Forest Dialect Words

Forest dialect words are most often related to everyday life of ordinary people and their communities. Many dialect words are related to family, the home, activities that took place in the forest many years ago. These activities could be about former industries such as agriculture, mining, or keeping animals.

Forest WordsAug19OSBS

Several dialect words are related to mining in the Forest.

Butty – Originally the term for a miner who would supervise the work of three or four miners and agree wages with the mining bosses. He was responsible for collecting the pay and distributing it to his group of miners. This was a relationship of trust and often the supervisor would form a group from his family and his mates. The word then became used as ‘mate’ as well. We also find that other mining communities use the word ‘Butty’ – East Midlands, South Wales, Lancashire.

Other Forest mining words are – Nellie, Quat, Scowle, Tommy.

Nellie – This word refers to the candle holder that miners would take with them into the mine. They held the holder in their mouth like a pipe with a lit candle in it, so they could see where they were going and when they were working. This is likely to be a local word because Forest mines were different from mines in other areas. They did not have methane gas and so could be safely lit with candles. Other mines were notorious for being filled with gas and would have exploded if miners had used a naked flame, such  as a candle.

Quat – This word refers to the miners who would ‘squat’, when they rested or ate their ‘lunch – Tommy‘. This is because they had nothing to sit on.

Scowle – These are the famous humps, often covered by moss which are unique to the Forest of Dean. The name therefore can be considered a dialect word because it refers to something that only exists in the local area.

Why do foresters have a dialect?
The English Language is really a set of regional dialects that began with the Anglo-Saxons. These were tribes from Northern Europe that came to England. Each tribe spoke different but related dialects. Whilst we call them the Anglo-Saxons, they were different tribes, mainly from the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. These dialects developed and changed over time. This process of language change has continued to the present day. The Forest of Dean lies at the edges of two ancient dialect regions – Wessex and Mercia. The dialect has influences from the West Midlands, the South West and you will find similarities with other dialects in these regions, as well as South East Wales.

Have a look at the dialect resources pages for additional information on the Forest Dialect.
Above you can see a selection of common dialect words from the Forest. Many of them can still be heard today. Dialect words are mostly older forms of the English Language and many of them were widespread. Over the years, newer words have replaced them, especially in the towns and cities and the older words were kept by rural communities who maintained older ways of life. Some words can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon. 

Suggested Activities
Many older and some younger people in the Forest of Dean will know several of these words.

  1. Have the children take home a list of words to ask family and friends whether they have heard the words and whether they know the meaning.
  2. Foresters in the Victorian age commonly used Forest Dialect words. Introduce these words when learning about local history. Write letters, diaries from the perspective of a forester character, using some local dialect words.
  3. Write poetry or stories about foresters using local dialect words.
  4. Think about how we use different words in different context with different people. e.g. There are many words for grandmother – grannie, gran, nan, nanny, nanna, and forest granbutt. Forest for grandfather – grancher. Have the children write poems, songs, raps about the different words they have encountered and where they could use them.
  5. The children can also learn about some old Forest sayings and perhaps include them in some of their creative writing – coming soon
  6. Have a look at Forest Dialect poetry or the work of Harry Beddington who wrote in Forest Dialect – coming soon