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Asum Grammar - Ben Judd

Ben Judd, alias C.W. Clarke, wrote a series of articles on Asum Grammar for the Evesham Journal during the 1960's. They became very popular with readers and Bill, as he was known, often talked of a book on Asum Grammar which he was writing. This book, to the best of our knowledge, was never produced. The Evesham Journal articles are now stored at Evesham Library. It is from this source that we have selected the following extracts. Will Dallimore has abridged these into the following chapters.

Chapter One — In the beginning …

The argument about the 'correct' pronunciation of 'Evesham,' which has recurred because a broadcaster claiming some sort of inside information spoke the word like an outsider, will never be satisfactorily concluded by a victory for one school of thought over the others. There is no strictly definable authorised version, for the very simple reason that there is no strictly definable authority in the matter. For who is to lay down the law? At the outset it is suggested that the balance of etymological probabilities ought to be weighed as carefully as possible before any consensus of modern usage, if there is one, is considered at all. We shall take notice of what they say on the Badsey bus and in the bar of the Wheelbarrow and Castle, very likely: but not yet.
This is because the 'accidents of history,' if one may employ so unscientific a term in the services of brevity, have to be dated before their effects can be measured properly. In other words, events must be got into the right order. Tradition and the work of students combine to indicate an 8th century swineherd located on a well-watered tract of land almost encircled by a river as the basic element of the name Evesham.
After all these centuries, it is hardly surprising that the poor chap's name is unknown. For the matter of that, it never was. All we do know, and that has been from the start, is that he was a swineherd and that he was a poor chap. There is a short answer to the claim, if one is made, that his name was Eoves. It is that eoves is nobody's name: it is the genitive singular belonging to the nominative eof which, in Anglo-Saxon (or, as it is more properly known, Old English) means, quite simply, a swine-herd, and nothing more.
The fact that he was a poor chap is really a matter for the ecclesiastical historian, rather than the grammarian, to explore. Pursuing only the etymology of this ancient business, however, we must look at that early form of the town's name, Eoveshomme (which is recorded in Domesday, 1087) and treat its two components first separately and then together Eoves, of the swineherd. Homme, the meadow land. Whether it is really a ham ending need not detain us at this stage since it is, in any case, of no great consequence. What we have to consider is whether the etymological derivation so far is likely to be correct (and the earliest documents known suggest that it is) and then how the name Eoveshomme was pronounced by the Abbot of Evesham when that dignitary, one Aegelwy, himself an Anglo-Saxon and not a Norman, was asked by William the Conqueror's inspector of taxes to describe the monastic holdings.
Of course this is a tall order. Unfortunately there are no Anglo-Saxons left to tell us the answer; so we must use a little imagination, though not too much, and consult Henry Sweet. Now here it is only decent to place on record that the interpretation produced is subject to a bit of give and take. But if we take Henry Sweet's word for it that the Old English diphthongs were pronounced with the stress on the first element, then Eoves would more or less rhyme with 'Heave us' as a native of modern Birmingham might say it, except that 'us' (to complicate the situation a little further, and, for heaven's sake, why not, now we've got as deeply into it as this?) 'us' would sound like 'uz', as they say it in Manchester. Eoves, then, sounds like Eva's. Something that belonged to Eof (Eef) was Eoves (Eva's). I fervently hope that this is now clear. If it is, we must at once proceed further to the realisation that the original sound of Eoveshomme had four syllables, for the fourth was not silent until relatively recently in the history of English and both m's were sounded. Eva's hom-muh.
After that rather dangerous but necessary incursion into the past of a thousand years ago, it will be easier to look at what happened when the language first levelled (in Middle English) and then lost (in Modern English) its inflexions. Professor Wrenn (in Chambers's Encyclopaedia, vol. V. p.302 b.) puts it simply: '... the placing of the stress-accent as near the beginning of the word as possible has tended to blur and often later to eliminate unstressed final syllables, which tend to be lost in rapid speech.' So we reach, by the time of Shakespeare perhaps, a stage of which Evesham has become Eva's-hom, with three syllables and the stress on the first. It is still important to remember that the vowel sound in the stress-accent is not a pure, straightforward, modern ee, as in tee-hee, tee-hee, if you should happen to feel like laughing in the old-fashioned manner. It is a sound rather nearer to the 'Yeah, Yeah, Yeah' of those distinguished young gentlemen from Liverpool, more power to their elbows, for they are doing more for the English language than any of the kitchen sink playwrights. Well, then, it follows that Eva's-shum possesses at least as respectable an ancestry as Eve-sham; so there is really no justification for being uppish with those who say Ee-vee-shum, for they are only doing their best according to their lights. As for the common usage of the place, the people on the Badsey bus and those in the bar at the Wheelbarrow and Castle know perfectly well, without the help of Henry Sweet, that there is only one acceptable way to pronounce the name Evesham and that is the way all honest swine-herds have, from Eof onwards. Asum. Here, at last, you have the correct vowel qualities, the correct stress-accent, and so much more that is down to earth and unpretentious. Asum.

Chapter Two — The Asum A …

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

a, a-cummin, a-gooin, agyun, a-puttin, assunt, atter, a-up, aze, binna, bist, chunt, dust, gottarf, myun, nottit, osses, sest, thee, ut, woddus, wum, wurbiss, wurthell, yur, yuts

'Aze what osses yuts,' said the awful little boy, by way of reprimanding his slightly deaf companion for not being polite enough to say, 'I beg your pardon.' 
'Aye, but it chunt all they yuts,' the deaf one replied, competitively. He was quite correct, of course. And he might have added also that A is not only fodder for horses: it is the prince of interrogatives: as a part of speech it is as unique, as simply expressed, as the question mark itself, which is its counterpart in punctuation. A has, nevertheless, many different shades of meaning. These are governed by syntax, which has nothing whatever to do with costs in the Divorce Court, but is simply concerned with that ancient rule of the best grammarians: 'It chunt what thee sest; it's the way thee sest it.' Yur thee bist, then. Andiamo, as they say in Rome. Used at the beginning of a sentence, A is invariably a mere methodical device whereby one person makes sure the next is fully awake before he starts casting pearls before the swine. 
For instance: 
'A, bist thee a-gooin wum now, you?' 
The correct reply is either 'Nottit, you!', 'Aye' or 'Woddus myun?' (the latter, if the person addressed has heard the question but has not completely comprehended its significance).
A is not usually a familiar form of address; nor is it really polite. It is mostly used for comparative strangers.
'A, Fred,' on the other hand, is always a familiar form and it normally gives Fred to understand that what is about to follow will be either a confidence or a request for a favour, such as a small loan until Friday.
'A, Fred: dust know what that wench said?'
'A, Fred: come yur a minute, ut?'
At the end of a sentence, A is rather like a question-mark underlined, or in italics: it is there for emphasis; and occasionally it has a plaintive quality, like the Latin nonne when uttered by a pessimist.
'Wurthell dust thee think thee bist a-gooin, A?'
'Thee assunt binna drinkin my beer, A?'
A can also be used ironically (though there is hardly a place for irony in a grammar) and with the preposition up.
'A-up, yurs a wench a red air a-cummin atter thee.'
'A-up, wurbiss thee a-puttin thy big fit?'
'A-up, it's time I gottarf up wum agyun.'

