning to include ‘billywitch’ - a term for a cockchafer beetle, and ‘bishy barnabee’ - a ladybird, later this year.

Professor Peter Trudgill, president of the group Friends of Norfolk Dialect (Fond), said the terms were among many regional words for creatures.

He said: “It’s excellent to see these words being recognised.

A bishy barnabee at home on a Fressia. Picture: Anil VohoraA bishy barnabee at home on a Fressia. Picture: Anil Vohora

“A wood-louse is known in Norfolk as a sow-pig, also given as just sow in older records.

“A crane fly is a daddy-long-legs, but that’s already in the OED.”

Fellow Norfolk dialect expert and Fond founder Keith Skipper said that the term bishy barnabee is thought to have been named after Bishop Bonner, a 16th century rector of East Dereham.

He said: “An old schoolyard rhyme goes: ‘Bishy-bishy-barney-bee, tell me when my wedding be, if it be tomorrow day, take your wings and fly away. Fly to east and fly to west, but fly to him (her) that I love best’.”

Keith Skipper. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARYKeith Skipper. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Mr Skipper said billywitch was more of a Suffolk term, and the cockchafer was often called mitchamador in Norfolk.

Eleanor Maier, an OED associate editor, said regional terms had been included in the dictionary since its inception in the 19th century.

She said: “East Anglian terms included in the first edition include ‘squit’, ‘dodman’, ‘loke’, and ‘rove’ among others, and we’ve been adding such terms ever since. ‘Mardle’, for example, was added in 2000.

“Other East Anglian terms we’ve added recently include ‘on the huh’ and we also plan to publish ‘tricolate’ in June.”

A ladybird, also known as a barnabee, on a yellow bud. Picture: Jackie HopeA ladybird, also known as a barnabee, on a yellow bud. Picture: Jackie Hope

Ms Maier said a project called ‘Words where you are’ sought to identify more regional words for possible inclusion.

She said: “We’ve had a great response so far from East Anglia and suggestions we’ve received include ‘on the drag’, ‘pollywiggle’, ‘tricolations’, and ‘peggles’.”

To make your own contributions, visit public.oed.com/appeals/words-where-you-are

Other Norfolk terms for animals

Professor Peter Trudgill. Photo: Bill SmithProfessor Peter Trudgill. Photo: Bill Smith

The terms picked up by the Oxford English Dictionary are by no means the only regional names for members of the animal kingdom you might encounter around Norfolk.

According to the Friends of Norfolk Dialect’s online glossary of Norfolk terms, the hedge sparrow, a perching bird officially called the dunnock, is known as Hedge Betty around here.

Its colourful cousin, the goldfinch, is known as the King Harry, while the water-loving heron is often called a Harnser.

In the insect world, the earwig is called the erriwiggle - that is, after all, how they like to get about - ants might be referred to as Pishamires and caterpillars are Cankers.

A cockchafer beetle, also known as a billywitch or a mitchamador. Picture: Jane PitcherA cockchafer beetle, also known as a billywitch or a mitchamador. Picture: Jane Pitcher

Norfolk folk get their fresh eggs from a Hin - a chicken - and they like to take their Dawg for a walk.

And on visiting the north Norfolk coast, they might drop by the muddy creeks near Stiffkey, where there are plenty of cockles - Stewkey blews - to be caught.

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