Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Say what you mean (and mean what you say!)


I was watching a programme on television the other day called Come Dine With Me. In case you haven’t seen it, it involves a group of strangers being brought together and over the course of a week they each take it in turn to cook dinner. The guests award points at the end of the evening and the host with the highest score wins one thousand pounds.

Anyway, the episode I was watching was set in Yorkshire. When the first host opened his door to guest number one, he uttered the immortal words, “Hey up!” Roughly translated it means, Hello. Lovely to see you. Welcome. and it’s the perfect example of how we use English in a way that often confuses people from other parts of the world.

Have you ever commented that you’re spitting feathers when you’re really thirsty? Or replied to an enquiry after your health that you’re fair to middling? I know I have, and I’ve never given it a second thought either. But how confusing it must be to someone who doesn’t come from your particular area.

I love local sayings and think they are something we should cherish. In Liverpool, for instance, we might describe something good as being “boss”, while in another part of the country they might describe it as “wicked”. Then there’s all the local endearments: love, duck, hen, cock, my lover – the list is endless yet they are all terms of affection.

In Lancashire where I live, the standard reply to how are you is Oh, just keeping goin’ with me ‘ead down. Taken at face value, the words barely make sense but used in this fashion they perfectly describe someone who is well enough to be getting on with his life.

So, do you have any sayings particular to the part of the world where you live? When you open your door to your guests, how do you greet them? I’d love to hear them so I can add them to my collection!


22 thoughts on “Say what you mean (and mean what you say!)”

  1. Englsh is a funny language, isn’t it, Jennifer?
    I remember when we first moved to the UK over 20 years ago now being rather concerned when someone said “Are you alright?”
    “Yes,” I said, “why, don’t I look well?”

    I learned very quickly that was English for – how are you which is usually what we say when greeting someone.

    I lived in Liverpool for 3 months and scarcely understood a word anyone was saying! I did like being like called Queenie by some of the old ducks in the nursing home however and when we moved to Devon the oldies there would say “my duck” or “my boody”.

    I have a running joke with Scarlett Wilson that I understand about 50% of what she says and it still takes me a while to figure it out after she finishes talking 🙂

    1. You are so right, Amy. English is a very funny language and we make it even funnier! Loved the reminder about the old Liverpool endearment, Queen. I remember starting work in the City Libraries there and the cleaners all calling me Queen. Although I come from Liverpool, I hadn’t heard it before but soon got used to it. I wonder how many people use it today.

  2. I love things like that! And Amy – I had the exact same experience when I moved to the UK from Seattle. All these folk asking if I was alright made me really paranoid until I figured out they were just saying ‘how are you?’ I’m married to a Scot and his father speaks proper Scots. A lot. We always take about half an hour to readjust our hearing to one another’s accents. ‘Ey?’ ‘What?’ ‘Sorry?’ ‘I cannae get what yer saying.’ ‘What’s begritten?’

    Loads of the words have crept into my vocabulary over the years, though…without my noticing. So much so that when I get home to America roughly the same ‘Ey?’ ‘What was that?’ type conversations continue.

    My current book is set in Scotland and I’m putting in loads of old Scottish words. Just love them. Fun post, Jennifer!

    1. I’m looking forward to reading your book set in Scotland, Annie. All those wonderful old words deserve to be remembered, don’t they? As for the problems with your f-i-l, I sympathise with him and you. We visited Colorado once and I recall the very young waitress asking me at breakfast what language we were speaking! Obviously, our version of English sounded very foreign to her ears.

      1. Ha! That’s hilarious. I went to Florida once and was at the supermarket. The lady asked if I wanted to join the loyalty scheme and I said no thank I don’t live in the country and she said, ‘Oh my gosh! Your English is so good!’ Hilarious.

  3. Hi Jennifer!
    I am always aware how much the English have influenced our language here is U.S. (Well, duh!) – Go to New England and everything is a mixture of Old English and Native American and I can’t pronounce any of it! Husband takes great pride in repeating the “right” way to say names of towns and streets once I’ve mangled them. Here I thought “Wicked Good” was a Maine/Massachusetts thing. lol
    OK – so you’ve asked for some of our sayings. Some I’m reminded of because of how similar they are to a couple of the examples you’ve given. First off, I definitely say “fair to middling” (but I’m old and wonder if the young ones know what I mean). We say “What up!” as a greeting. We, meaning young folks, I personally don’t say that. A spinoff of another one of yours is – keep on keepin’ on, or in response to someone who has just mentioned things are a bit tough right then. “I’ll just keep on keepin’ on”
    Another is a response to being asked how things are going, we might say “Same old same old”
    Fun stuff, Jennifer!
    Oh, and in response to Amy’s comment about Scarlet Wilson. I once had a conversation with a Scotsman and I could only understand about 10%!!! Also, I used to joke I only got 50% of what one of my earliest UK editors used to say on the phone, so I asked her to always send her thoughts in writing. It takes me a good fifteen minutes to adjust my ears when watching a British movie, but after that I’m good.

    1. Hi Lynne, Great to hear that you’ve taken so many of our sayings and use them :> Love the “keep on keepin’ on” So like keep going with your head down. As for Scottish accents, I too have to listen extra hard until my ears tune in. Worth it though as it sounds so lovely.