Chapter Three — These Cursed Words

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

a-cussin, a-feudin, a-getting, agyun, a-yurd, bist, cuss, dussn't, dust, er, farth, fust, gooin, myuns, nuss, puss, shutst, thee, thospital, thur, um, vuss, wer, wunnarf, wuss, wust, wuz, yaller, yud

'Thee shutst a-yurd um a-cussin!' The exclamation, voiced by a man in the Trade, was in no way surprising. For it is no pleasanter in the Vale of Evesham than it is elsewhere to be marooned by a thunderstorm. On licensed premises. After closing time. Let us, my friends, take the cussin for granted as an expression of outraged human nature. But as an example of orthoepic usage it has more to it than meets the eye. Like Lord Beaverbrook's prose style. Shall we look a little closer at cussin? In Asum Grammar the verb to cuss is conjugated enormously, it has many pitfalls and we find cuss with all seven companions: fust, Fuz, dust, nuss, puss, vuss and wus. And what an interesting lot they are ...
The Evesham language is not alone in dropping the r from curse: tinkers' cusses are cheaper than ten a penny anywhere in England and way back in the wild and woolly West the natives find their chief enjoyment a-feudin and a-cussin, as everybody knows. And naturally enough: worthless consonants may as well be dropped and there is none less valuable than r when it appears between i or u and s. Consider the examples:
CUSS, etc. Thee shutst a-yurd um a-cussin. Er wunnarf cuss thee. Oo bist thee a-cussin?
FUST. Fust come fust served. Ee went yud fust. Thee wust yur fust.
FUZZ. Er lives at Ill Fuzz. This is a proper name and does not refer to a bastard Italian but to a prominence of the Southern Lenches.
DUST, etc. Wur dust thee think thee bist gooin? Dust know what I myuns?
NUSS. When I wuz in thospital thur wuz a nuss with yaller air. Thee dussn't wan a-know any more about er, dust?
PUSS. There is nothing feline about it and the vowel sound is the same as in the others. Wer dust think er put er puss? Er picked up is change and put it in er puss.
VUSS. Little used now but common when churchgoing was. Dust thee know the farth vuss a 'God Save the Queen'? Well dust?
WUSS. Fust thee wust a-cussin about that nuss and now thee bist a-gettin wuss.
Yet Perce is always Perce and a hearse is as nurse. Thirst, more surprisingly for it has the t, is always thirst. And its gettin thundery agyun.
But when all is said and done and the use of the u sound in the Evesham language reconciled as far as may be with the Queen's English in its many forms the memory remains fresh with the man in the Trade: 'Thee shutst a-yurd um a-cussin!'

Chapter Four — An ‘Orra’ Story

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

arra, borra, dooin, eeza, furra, gooin, Inkbra, ploughin, shalla, sporra, tamorra, thee, u, wobbist, wur, wurbis yalla

'I', said, the Sporra, 'with my bow and arra, I killed Cock Robin.' The curious may also wonder who killed the Evesham sporra's terminal long o. Or the Inkbra sporra's, for the matter of that. But the truth is that they never had a long o between them, terminal or anywhere else. Asum Grammar makes it plain that not euphony alone but pure honest-to-goodness etymology used on conservative principles, governs the Evesham man in his preference for the a over the o and vice versa.
First, a few simple examples.
Wobbist thee a dooin u that yalla borra?
In the Queen's English. What are you doing with that yellow wheelbarrow?
Eeza ploughin a shalla furra. He is ploughing a shallow furrow; though not, of course, with the yellow wheelbarrow.
Wurbis thee a gooin t'morra? Where are you going tomorrow?
Eeza gooin in the brook, wur it's shalla. He's going in the brook where its shallow.
Yalla, borra, shalla, furra, tamorra, Inkbra . . .all time-honoured usages, clearly conforming to a rule. It is a rule which has never been publicly stated and laid down until now: but here is the eventful moment in which you shall receive your full money's-worth.

Consider again the little Cock Sporra who killed Cock Robin and whom it is customary to call Sparrow. Inquiry reveals that Sparrow has been known since 1668; but the bird is plainly older than that. Sporra, on the other hand, trace his name from the Anglo-Saxon Spearwa, in which descent he has hardly undergone any change at all and in turn the Anglo-Saxons got him from the Gothic sparwa and the Middle High German sparwe. There is not a terminal long o to be seen, or heard, you see: the little Cock Sporra, like the rest of them and most of us in the Vale of Evesham who call him by his proper name, is even more of a pig-headed Saxon than he suspects.

Chapter Five — Aye Aye

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

aye-aye, bin, bist, ow, sin, thee, ust, wur

Cheiromys Madagascariensis, apart from being a sickly and indigestible mouthful, happens to be a quadrumanous animal, of the size of a cat. It lives only in that tropical island from which it derives the weightier part of its name. It is probably a disgusting creature. The only reason why it has been allowed to prowl on to this page is a curious one. This disgusting mammal is all that the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary can vouchsafe to those of you who may search its two volumes for the origin of the Evesham man's customary mode of greeting to other Evesham men. Aye-Aye!
The Aye-Aye of Madagascar was discovered in 1781, but the Aye-Aye of Evesham dates from much earlier than that. Although it cannot yet be demonstrated conclusively by etymology, phonology or analogy, modern research into the Evesham language suggests that the interjection Aye-Aye belongs to that period in history when there were more shepherds, swineherds and cowherds in the Vale than there are today.
'Aye-Aye, you! Wur ust thee bin lately?' may be a perfectly ordinary greeting from one Evesham man to another in 1957; but few would associate it with the wider-open spaces to which it correctly belonged and which gave it a cause. Aye-Aye is analogous not to the Sailor's Aye-Aye, which never opens but always closes a conversation, but to the sailor's 'Ahoy!', which is at once a greeting and a challenge. When a seaman, during the night watches, has occasion to bellow 'Boat, ahoy!' into the windy darkness over the side, there are certain correct replies to be given and nothing else will do. 'Aye-Aye' happens to be one of the correct replies, and among the friendliest; though in its special circumstances it is spoken more deliberately than the Evesham manner. In Evesham, Aye-Aye means many things according to the inflection of each component Aye. These things are impossible to denote typographically so here are a few written examples of speech never intended to be written. Aye-Aye
1. In this use, both the greeting, to which the courteous response is 'Aye-Aye,' not 'Hello' or 'How d'ye do?' The man addressed, should he wish to add something to his responding 'Aye-Aye' should add 'Ow bist?' Pray note that in both instances the first Aye has a falling and the second a rising inflection.
2. In this use, the both Ayes rise. It expresses astonishment or suspicion and among the really succinct it is a whole, self-sufficient, interrogative sentence. It was used in the Smithfield furniture saleroom not long ago when a table full of ormolu ornaments was knocked down to a dealer for something like 145 guineas.
Another example - Ust thee sin that wench of is lately you? Aye-Aye ... It is plain, is it not? that Aye-Aye is not an urban greeting. Yet how it carried to Madagascar and gave its name to a monkey is very hard to say.

