Linguistic Good Taste


The other day I took the car in to get an MOT and service. As I walked home two women passed me walking in the opposite direction. One said to the other, “he were having a fag behind the recycling bins.”

Such is the joy of the English language that this probably means something entirely different depending on what part of the English speaking world you hail from.

Apparently it was the Canadian, James D. Nicoll, who commented that “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

When we acquire these words, we sometimes give them meanings that the original owners had never contemplated. So we have raddle. This can apparently be spelled ruddle or reddle (because all three words mean the same thing).They may have originated as a term meaning „to paint red.‟

About the only use for raddle now is when you smear it on the chest of a tup or ram before turning him out with his harem. It has the advantage that it rubs off on them and you know that he‟s working and that they‟re coming in season.

Obviously a ewe that has been smeared with raddle is „raddled‟ and that‟s another word that has wandered off into more mainstream parlance. I suspect that it‟s not perhaps as widely used as it might once have been.

It‟s funny that dyes of varying sorts seem to linger around the fringes of agriculture. Years ago (probably pre-EEC) there used to be “stockfeed potatoes”. What happened was that when the potato price collapsed, the government would buy up surplus potatoes that weren’t needed, to put a

bottom in the market. They‟d then have them sprayed with a purple dye and sold cheaply to farmers for livestock feed.

Because the supermarkets and other retailers didn’t particularly want the very big potatoes, they were often the ones chosen for cattle potatoes. Given that they were both very large and very cheap, I remember a lot of talk about the number of chip shops where you might find purple stained potato peel in the waste bins. After all the dye didn’t soak into the potato, and it also had to be safe because livestock were going to eat it.

Another place where they use a lot of dye is the slaughterhouse. Because of various regulations, some offals cannot be eaten. To make sure they‟re kept out of the food chain, government inspectors will watch as they‟re sprayed with dye. This stuff is designed not to wash off, to ensure that the stuff sprayed goes for proper disposal. To be fair to the authorities, it works.

There are disadvantages. I remember taking cattle in, and one of the lasses was doing the paperwork for me in the office. One of the slaughtermen came in off the line and handed her a sheaf of papers. She examined them carefully and then gingerly took them off him. Because the lads were spraying the dye about, they‟d get it on themselves and then it‟d get on the paperwork, and then it‟d get everywhere.

As she said, “It gets so that I have to really scrub my hands before I go to the loo. Otherwise my husband keeps asking me whose are the hand prints on my knickers.”

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quadbikes and dogs) It’s available here.