How to speak proper Pompey

Charlotte Street market in 1975
Charlotte Street market in 1975
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Weee!....He’s a right dinlo....Dip me ‘ead for a sparsy!...she’s well squinny!

If you cannot understand at least a couple of these expressions then there’s a good chance you’re not from Portsmouth.

The city’s unique slang was once spoken by many born-and-bred Pompey locals as a badge of pride.

And though fewer people speak it nowadays, if you keep your ears open as you browse traders’ stalls in Commercial Road you’re sure to hear remnants of our rich heritage of ‘Pompeyspeak’.

Dr Celia Clark, of Southsea, has been fascinated by Portsmouth slang for years and said she loved learning more about uniquely local expressions.

Dr Clark, who has written essays on local language, has called for an in-depth study to be done into Pompey slang which, she said could be led by a local history group.

‘It is something that deserves to be celebrated because having a strong local accent is a distinct part of local identity,’ she said.

‘It would be great if we could put together a Heritage Lottery-funded project to be able to study it properly.’

A visit to Dr Clark’s home, crowded with Pompey nostalgia, reveals a love of the city and its culture.

Watercolour paintings of Southsea Common, a broken-off piece of the Tricorn centre; everything speaks of a love for the city and its cultural quirks.

‘My father was in the army, so I never had a hometown before I came here,’ Dr Clark said.

‘That’s why I became so interested in it.’

One of her more fascinating artefacts is a framed copy of a Portsmouth Vernacular Map.

The map, created by artist Jodie Silsby, consists of hundreds of words and phrases in Pompeyspeak mapping out the roads of the city.

The map’s phrases include ‘Go furra cheeky one’, ‘Wotsyor problem, mush’ and ‘roight dinlo’.

Dr Clark said Pompey slang was something to be celebrated and preserved.

‘It’s funny, it’s lewd and it’s vivid. It would be sad if we all talked the same way.’

Dr Clark said her favourite expression was one she heard when she was training to become a middle-school teacher.

‘A little girl came up to me and said “I’ve scrazed me knee, Miss!”.

‘I thought it was a brilliant word and obviously an invention of hers.’

She said the use of slang was also a way of signaling to others that you were a Pompey person.

‘It was a group thing as well.

‘You recognised people who spoke like you did.

‘I think that’s quite important and perhaps why people held onto it.’

A book about Pompey lingo was published in 2007 by Dennis Boxhall, 86.

The book, which took Mr Boxhall three years to write, was called Well I’m Blowed – Would You Believe It: 1,000 Words and Sayings Heard Within a Stone’s Throw of Pompey and Turktown in the 1930s to early 1950s.

Mr Boxhall was born in Portsmouth and lived in Gosport for most of his life.

He said he was inspired by his father, who always spoke in Pompey slang.

‘Old words and sayings are a fascinating way of looking at heritage and culture,’ he said.

‘Some of the sayings had quite a saucy meaning, for example “hoppin eight at Frahin”.

‘Then there was the Pompey dot. That’s what the girls used to wear on their fingernails to let the boys know that they were available.’

Dr Clark said Pompeyspeak was closely tied to the dockyards and was distinct from naval slang, which came and went with the sailors.

She said this maritime connection set the accent apart from the typical Hampshire drawl.

‘The Hampshire accent is a very broad, country accent, with longer R-sounds,’ Dr Clark said. ‘I would say that the vowels are broader rather than the rather clipped, pinched, Portsmouth accent, which is more like cockney.’

The cockney connection could have been due to a huge expansion of the dockyard towards the end of the 1800s, when many dockworkers from London’s East End moved to Portsea Island.

Dr Clark said it was becoming more difficult for local slang to survive in an era of nightly television, smartphones and the internet.

‘I think that with TV and film and YouTube, people are open to so many more influences now than they had been in the past.’

*This article was first published by The News in 2015