Chapter Six — Mine and Thine

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

a-tellin, chunt, cossunt, donum, ee, gotta, isn, knowst, lave, mine tha, mon, myuns, ourn, puttim, tell tha, thee, theest, thine, thur, udn't, urn, uz, yourn, yur

Let’s begin this term with a short consideration of two good old-fashioned words, mine and thine. In the Vale of Evesham we are one of the few surviving communities in England who use both of these words habitually. Thine is by far the more interesting specimen, whose passing from common usage would be an unfortunate event. Why? Because it is more useful than its alternatives. It is much less trouble to say, 'Chunt mine, it's thine,' than to say, 'It isn't mine, it's yours.' It sounds better, too, being more mellifluous and less tight-lipped; and it is equally courteous. Better thine than yours; better the singular than the plural when it is the singular that is wanted. There are, as a matter of history, several centuries between thine and yours: the former is Old English, which some call Anglo-Saxon, and the latter is Middle English. Thus, we were saying thine before William the Conqueror came over in that flat-bottomed boat of isn. Some of the English, though not so many in the Vale of Evesham, have been saying yours for the past five hundred years or so, it is true; but it is not a very long time, as these things go, and I expect we shall hold on to thine for a little longer. Let us not forget yourn, either. Chunt ourn, its yourn. Magnificent plurals, thee knowst. Chunt isn, it's urn. Is there any comparable way, outside Latin, of expressing a simple thought so simply?
Chunt thine, it's mine. Of these two possessive pronouns, it is curious that one should still be universal and not the other. In the Vale of Evesham, as everywhere else, there is no alternative to mine, that very Germanic thing, so ablaze with the pride of possession, But there is something else, mine tha.
Mine tha is what the pundits call dialect because they believe in strait-jackets. Call it what you like, mine tha is not to be despised. Treat it rather with reverence, my friends. The Queen's English is a poorer thing without it, mine tha.
'Thee cossunt put thine down thur: theest gotta puttim up yur, I tell tha!' The man in charge of the car park at the fete unconsciously demonstrates three facts: first, that he is a native of the Vale Of Evesham; secondly, that he is not ashamed of it; and, thirdly, that he knows what he is talking about.
Concomitantly, he demonstrates three more facts: first, that his language is capable of being readily understood by the common people—for the common motorist promptly moves the offending vehicle; secondly, that the second person singular, far from being useless and woolly, is rather apt and exact—for in this instance ' thee,' 'cossunt,' 'thine,' 'theest' and 'tha,' refer unequivocally to one singular person, to wit, one particular motorist; and thirdly, that there was a place among the translators of the New English Bible for this car park attendant—for the translators apparently think the second person singular is out of date but he knows it isn't.
'When thee bist a-tellin the tale about this yur mon uz udn't lave is five yoke of oxen,' he would certainly have told the clerical professors, 'theest got uz ee said, ' Please accept my apologies.' Thee cossunt put that, you. Theest better put, ' I pray thee have me excused.' Everybody knows what that myuns, donum?'
The foregoing fantasy, combining the sublime with the ridiculous, is meant as a simple illustration and offered diffidently, in support of thee. Dealing with colloquialisms translated from one popular dialect into another for example, from the Cockney 'Gawd lav a dack!' into the Cotswold equivalent 'Lor lummy!' the dilemma is always as awful. On the one hand, you can render word for word, keeping the word-order as faithful as possible. On the other hand, you can digest the original sense to the best of your ability and make a paraphrase of it. The Bible team obviously proceeded by the second method. Well, it was their business. Like the late Monsignor Knox (who did a modern R.C. version a few years ago), they have made a down-to-earth, common denominator job of it, easy to read and understand. The 16th and 17th century translators, on both sides of the Channel, used the first method as far as their scholarship allowed and made good the deficiencies in their Greek with the most splendid English ever printed; and they produced sublime works of art, timeless and irresistible.

Chapter Seven — Free Speech

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

ant, gisser, gissim, gotter, gottim, im, putter, sinnim, theest, thur, uvver, uvvim, yur

In Ceylon, where the sun shines every day of the year and darkness falls without fail at seven o'clock precisely, there is a fearful row going on between the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The former, who are the aboriginal and Buddhist majority, want theirs to be the national language; and the latter, who are mostly Hindus with roots in Mother India, are defending their freedom of speech (and of religion) by a civil disobedience campaign. There will be a sort of civil war in that island paradise. Eventually, however, Old Judd's will be fulfilled: the minority will succeed. For you cannot kill a language, by act of parliament, any more than you can kill a religion by act of parliament.
'Theest gottim!' the evening paper seller cried the other day when the City gent found he'd caught his paper instead of dropping it into a High Street puddle. The words may have mystified the City gent a little, and amused him a little more; but of bloodthirst there was not a trace in his expression as he moved briskly onward to the station. After all, it's a free country. This kind of freedom, which has been 1,500 years a-growing, is the easiest of all freedoms to take for granted, as a matter of fact. But look at its fruits; Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Newman and the paper seller who's a thousand years behind the times with his 'Theest gottim!' Why him, for a not particularly virile evening paper? It's a strange thing, this almost complete lack of a neuter pronoun in the Vale of Evesham. When an object is directly referred to, it is always as him or, to be more exact, im.
Theest gottim, I ant sinnim, gissim yur, puttim thur when theest finished uvvim. In each case, the im can refer with equal clarity and correctness to a newspaper, a spanner or a bottle of beer. Linguistically, a stranger to the district would not he surprised if some nouns, and their pronouns accordingly, belonged to the feminine gender.
But when a Badsey, or a Bretforton, or an Evesham man says. . . theest gotter, I ant sinner, gisser yur, putter thur when theest finished uvver ... he is certainly not talking about a newspaper, a spanner or even a bottle of beer. He's talking about a woman. And not very graciously, either. Likewise with the nominative case. The feminine personal pronoun is invariably er in the nominative. The only she in the Vale of Evesham, is the pig, or rather sow, that lives in the sty at the bottom of the garden. She is a long way in time and space from that tropical island where they are going to start a war for the right to use their own language. Perhaps it is one of the shortcomings of an otherwise successful colonialism that the natives were never taught how menacing language can be if it is not funny.

Chapter Eight — I Can See Clearly Now

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

ant, astn't, aye, chippa, dussunt, ee, grandfayther, guz-gogs, sin, sinnum, sist, siz, thee, um, ur, wik, ya, yesdy, yud

'I see thy grandfayther last wik,' the countryman in High Street said to a Saturday morning acquaintance, after asking him how he did and getting the answer: 'Very well, thank ya.' Grammatically, the verb is an interesting specimen. The past tense of it either goes into the Perfect or stays pig-headedly in the Present; and one sometimes wonders why. It would have been acceptable if the countryman had said: 'I sin thy grandfayther last wik'; in fact, it would have been more strictly in accordance with established Evesham Usage. Yet it is still quite common to find people, mostly past middle age, who will say: 'I see' when they might have said: 'I sin' or, in the last resort, could have said: 'I saw.'
Close observation suggests the reasoning behind the discrimination. You will notice that people who say: 'I see' when they ought to say: 'I sin' do so with a little unconscious diffidence: more often than not, they are people of an older generation speaking to their juniors. And I fear the worst: that they are trying not to set a bad example, or to show themselves up, as they see it, to the young. Brought up to speak the Evesham Language without inhibition, sent to schools which tried but failed to eradicate it, they feel a little inferior when they find themselves in conversation with younger people whose schooling has produced another effect. Accordingly, since they know that sin is wrong and feel uncomfortable with saw, they fall back on see. But what an awful pity. He was neither a mystic nor a fugitive from Stratford, but stood steadily on both feet, and when he said: 'I see thy sister up yonder,' he kept his gaze perfectly horizontal, expecting me to do the same. For he understood without illusion, that the lady in question, at that precise moment in time, was not in sight but in Bretforton, with both feet on the ground. Yet he said: 'I see' and what he meant was 'I saw.'
But in the Vale of Evesham the only use a man has for saw is to cut wood with, or bones perhaps if he happens to be a butcher. This I understood. There is a vast amount of information about the Evesham irregular verbs. But of these, the verb 'to see' is far and away the most irregular: in fact it is irregular almost to the point of outrage. Students of linguistic things, and others who know the difference between turnips and mangolds, must now brace themselves to the realisation that the form of the verb 'to see' varies according to whether it is transitive or intransitive.

To set out the whole conjugation would be tiresome and unnecessary. In any case, enough is as good as a feast.
Present indicative
I siz
Thee sist
Ee siz (Ur siz)
Us siz
You siz
They siz.

Imperfect indicative
I see
Thee sist
Ee see (Ur see)
We see
You see
They see.

