The Telegraph obit leads off with the basic story: “Stanley Ellis, who has died aged 83, was Britain’s best-known dialectologist and phonetician, and pioneered the forensic analysis of voice recordings, among them the hoax tape that derailed the Yorkshire Ripper inquiry.” If you’re interested in the forensic stuff, there’s lots of it there; me, I liked the dialect bits:
In his series Talk of the Town, Talk of the Country, Ellis illustrated his theme with examples, explaining the derivation of Yorkshire dialect words such as “fraunge” (to stroll about); “femmer” (young or tender); and “fettle” (the old word for a strap, which came to mean “get, make, prepare, put right”).
He discovered that a runt – the weakest in a litter of piglets – was a “crit” in Northumberland, a “wreckling” in Lincolnshire, a “nizgul” in Herefordshire and a “nestle-tripe” in Dorset.
He also found that north country people were more inclined to cling to dialect than those in the south, who regarded such speech as “non-U”; men, he found, were more likely to stick to the old words than their womenfolk.
Among thousands of regional variations, Ellis noted 88 different words for left-handed, ranging from “gibble-fisted” to “squivver-handed”; while someone silly might be “hatchy”, “dibby”, “dummy”, “half-sharp” or “daft as a dicky-docket”.
Once again, I deplore the all too widespread idea that language should be made uniform; how can anyone resist terms like “gibble-fisted” and “daft as a dicky-docket”? (Thanks, Paul!)