Us Cornish are funny folk. We love to dress up in white and dance around with flowers and bells. We like to drink ale with odd names like ‘Proper Job’ and ‘Lushingtons.’ We still believe in mermaids and witches. We even speak a strange, made up language, that isn’t quite Cornish and isn’t quite English – yet, we all still understand each other.
Here’s a short dictionary of commonly used Cornish words and phrases to help you decipher the ‘maid’ from the ‘shag’ and the ‘geddon’ from the ‘wasson.’
Cornish: Kernow Bys Vyken
English: Cornwall forever
You will hear this being sung loud and proud by Cornish folk and probably graffitied on the back of some signs. Whilst the Cornish language may be fading, this phrase lives on within young and old alike. The people of Cornwall are all extremely passionate about their heritage, and some would even argue that being ‘Cornish’ is a race.
English: An unspecified time, later
In context, you would hear this term used in answer to when something will be done or when someone will arrive.
Person 1: “‘Ere, when’s ya mate showing up?”
Person 2: “Dreckly.”
Person 1: “Are you ever going to do the washing up?”
Person 2: “Yeah, dreckly.”
It basically means that said task will be happening in the not too distant future, but the Cornish are notorious for their slow-paced lifestyle so it could be a while…
English: Hello, how are you?
This the probably the most commonly used word amongst the Cornish as it covers a variety of bases; it can be used as a greeting, question and answer all within the same conversation!
Person 1: “Alright?”
Person 2: “Alright?”
End of conversation.
Person 1: “Alright?”
Person 2: “Yeah, you?”
Person 1: “Yeah.”
Both of these conversations are perfectly acceptable and understandable in Cornwall.
Cornish: Wasson, shag?
English: What are you up to, friend?
This phrase is thrown around liberally, as the word ‘shag’ is common etiquette. In this instance, ‘wasson’ directly translates to ‘what is going on right now’ and ‘shag’ means ‘friend, buddy’ etc.
You would use this sentence to gauge the plans of your friends to see if you want to join in.
Person 1: “Wasson, shag?”
Person 2: “Goin’ down pub, wan’ come?”
Person 1: “Yeah sure. Be there dreckly.”
Cornish: Geddon me bewty!
English: Hello, friend
Commonly used as an affectionate way to greet a friend, ‘geddon’ more or less just means hello, and ‘bewty’ (pronounced boo-dee) is another term for friend. ‘Bewty’ can also be substituted with ‘ansum,’ meaning handsome.
Person 1: “Geddon me bewty!”
Person 2: “Wasson, shag!”
Cornish: Some maid
English: What a girl
This is always a good thing. Whether someone refers to you as ‘some maid,’ someone calls your partner/sister/daughter/mother ‘some maid,’ or you in turn describe someone you admire as ‘some maid,’ it is sign of respect in Cornwall. You could even go as far as saying that it is one of the highest accolades of a female within Cornish slang!
Person 1 (with enthusiasm!): “Cor, she is some maid!”
Cornish: Born in a barn?
English: Close the door!
Technically this slang isn’t just native to Cornwall, but you will hear it uttered frequently by many Cornish folk. The phrase occurs when someone enters a room through a door that links directly with the outside and then leaves the door open or ajar. This then lets a cold draft in and the person that just entered must be reminded rhetorically that they were not born in a barn and therefore they shouldn’t leave the door like this. It can be said angrily or in jest, but it always means close the bleddy door!
Person 1 (enters a caravan and leaves the door open): “Alright, bird!”
Person 2: “Born in a barn, were ‘ee?”
Are there any other phrases you’ve heard out and around The Duchy that you think should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!