Perfect indicative
I a sin
Theest sin
Ee a sin (Ur a sin)
Us a sin
You a sin
They a sin.
As for the future, pray do not worry about it. Dussn't trouble thee yud.

Present indicative
As in verb transitive.

Imperfect indicative
I sin
Thee sin
Ee sin (Ur sin)
We sin
You sin
They sin.

Perfect indicative
As in verb transitive.

Some scrupulous, critical students, accustomed to looking ten times at an object before buying it, may cast doubts upon the existence of a difference here and complain that the machinery of grammar, however lubricated, will not run as far as this. Gentle readers, it will have to. Otherwise, see and sin are mere alternatives: and this is not so; or, if it is, then they are not equal alternatives.An example or two from ordinary speech, to lift us out of the humdrum academicum. Thee sist that chippa guz-gogs, dussunt? Aye, I see um yesdy, you. Astn't thee sinnum, Gertie? Corse I an't, etc., etc., etc. Notice the interrogative variant, with sin, but do not let it get you down; and remember, there is no verb more ridiculously irregular than this one. It arouses one's historical curiosity, to wonder what difficulty the Evesham man, our ancestor, encountered (and when) as he was first called upon to see, and to explain what he had seen. Ee siz and ur siz (perhaps he thought) so therefore, not to be outdone, I siz as well. Likewise, you did see and they did see, so therefore I (did) see. But we shall probably never know. It is all such a long, long time ago. For ever, though, like the convicts who watched their pals jump over the wall, we never saw anything. We just see. That is to say, if we are not looking at any object in particular, we just siz.

Chapter Nine — Aaron and Narun

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

aaron, ad, ant, ast, ee, er, knowst, narun, sin, thee, un,

When I saw this title, I began to wonder whether the present mood of the age we live in, demanding that every fact of life shall be expressed in terms of economics, had gone just a little too far. But the use of both words is, after all only literal, and strictly literal. This is neither a work of economics nor an essay in Biblical Exegesis. For this double mercy we may as well be grateful. The book is, in fact, a commentary on the way in which the Common People of the Vale of Evesham make use of the shortest possible form of words in which to express profound truths by way of obiter dicta: the quotation on the title page is I ant sin narun and it is not the slightest use searching your ever-dimming memories of the classics in order to identify either the source or the language. For if you require the term to be translated and explained to you at all, there is only one course you can take: and that is to read the whole book.
Aaron and narun are not brothers, though the half deaf might take them for identical twins: actually, they are opposites. For instance, a man might ask another, 'Ast thee got aaron?' and might be told, in a disappointing reply, ' No, I ant got narun.' Of course, if what he was being asked if he had got happened to be something that he did not want, then he would not be disappointed. And this also is a matter of grammar, if ever so obvious. Aaron and narun are the most economical forms, in any kind of English usage, of expressions that are conventional and long-surviving. It will be easier to concentrate on narun here, Ee ant sin narun, er ant ad narun, er don't want narun, etc. The double negative is completely necessary as Shakespeare knew. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary gives ' Ne'er a' as an adjectival phrase with a late Middle English origin, and calls it dialectal or poetical. The translation is 'Never a, not a, no.' In the Evesham Language , however, we progress a stage further than the Oxford Language does, and add 'un'. Who can deny that the expression is thereby improved? Narun, in two syllables, does the work of three separate words ... never ... a ... one ... But it does more than that: it totally removes the horsey sound for which conventional English is notorious and offers instead a flow of sheer poetry. If thee knowst a better word, I ant found narun.

Chapter Ten — Igertell

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

Igertannerver, Igertay, Igertell

Several students have been good enough to share with us their own experiences of the Asum A. I think it was Mr. George Harcourt, of Culham College, who mentioned one little vulgarism which, though familiar to all of us yet missed its place in the first brief analysis: Igertay. For visitors to the Vale and newcomers to the course, it is probably necessary to explain that this is an interjection (that is, if it is to be treated as a single part of speech, which might be as well) and it means, more or less, 'Well, I never!' or 'Goodness gracious!' or something equally genteel and inept. It is a shabby genteel substitute for the time-honoured 'Igertell,' which is infinitely more expressive, valuable, literary, healthy and moral, my friends, than any of those four-letter words included by the late Mr. Lawrence in that notorious book. Every priest and every preacher (and I would rashly claim authority for saying so from the Vatican Council and the Convocation of Canterbury, in joint session) ought to be familiar with that part of the 'Asum Grammar' which deals with the philological and theological implications of 'Igertell.' If it's orthodoxy you want, we have it.
The 'Asum Grammar' favours 'Igertell' in preference to 'Igertay,' which it nevertheless notices. It also notices another curiosity: 'Igertannerver' which is a relics of the old days, quite long ago, when Hanover and all it stood for was an object of execration for the Common People of England. By the same process of deduction it might possibly be argued that the A in 'Igertay' is Hades without its aspirate or its case ending. It's possible. But 'Igertannerver' is etymologically clearer and needs no hypotheses at all. It must date from the time of George I (1714-1727) or George II (1727-1760) and it must be at least faintly (and possibly strongly) Jacobite. Why such conviction? Let me explain. The substitution of Hanover for Hell was done by people who considered that it was an equivalent sort of destination for the accursed: otherwise they might have said 'Igertevvun,' which they didn't. Hanover meant nothing at all to the English until Fat Queen Anne (who was a Stuart by birth if not regal by right) died in 1714, and the Elector of Hanover ascended the throne as George I. In the following year, James Edward Stuart (de jure James III, but known to the Establishment as the Old Pretender) tried his luck, in the Fifteen, and failed: the greatest king that England never had, yet much loved by the people. Igertannerver: the expression may have had its roots in the Fifteen. Or in the Forty-five? The attempt by the unfortunate Charles Edward, de jure Prince of Wales, to restore his father, in 1745, was made against the Elector of Hanover, George II - whose first waking words when roused from sleep with the news of his accession were 'Zat iss von big lie!' On his wife's death-bed, she urged him to marry after she was gone and he made what has come down to us as a rather rich remark in reply: 'Non, j'aurai des maitresses!' All they could say in Evesham was 'Igertannerver!'

Chapter Eleven — The Answer is No

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

a-drinkin, ant, bin, bissunt, ee, thee, theest, yunt

'That thee bissunt!' The speaker was a mother, to her child, and all the emphasis was on the word that. Had the child been older and addicted, as so many always are, to the unfortunate habit of contradiction, he might have retorted, with equal emphasis: 'That I be!' To which the reply must inevitably have been a repetitive: 'That thee bissunt!'
It is easy for us to take things for granted that we have known in one recognisable and immutable form all our lives. It is better not to take such things for granted. They are worth looking at quite closely now and again.
For example, consider our Vale of Evesham emphatic that, how useful it is, how economical (like all our ancient pearls of speech) and how necessary, whence did we obtain it and how long ago? 'Asum Grammar' hazards a guess that the usage has not developed from a longer declaration which began with the words 'I knows.' It is unlikely that there was ever a time when that harassed mother would have said: 'I knows that thee bissunt'; the emphasis must have been on knows in such a case, whereas it is obvious that it was always on that. When an Evesham girl says: 'That I yunt!' she really does mean No. It is not a noun clause in the object. That yunt is the predicate, total and self-sufficient. Or so she thinks. There is more to be said about That, however. Its function, in a unique way, is to qualify the verb: as a part of speech it is undoubtedly an adverb, not (as in the Queen's English) a demonstrative pronoun, adjective, relative pronoun or conjunction. It is often found with never. 'That ee never!' is the most forceful of denials. It answers imperfect allegations, such as: 'You trod on my foot!' > 'That I never!' But to deny perfect allegations, such as: 'You have stolen my wife!' never is no good: one needs ant ... 'That I ant!' If the denial must be a really desperate defence to an unanswerable charge, the double negative is employed 'Theest bin a-drinkin my beer!' > 'That I ant, never!'