  4. I love Scotland and anything Scottish too! My dad was from Scotland and I still can’t say ‘film’ the English way or ‘loch’ unless I pronounce it the Scottish way! I remember being bought up in London & moving to work in a care home in Bristol & someone asked me to take the rubbish out and put it in the ash bin. I looked at her astonished, I could see the dustbin but no ash bin! I had to ask and I think she thought I was being cheeky, but in Bristol they’re the same thing! 🙂 I’m still getting on with my submission here, I’ve almost 4,000 words, part first chapter and part synopsis. I’m trying to decide if my hero is too grumpy for a first chapter, because they start with a disagreement! 🙂

    1. Hi Lynne, you are lucky to have had a Scottish father and be able to pronounce words the “proper” way. As well as loving old sayings, I love accents and am so glad they still exist and we don’t all speak in one homogenised way even though it can lead to a few misunderstandings! Good luck with your book. Nothing wrong with starting with an argument so long as you give your reader the sense that there’s something else there as well as bad feelings!

      1. thanks for that Jennifer, I love the old Scottish & every time I meet someone from Scotland I have to guess then ask where they’re from, just like my dad! Thanks for that info about starts, I must remember that even if this book isn’t good enough, the next one might be! 🙂

  5. Hi Jennifer

    I am loving the sayings we had a neighbour who originally came from Liverpool England and he was so hard to understand sometimes great guy but. I am from Australia and the way I often greet people is “Gid-day how ya going” we have a lot of ways of saying things here and the younger generation have even more LOL

    Have Fun

    1. Hi Helen, and Gid-day to you! Love an Australian accent – there is something really attractive about it. As for the Liverpool twang, it can take some getting used to. Even I have problems following it these days as I have lived outside the city for so long! Thanks for giving me another saying to add to my list.

  6. “Hey up, ya duck!” That was said to me so often in Yorkshire 🙂 Australians have a lot of sayings that are not known around the world and our rhyming slang is dying. My eldest son has been working in pub this summer and the clientele is a mixed bag. He’s come home and asked for some translations of working class slang! “Hey, Cob!” A Cobber is a mate. Thanks for the article!

    1. Hi Fiona. Good to know that your son is at “finishing school”, working in the pub! It will do him the world of good to learn some, shall we say, more rough and ready language! Oddly enough Cobber is a word I associate with Australia as it’s used frequently in TV shows over here that feature an Oz character. Hmm, maybe the writers need to update their vocabulary.

  7. I’m considered a Northerner, to my Southern husband, just because I come from north of Watford Gap, but there was one occasion when I asked him if he wanted to mash? To me, that meant, will you make a cup of tea? To him, that meant (ahem) fondle my breasts! He didn’t know what ‘wing wang’ was (vinegar), tabs (ears), bit nesh(it’s cold) or cobs (bread rolls).

    1. Hi Louisa!
      Love all the words! I know nesh but used slightly differently – to me it means rather sensitive, wimpy, ie. he’s a bit nesh. Cobs are bread rolls, crusty ones, baps are soft ones (not sure what your dh would make of those!) I’d heard of mashing tea but we tend to use brew, ie. do you want a brew? Great language isn’t it? I’d hate to lose all these wonderful words and sayings.

  8. Hi Jennifer. Both my parents were Cockneys and had been in the army, so there was a fair amount of slang spoken in our house when we were young. We knew that there wasn’t much chance of being understood by anyone not from our family if we used some of the expressions we’d heard at home, and even now Rhyming Slang has a very intimate feel to it for me. Despite living in Australia for many years, my sister still called me her ‘skin and blister’ as an endearment 🙂

    One of my Dad’s favourites was ‘Put the wood in the hole’ (close the door), which I believe comes from Yorkshire, so I’ve no idea where he picked that up. I guess the nice thing about slang is that you get used to expressing yourself figuratively, so it’s natural to incorporate anything new that takes your fancy.

    1. Annie, love that great saying! Not heard it before but it’s definitely going on my list. What a rich vocabulary you and your sister must have had when you were children with all the terms your parents used. Rhyming slang is certainly very special. It usually takes me some time to work out what’s being said when I hear it on TV. You have a definite advantage!

  9. As well as having a dad from Scotland mum was from the east end & I was bought up near there so many schoolfriends had cockney speaking relatives too. I grew up loving language because of it I’m sure. I too have a skin & blister (sister) but we don’t live close so I mostly talk to her on the dog & bone (phone) these days! I’d better get on and do some Kathy Burke (work) too, or I won’t get my book accepted! 🙂

    1. Lynne, another lucky person to have the inside track on rhyming slang! And with your dad coming from Scotland you must have a fund of great sayings. I do hope you try to use a few in your books.

  10. Chuckling as I read this. I have just done my AA’s for Dr White’s Surprise Baby and one of my editor’s comments was ‘What does “poking the borax” mean?’ (taking the pi–) and would I please change it so readers can understand it. This is why language is so fascinating, I reckon. We’re all saying the same thing in so many different ways. Great post, Jennifer.

    1. Hi, Sue. Well, I’ve definitely not heard that one before! Great stuff. Shame you couldn’t have added a glossary and educated your readers :> The temptation to use all these wonderful sayings is huge but I make myself hold back at times. Imagine the poor translators having to come up with their country’s equivalent . . .

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