Author Andy Charman, who has just written a novel set in Victorian Dorset, suggests that we all love a little Dorset dialect

The accent features gentle, drawn-out vowel sounds softened by comforting buzz of ‘S’ sounds pronounced as ‘Z’, and we’re comforted by occasional reminders of Dorset’s gentler past. But did you know that Dorset dialect retains more of the Anglo-Saxon of King Alfred than does modern, Norman-based English?

It is still common to think of Dorset dialect in terms of a few amusing phrases and a yokel accent—but this is not how it was thought of by William Barnes, the Dorset Poet, and it is not the approach used in the Dorset-based novel Crow Court which has just been released in paperback.

William Barnes was a priest and a poet, and he was also a formidable linguist. Although he was the son of a tenant farmer in the Blackmore Vale, he studied at St John’s College Cambridge, and came to speak ten languages: Cornish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Latin, Old English, Russian and Welsh.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: William Barnes Picture: Wikipedia Public DomainWilliam Barnes Picture: Wikipedia Public Domain

Far from being embarrassed by his rustic roots, Barnes was proud of Dorset dialect and recorded as much of it as he could in a Glossary of Dorset Dialect which contains over 80 pages of Dorset terms and 40 pages of the rules of Dorset grammar. For Barnes it was clear that Dorset dialect was not a corruption of English—not English spoke wrong—it was almost a distinct language with roots in Anglo-Saxon, Friesian, German and Old English.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: William Barnes statue in Dorchester Picture: John GurdWilliam Barnes statue in Dorchester Picture: John Gurd

After the conquest of 1066, the Normans took over government, high offices, land and titles, but they left the working farmhands alone. So rural dialects kept their Anglo-Saxon roots right up until the Victorian age when universal education brought them to an end.

As an example, you might know the old Dorset term ‘zummit,’ which sounds like a corruption of ‘something’—but it is not; it is the word ‘somewhat’. William Barnes believed that the Dorset terms ‘somewhat’ and ‘somewhen’ were far more logical companions to somehow and somewhere than the standard ‘something,’ and ‘sometimes.’

My novel, Crow Court is set in Wimborne Minster in 1840. Following the mysterious disappearance of a choirmaster, townsfolk are caught in intrigues and the after-effects of an outrage.

Since it is Victorian times, many of the rural characters still talk in Dorset dialect. They use ‘en’ instead of ‘him’, and ‘thik’ instead of ‘this’. Like most languages, though, Dorset has rules with exceptions; plurals end ‘en’ but only if the singular ends with an ‘S’ sound. So foxes and boxes are foxen and boxen, while cows are still cows. And there were other rules about things like the past tense; if you went to town once, you just went to town, but if you went often you ‘did go to town’. This was why Barnes thought Dorset was like Anglo-Saxon, because the grammatical rules were so similar.

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Andy Charman Picture: Alex Freeman PhotographyAndy Charman Picture: Alex Freeman Photography

Crow Court has 14 sections—each with a different voice, and while they all have Dorset characters in them, only two are written in full dialect. It took a lot of research to produce those small sections—and there was plenty of other research to be done alongside the language. In the section called ‘Art’s Last Laugh’ three farmhands set out to fix some fencing, two of them having a wager on who will be the first to make Art laugh. Writing in Dorset dialect was hard enough but what stood for a good joke in 19th century Dorset? I can reveal that the humour was typically very, very earthy!


Dumbledore A bumble bee.

Hobble A deep laugh.

Sniggle A short laugh.

Dunducky Someone who is colourless is ‘dunducky’.

Slack-twisted Someone who is slack-twisted is lazy.

Dough-beaked Someone dough-beaked is ineffective, useless.

Spry Strong.

Soggy Rather than just ‘wet’, soggy meant heavy, damp and sinking.

Gawk-Hammer An empty-headed fool.

Girt Great, (in original meaning—big). Baggen girt is very big. So is lincen girt, strimmen girt and brushen girt.

Dewbit The meal before breakfast. Dorset farmhands were accustomed to seven meals a day during harvest; dewbit, breakfast, luncheon, cruncheon, nammit, crammit and supper.

Owling about Wandering aimlessly in the dark.

Tackle To cope with something, as in ‘I could tackle a beer.’

Bridport and Lyme Regis News: Crow Court Picture: UnboundCrow Court Picture: Unbound

  • Crow Court by Andy Charman is published by Unbound at £8.99, ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1800180901

Set in 1840 in the Dorset market town of Wimborne Minster, Crow Court is a murder mystery and an exploration of life in Victorian Dorset. It was long-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2021 and is published by Unbound.

Andy Charman is an author and writing coach. His short stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, The Battered Suitcase, Cadenza, Ballista and other periodicals and websites. His first novel, Crow Court, was published by Unbound and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize 2021. Born and raised in Dorset, he now lives in Surrey with his wife and daughter.


Twitter: @andycwriter

Instagram: @andymccharman