Chapter Twelve — Yet a-While

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

ant, assunt, a-while, bin, cummin, er, sinnim, thee, ustad, yunna, yuttum

'Ustad thee money it?' Between one plum grower and the next, it is a question which is bound to be asked once or twice before the end of the summer, so there is probably something to be said for considering one of it's more profound implications here and now, while there is still time for contemplation. It is one of the authentic signs, by which a true-born native of the Vale of Evesham may be recognised, that a man shall say 'it' when a foreigner might say 'yet.'
Er ant bin it. I ant sinnim it. Thee assunt yuttum it. The meanings are too self-evident, to call for meaning by way of translation. For as I say, the form of 'it' commands contemplation. Let us therefore contemplate it. The consonantal y is not omitted because of bone idleness or ignorance of 'correct' usage but simply because it is an unnecessary obstacle to smooth expression. As a matter of fact, the y is a victim of mutation but as the change happened long ago, before any of the surviving records of the English language were written down, there is nothing to be gained for pursuing it too far. But I mention this matter of antiquity simply to indicate that 'it' for 'yet' is quite respectable, having been well known to our rude Anglo-Saxon forefathers whom, pig-headed in our resistance to needless change, we so faithfully resemble. They, moreover, were awkward enough to spell it with a kind of g, if they ever had occasion to write it.
'Yet a-while,' a phrase commonly found in the Evesham language (among others) is also very old; but here the y is always pronounced in the modern fashion, and this for reasons of emphasis: the accent is invariably on the first syllable of the phrase. I yunna cummin yet a-while, you. Observe that it is used only in sentences conveying a negative import. It is thus a very exact form and the language possessing it is rich indeed to have such finely sharpened tools. It will be a sad day when yet a-while goes.

Chapter Thirteen — To Ur is Human

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

ant, cum, cummin, gooin, sintha, ur, ursintha, urza, wum, wunt, wurzur, yunt

'Wurzur think urza gooin?', a young man on a bicycle complained to his companion in Bridge Street, Evesham, the other day, as a feminine van driver squeezed quite skilfully between them. Ur is wonderful, whether one considers the famous Ur of the Chaldees, the place where the ancient Babylonians worshipped the moon-god Sin, or the famous Ur of the Vale of Evesham, who is also something of a goddess in her way. Depending on who Ur is, of course.Ur, according to the Shorter Oxford Dictionary, which ought to know better, is 'an inarticulate sound, uttered instead of a word that the speaker is unable to remember or bring out.' She, is what the Evesham man calls his pig—if he has one and if its sex is appropriate. But woman-kind he treats with some of the same sort of veneration that the Jews reserve for Jehovah. He avoids the conventional feminine personal pronoun in the third person singular, in the nominative case anyhow and, pretending he is unable to remember it, uses an inarticulate sound—Ur. He remembers well enough and is articulate enough. He just likes Ur as Ur is. Grammatically, the prudent among us may as well admit, there may have been other reasons why the Evesham man has preferred the accusative and dative cases to the nominative where she is concerned. Ur undoubtedly comes from the Anglo-Saxon Idre, the dative of heo; and Dr. Sweet, the old master in this sort of thing, gives an explanation for the literary English form, she which the 'Asum Grammar' will have to emulate one day in respect of ur. But not today.
For the present let the trumpets sound in praise of ur.
'Wurzur think urza gooin?' = 'Where does she think she is going?'
'Ur wunt cum wum,' = 'She will not come home.'
'Ur yunt cummin wum' = 'She is not coming home.'
'Ursintha' =' She has seen you.'
'Ur ant sintha' = 'She has not seen you.'

Chapter Fourteen — This and That

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

be, bin, byuns, canst, chunt, ee, eed, er, erd, erself, isn, isself, oldern, ourn, paze, plaze, tak, thattun, thaze, theirn, thine, thissun, thur, thurselves, um, un, urn, wum, yur

'It chunt thine; it's isn. Er said er got urn at wum. Ourn's oldern theirn.' You will appreciate that pronouns are the very devil in this part of the world, especially when they are reflexive or demonstrative. It is odd how the old third person genitives survive so purely in the Vale of Evesham while elsewhere they decay and disappear. This historical reasons for it are themselves well worth exploring, but they have not been explored yet. However, the following will be found.

Third person. Nominative, accusative and dative singular:
Itself (masculine), Erself (feminine); plural: Thurselves (all genders).
Possessive singular:
Isn (masculine), Urn (feminine); plural: Theirn (all genders).
Examples - Eee said eed do it isself. Eee bin un shot isself. Er said erd plaze erself. They a done it thurselves. If it chunt isn it must be urn. It chunt theirn neither.
The n in ourn and theirn is, of the contracted form of own: is own, er own and thur own.And ourn signifies our own, first person plural.
The Evesham language thus contains three surviving n endings in the third person and one in the first person of these pronouns: the Queen's English is the poorer for lacking them. In the first and second persons singular, to be sure, the Evesham language shares mine and thine with the Queen's English; but the grammatical character of these is, quite different; if own is required, it must be added. Evesham does not add it, however. 'That pint thur, you: is it thine or mine?' sounds an unlikely enough question. But as 'That pint thur, you: is it thine own or mine own?' it suddenly becomes preposterous, as much out of place as a butt of malmsey in the bar at the Talbot.

Thissun, thattun; plural: thaze, um, they, them
It is to be noted especially that the plural form of thattun is inclined to be various. There is no rule in the matter and the choice it not really governed by case.
Examples: Thaze be some good paze I a got yur. Be they? Them be some poor byuns eee a got thur Be um?
Um ... they ... them ... Of thaze, thee canst tak thee pick.

Chapter Fifteen — No Place Like Wum

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

a-tellin, chup, cossunt, fit, igertell, muck-yup, ships, tha, thee, theecnst, thur, wum, yat, yud, yuds,yunnit, yunt, yup, yur, yurs

Cold, yunnit? The mother's advice to her shivering son, as he trotted home from school the other afternoon, was 'Pull thee yat well down over thee yurs.' His obedience showed his comprehension. And so also must we comprehend. We must get it into our yuds. To the foreign visitor, abroad in our paradisal Vale, it is probably rather trying, from time to time, to understand that although we drop our aitches, we do not simply leave it at that: we are inclined to drop an aitch and pick up a why.
Come yur, block yud! Cossunt yur what I'm a-tellin tha? Such language may not be conspicuously polite, but at least it is clear and it is utterly free from any difficulty in spelling. Theecnst spell yur, cossunt? Now it is true that not all dropped aspirates are replaced by 'y.' One, at least, takes the 'w' instead - wum. Wum is where the fire is, and slippers, and a comfortable chair, and good books. Thur's no place like wum. Iger tell if thur is. The historical reason why the Evesham man says, for example, yur for hear or here, yud for head, and yup for heap, is explored now. To put it in a nutshell, the situation is that everybody in civilised England would say yup for heap if their speech had been preserved properly down the centuries. Once upon a time, getting on for a thousand years ago, people would rightly have regarded as a gibbering foreigner anybody who referred to a manure heap. It is possible that some might nowadays, too, but the point or essence of this particular matter is that if you referred to a muck-yup you would have stood a much greater chance of being understood. In fact, the asthmatic old aspirate, which is so characteristic of England's wheezy old climate, made no improvement whatever to the words to which it attached its parasitic old self. Yup (yes, my friends, and yud and yur as well) is exactly the correct English pronunciation. It is the rare example (the exception, if you like, which proves the rule) where we are right and the rest of the world is wrong.
Let us look forward, shall we, to the day when the Mother of Parliaments, which cares so much for spreading the English way of life, shall make a determined effort to spread yur and yud and yups throughout the Commonwealth. But they yunt chup. There is another fine word - chup. It is such a pity that modern commerce must go out of its way to avoid chup. Goods are anything but chup, in the Affluent Society. They must be inexpensive, low-priced, reasonable, moderate or economical: anything but chup. It is a word which started as a noun and lost most of its strength when it was turned into an adjective. Nowadays it is an abusive sort of adjective altogether. What a pity nothing good is chup! The demands of a phonetic notation simple enough to be popularly acceptable impose the use of consonantal formations which are only vaguely approximate and the situation with regard to vowels is even more vague: thus, the sound of the word chup does not begin precisely like that of the word children and the u is not the u in but.' Tyorp' might be, nearer the mark but to many readers might be irreconcilable with their common experience, Hence, chup the spelling remains.
Chup began at least 1,500 years ago as a noun and did not adopt its predominantly adjectival and adverbial roles until 1568 when Elizabeth was settling down securely in her tenth year on the throne. The Evesham language maintains for the adjective and the adverb something very like the original pronunciation of the noun, which we should now write ceap, though that was not its appearance when it first began to be written Ceap is the Anglo-Saxon, the Middle English and the first half-century of the Modern English languages, meant barter and was originally concerned with the barter of cattle but later came to cover any sort of market place trade. Hence, the London thoroughfare, Cheapside, was a market place; and, to find a well-known Four Shires example, Mealcheapenstreet in Worcester was originally a place where flour and other ground grains were marketed. From the culinary point of view, ships yuds belong nowadays with pigs yuds and pigs fit and are not widely favoured. Perhaps it is a pity. Anyhow, the 'Asum Grammar' contains an assortment of recipes dealing with them and there may be consolation in the possibility that some choice examples may shortly see the light. Gentler readers especially may like to bear in mind, when next in the butcher's, that ships yuds be chup.

Chapter Sixteen — Comings and Goings

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

a-cummin, a-gooin, aye, bist, chunna, chunnarf, chunt, dussnt, fer, fur, ooze, tay, thee, theest, wur, yunna, yunnarf, yunn-I, yunnit, yunt

When the strange gentleman asked her where she was going, the pretty maid of the nursery rhyme was alleged to have replied: 'I'm going a-milking, sir. 'In this statement there reposes a wealth of significance for the student of social and literary history which ought not to be overlooked by the student of language.
'Where are you going to, 'my pretty maid?'
'I'm gooing a-milking, sir,' she said.
At a first glance, one might be forgiven for putting the origin of the rhyme in the early part of the eighteenth century: it seems to belong, by its very colour, to a pastoral England where the rosy-cheekedy blue-eyed innocence of milk-maids is taken for granted as one of the amenities of the countryside. Look deeper, my friends. There is no need to consider the gentleman's final, ungallant statement that the pretty maid's face is an insufficient fortune. Considerations of English usage in those first two lines make it plain that the conversation is taking place that a more snobbish, period, in the nineteenth century. It might have been otherwise if the gentleman had asked the maid where she was a-going. The all-important clue is in that single letter a with the hyphen after it. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes confirms that the modern version of the rhyme was 'carefully rewritten' in the nineteenth century from words recorded in 1790 and heard sung in 1698. Sure enough, the earlier texts do not make the gentleman's speech conspicuously genteel and the maid's conspicuously rustic. The snobbery of the 'carefully rewritten' text brands itself typically mid-Victorian.
'Wur bist thee a-gooin, my pretty wench?'
'I'm a-gooin a-milkin. sir,' she said.
Such would it have been in the Vale of Evesham. Such might it be today if there were any milkmaids still at large.
Ooze this a-cummin? Wur bist thee a-gooin? Thee dussunt know whether thee bist a-cummin or a-gooin, you.
Some authorities decry that a, The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, for instance, describes it as a worn down proclitic form of the Old English prepositions an or on. But it is not quite so worn down as they think, proclitic though it certainly is and very useful too. In the Queen's English, where it is as good as lost, it is variously classified as a preposition of superposition, motion, juxtaposition, situation, direction, series, time, manner, capacity, state, process or action; as a prefix, also. In Chaucer's day, it was a y. But in the Evesham Language, which has never before this been subjected to any sort of analysis, it is going to be called by the simple name of particle—and the Oxford Dictionary may keep all its thirteen different kinds of a preposition, as befits the custodian of a foreign tongue. Gooin a-milkin? Not on your life, Euphrosyne. Now theest got thee six hundred words, I be a-gooin out fer some tay. Then I be i-cumen back.

I have been asked to explain the distinction between chunnarf and yunnarf, for the benefit of tourists and other foreigners who may be stumbling, in the Vale of Evesham, upon such dialogue as this:
Chunnarf cold, yunnit, you? Aye, I yunnarf gooin wum quick.
Let us deal with the verb 'to be,' to which yunt, yunnit, yunnarf, yunn-I, and all similar derivatives belong. Chunnarf belongs there, also, despite its wild appearance. In the small space available here and now, however, it will probably suffice if I say that yunnarf, which is an untranslatable Evesham idiom, can be treated as a completely regular verb without the slightest offence to grammar; but the native will always tend to modify it when the subject of the sentence under analysis can be expressed by the neuter and singular personal pronoun. The modification is imposed by the insistent call for brevity, which is not only insistent but progressive. For example, observe this progression: I yunt ... I yunna gooin ... I yunnarf a-gooin ... Now substitute 'it' for 'I,' and what do you get? It yunt? Of course not, the word is chunt. It yunna gooin? No - chunna gooin. It yunnarf a-gooin? The true specimen is chunnarf a-gooin. The chunnarf usage is fairly rare because its governing element, 'it,' is equally rare, being applied to little else but the weather or Nature. Usually, subjects are either ee or ur. We may be slow, you see, but we are not neuter.
'Chunt fur, sir,' the boy said in Badsey when a passing motorist stopped to ask him how far it was to Littleton. It was a demonstration, at once, of exemplary courtesy and of the living language and I heartily hope the passing motorist appreciated both. This fur has no connection with the skin of certain animals of course, though it shares a common pronunciation. It is interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is an example of a rather late Vowel Shift, that the thoroughly reputable word fur should now be pronounced by most people outside the Vale of Evesham as far, rhyming with star. Historically, it is fur. Its origins, etymologically, are Old English (feor). Old Teutonic (ferr) Old Aryan (per Sanskrit paras), which adds up to a pretty respectable family tree, as you will probably agree. There is a quotation in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 'Sum ferrer and sum nerrer,' credited to Wyclif. It looks, therefore, as if fur became far in many places after the end of the 14th century. But not in the Vale of Evesham. Here we are inclined to be somewhat slow to change our habits, and quite disinclined to put on fashionable airs and graces. As a matter or fact, the standardisation of vowel sounds in English is a very much more recent development than it is sometimes supposed to be. For instance, it is by no means unknown in the Vale, and it is not an indication of illiteracy,' to find the word clerk being pronounced clurk, as in the American manner. In the 17th and 18th centuries, fashion imposed the ar sound on a number of words spelt with er, such as servant, vermin and swerve. Nowadays, clerk is about the only one to survive with the ar sound intact, though rustics? (in literature, at least, if not in practice) are often observed to call vermin varmints. In the Vale, ar has come more slowly than in other places. There are, always a few who back the winner of the Durby.

Chapter Seventeen — Ant’s Nest

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

ant, binnit, cummin, ent, er, mine-tha, telled, yunt

What is the difference between ent and ant. A visitor from Shipston had been listening to an Evesham conversation, which probably went something like this:
'Ant er binnit?' 'No, er ent cummin.'
This really was deplorable and one's first reaction was to think that if vulgarism as nasty as this is creeping into the everyday speech of the younger generation then there must be some protest: perhaps one should reconsider one's offer to paint a strike banner for the teachers. On second thoughts, though, moderation prevails: for heaven's sake pay them their extra few millions (it is a mere drop in the ocean, anyhow) and expect them, in the Vale of Evesham at least to eradicate this horrible, detestable ent. Everybody knows it should be yunt. For the benefit of further visitors to the Vale, however, a short extract may help to make the situation perfectly clear to all.
'Ant er binnit?' It is a euphonious, economic and quite regular way of saying: 'Has she not been yet?' or 'Hasn't she been yet?' Foreigners should be careful to note that ant is pronounced slowly, with a wide open mouth, horizontally as it were, and not roundly as if we were respectably referring to uncle's wife. Now if the speaker had been a Cockney, or a Brummie, he would not have said ant. It would have been ain't; and there is nothing wrong with ain't, provided it is kept in its place, which is not the Vale of Evesham. The revolting retort: 'No, er ent cummin,' shows from what direction our great and ancient language is now being threatened. Ent is a slovenly form of ain't. It just will not do. It will not do, because there is to be preserved in the Evesham language the distinction (lacking in the Cockney and the Brummie tongues) between the verbs to be and to have in the negative forms as used in that overheard conversation. It is too short a journey from ant to ent. Ant is 'has not' and yunt is 'is not' and there should really be no need to point out that the twain ought never to meet if the strength of the language is to be preserved. Certainly, ain't can belong to either verb indiscriminately; but that is an historical accident which, however interesting, should not be allowed to render yunt superfluous. It yunt as if they ant bin telled. Mine tha.

Chapter Eighteen — It won’t Hurt?

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

twunt, urt, urtcha

'Twunt urt' , said the dustman complacently, acknowledging the existence of the dent in the dustbin. And literally he was right. It seemed unlikely that the dent, any dent, in a dustbin at least, could hurt anybody. But that was hardly what the dustman meant. What he did mean, I expect, was: 'It won't matter.' And in that respect it was hardly for the dustman to say, for it was not his dustbin that he had dented. The occurrence of urt in the common language of the Vale of Evesham is an interesting example of one short word fulfilling several grammatical purposes from ancient and modern usage as transitive verb, intransitive verb, past participle and noun, as well as exploring the history of the stem as far back into its Old French, Celtic, Welsh and Cornish origins as seems decent or necessary. In its use as an intransitive verb urt means something different from urt as a transitive verb. For example, 'Twunt urtcha', which might be said by a dentist who had really determined to master the vernacular, means 'It won't hurt you.' If the same dentist says 'Twunt urt,' his meaning is the same: the verb is as transitive as the pain is transient, the object of the sentence being understood. But if he is talking about a dent in a dustbin, or a job that is not quite perfect or any other sort of blot on an otherwise satisfactory escutcheon, the verb is intransitive. He means that it will not matter. And one wonders why. Perhaps the explanation is to be found in the sense that hurt can mean mischievous or harmful. 'Twunt urt' means, then, 'It will not cause mischief or be harmful.' The dustman dents the dustbin and comes to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that the dent will not cause any mischief or harm. If the dent becomes a hole, of course, the verb is undoubtedly transitive (and the dustman is a fool).

Chapter Nineteen —Give it here?

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

agyun, ant, bist, cummin, ee, gissit, guz, middlin, ow, thee, wiks, wur, yunna, yur

Heaven help the philologist who is landed (and one will be, one day) with the problem of analysing 'gissit.' 'Gissit' had been thought to have perished about the time of Dunkirk, but it was heard, as fresh as a daisy, in the Market Place at Evesham on Monday; and all praise to its hardiness. But what is it? Small boy, producing a stamped letter from his pocket: 'I forgot about this.' Elder boy, dragging the other towards the post office: 'Gissit.' He might have put it differently. He might have said, not so many years ago, 'Gissit yur.' But there was no need of emphasis, in fact. The small boy knew exactly what he was being told to do, and handed the letter over. The usage is fascinating because it combines morphological and syntactical interests. It will be found, eventually, in the monumental 'Linguistic Atlas of England' Which is at present under construction in the University of Leeds, a work which, kind readers, will have the last say on all these funny little flowers of speech that are purveyed on this page for you every few weeks. In the meantime, therefore, perhaps you may like to know what is said about 'gissit' Very well then: yur thee bist: yur ee guz agyun.
'Gissit' is one of the oldest imperatives in the Evesham language. At a first glance, it has a hint of the plural, but this is an illusion. The personal pronoun in the object, which is to be understood and never stated, is always singular: it is always me, never us. Yet there is no such usage as gimmit, and never was, though it would have been more simply comprehensible. When employed by one person, of course, the first person plural indicates that it is the Pope, the emperor or the editorial writer who is speaking, and the effect is designedly majestic. With 'gissit,' though, the speaker claims no pomp or circumstance. Why, then, does he say it? There is only one simple answer. It is easier. Perhaps it is friendlier, too, lacking in courtesy. 'Give it me' is an entirely formal command without polite preamble. 'Please gissit' is impossible because of incongruity. The verb itself is irregular. But the imperative is always 'Gissit'.
Ow bist? Fair to middlin, you...
This conversational, snatch, common enough in the Vale of Evesham, demonstrates one of the several meanings of a word which has undergone, and is still undergoing, an interesting development. Middlin (without the final g employed in the Queen's English, for in Evesham the final g is virtually unknown) was first noticed in 1456, as an adjective of Scots origin, and for its first hundred years or so meant more or less what it said—'intermediate between two things.' In 1550 it designated the second of three grades of goods and in 1652 it meant mediocre. But then, quite suddenly, it became an adverb and in 1719 was used, colloquially, instead of 'moderately, fairly, tolerably.' Colloquialisms all following the same downhill path, it had come to mean, by 1810, 'not very well in health.' When an Evesham man (or, more often perhaps, an Evesham woman) speaks of somebody as being middlin it is not meant merely that the person concerned is 'not very well'; rather, to say somebody is middlin is positively to say that he or she is ill, and perhaps very ill. Middlin, in the Evesham language, is a simple substitute for ill or, to be more precise, incapacitated by illness. It carries with it as an adverb of quality the regular degrees of comparison one might expect, but hardly in the form one might expect.
Middlin is the positive.
Example: 'Wur's Jack? Ee yunna cummin. Ee's middlin.'
Interpretation: Jack is absent because he is feeling unwell, slightly ill, or off-colour enough to be incapacitated. But there is no cause for alarm. Jack's all right. He may even be just a pessimist.
Pretty middlin, you is the comparative.
Example: 'Jack ant come agyun today. Ow is ee? Pretty middlin.'
Interpretation: Jack is not so well as he was yesterday. He has probably called the doctor. It is doubtful if we shall see Jack out and about for some time. But, of course, we wish him well.
Very middlin, or middlin qualified by a different term of greater strength is the superlative.
Example: 'Jack ant bin for wiks. Ow's poor old Jack? Very middlin.' Interpretation : Jack is seriously ill.
Now, as every schoolboy knows, an adverb (which middlin is) qualifies a verb, an adjective or another adverb. What, then, does middlin qualify? The answer is in the verb to do. The question which produces middlin in the answer formally asks how Jack does or did.

Chapter Twenty — Isn’t It?

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

yuncha, yunnee, yunner, yunn-I, yunnit, yunnum, yunnus, yunst, yunt

The changing fashion in words is an interesting thing, as anybody knows who has lived long enough in the Vale of Evesham to notice how people are gradually preferring yunnum to yunt they. 'Jack's Sprouts be a rare lot,yunnum?' 'Aye, they be, yunt they?'
Somehow, both expressions are equally acceptable; each has a respectable ancestry; and yet the first is surely more euphonious than the second, and easier to say, without losing any of its significance or grammatical integrity. That is how it always was with genuine language. There was a time when the universal use was byunnum, and this was a beautiful example of linguistic development. It may occasionally be found even today, and the users of it probably regret its gradual supersession. Words make their effect by their sound. That is why Wurbiss gooin?, despite a certain tendency to decadence, is not the inferior of Where are you going? As for economy, it is almost the. rival of Quo vadis? And any language that can stand up to Latin is worthy of anybody's respect. The modern difficulty is that there are too many 'in' words and 'out' words. Some that are 'in' ought to be 'out', and vice versa. The real criterion is usefulness. Wodduss think, you?
For example, honest people who have always been in the habit of saying 'Yunnit?' when seeking affirmation for a proposition would undoubtedly be very ill-advised to resolve henceforth, at this stage of this Year of Grace, to express themselves differently, by saying 'Isn't it?', or some such nonsense, believing it more polite. The plain fact is extremely plain. It yunt. In Asum Grammar there is nothing impolite or vulgar about 'Yunnit?', which rhymes with punnet, run it and Mr. Dunnett.
'Yunnit?' is the simplest, cleanest, pleasantest, most economic, most expressive way of saying exactly what has to be said, nothing more and nothing less: it is by far the best tool for the job it has to do. The Queen's English has nothing like it. It fulfils its function with complete efficiency, without having the slightest need of one, single dia-critical mark. It commends itself to Dr. Otto Jespersen, with my compliments. Well, then: do not resolve to do away with 'Yunnit?'. If you feel inclined to abolish something, by way of sacrifice, abolish 'Ennit?', which is a coarse, back-sliding vulgarism. By way of guarantee that this ancient, respectable and efficient language of ours shall survive inviolate throughout the coming year, why not simply resolve' to use it more? Make it a habit, for example, to say yunnit, yunnI and yunnum, yunnee, yunner and yunnus, pretty often (in the correct context, of course) from now on.
Here is the conjugation, in case you need it:
Yunnee? / Yunner? / Yunnit?
It is no use complaining, wistfully, that the Common Language is being watered away if it is you who are doing the dilution. Hold your heads up high, therefore, at the dawning of this New Year and continue as you always did, to speak the language of our ancestors. What was good enough for them is good enough for us. Yunnit?

Chapter Twenty One — Hung Over

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

agoo, ang, at, bissunt, cyurful, e, eedea, er, erda, Ida, lottangs, lottudda, mon, thee, theelt, theest, theyda, thur, tith, togyuther, umman, ung, urd, vung, washin, weeda, yud, yurs

As I awas saying, several years ago, the people who have been brought up to speak the Evesham language were always very pig-headed about their past participles. A simple example will probably suffice: in (say) 1810 an Englishman who shot a rabbit, damaged a public building, stole a pocket handkerchief, or committed any one of 219 other felonies, was hanged; but in the Vale of Evesham, always supposing he was silly enough to be caught, he was ung. This, however, shall not be an historical dissertation on capital punishment or a wordy commentary on the social benefits thereof; here we shall keep politics and emotion out of it and talk only of the more important and lasting business of grammar. There is something satisfactory about the simplicity of an all-purpose word such as ung. Indeed there is probably no verb quite as regular as the Evesham verb to ang; except tin the 2nd person present indicative (which ought to be angst, in theory, and probably would be if that usage had not been stolen by the Germans) it is all angs and ung. E angs out is yud. Er angs out the washin. At least er used to ang out the washin before the introduction of washing machines and launderettes. To continue the conjugation, though. We angs togyuther. You lottangs about too much. They angs on be the skin a thur tith. Pedantry was always an inescapable feature of this column and so it shall remain.
In some primitive villages they may still say thee angst thee at up, but, as I say, it has not been heard lately. Anyhow, hatless is the fashion. Angs out of is a colloquialism of the lower deck which has no place in a decent newspaper. Ung is past and present, passive as well as active. I ung back a bit. E ung, er ung, we ung, you lot ung, they ung. The intelligent student will not need me to explain every time precisely what was ung and wur, or indeed why; but it is necessary to note, again, that the conjugation is deficient of a convincing 2nd person: if theest ever urd a mon (or umman) say ungst, he or she was probably talking about something else, and in no very complimenary terms, either. As for the passive uses, there is room for argument if you feel like it. Thy uncle was ung, and if thee bissunt cyurful theelt get ung like thy uncle. There was a time, our elders used to tell us, when unkind people would say such things as this to those whom the cap, might fit; but they must all have disappeared, yurs agoo. Ida vung, eedea vung, erda vung, weeda vung, you lottudda vung, theyda vung. It is not only grammatically but historically true. The hanging of a man for cutting down a cherry tree is on record and, even though it happened in Essex, where cherry trees have always been somewhat thin on the ground, there is no doubt that many of the cases that come before modern magistrates and carry a small fine as penalty, would have been hanging matters not all that long ago.
The Campden Wonder has got to come into this eventually. Mrs. Perry and her two sons were all unfortunately topped for murdering William Hamson (who was alive and well all the time) as every schoolboy knows. The matter has been too adequately aired elsewhere to bear repeating here ,and now Sir George Clark, The Campden Wonder, Oxford University Press, is the best of the many works on the subject) and yet there is much remaining mystery. For instance, were the family hanged or ung? Sir George Clark, citing some tatty old broadsheets in the Bodleian and the court records (which carry the abbreviation for Suspenditur) concludes that they were hanged. The balance of linguistic probability is that they were not suspended, or hanged, or anything fancy; just ung.

Chapter Twenty Two — Secrets of the Garden

Asum Grammar Words used in this Chapter

a, ai, assunt, ast, chunt, dussunt, ee, eel, gettim, gissim, gotta, gunnav, im, isn, knowst, missim, mon, myun, sinner, tellim, thee, theesalf, theest, thelldust, thissun, ull, uthee, wantst, wobbiss, woddus, wot, wunt, yud, yur

This low-priced little paperback, with its sensational picture on the cover, may not be allowed into Ireland; but why should Vale of Evesham readers worry about that? To them it will prove a boon, enabling them to understand without effort the full meaning of those mysterious words uttered by the sages of Bretforton, Littleton, Bengeworth and such places: 'I a sinner.' It explains the true nature of sin, which is more than you are entitled to expect for the money. It recounts, in dialogue form (for easy comprehension by those not addicted to analytical study) how one man and one woman, in the joy of their youth, behaved on a certain summer evening, in a certain garden, long ago. The following extract, taken at random, will have mad queues stamping at the bookshop doors:
'Wodduss myun?'
'Thee assunt gotta a thissun.'
'Wot thelldust myun? It chunt thine.'
'I knows. It's isn.'
'Ee wunt missim.'
'That ee ull.'
'Gissim yur! Gissim quick, afore ee comes.'
'That I never sholl. If thee wantst im, theetst better gettim fur theesalf.'
'Ai, that I ull, then ...'
'Wobbiss thee up to?'
'I'm a gunnav im, you. Thee trouble thee yud uthee own business... Ease mine now.'
'When thy old mon comes along yur, thee knowst what eel say, dussunt? Eel say, Ast thee sin that wench as pinched that red rose bud?'
Then I shall tellim. Ai I'll tellim, Ai, I a sinner.'

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See also Asum Grammar - An Introduction