Tuesday, July 12, 2016


I have been reading Daphne du Maurier's book called 'Vanishing Cornwall', she tells stories about the place.  One thing I noticed was some of the Cornish words she picked up, and as I had been reading Jackie Morris's blog on the missing words in the children's Oxford dictionary, she is by the way to collaborate with Robert MacFarlane on a book about the subject, - I thought to record Maurier's words....
17th century; "Such violent storms, that not only uncover their houses but rend up their Hedges, and hinder the Growth of their Trees.  One kind of them call a Flaw or Flagh"  
Not known as a word today, though Maurier did find a corresponding f'laad ie; "puffed out with flatulency, as cattle after too much green food"

M says that there are three renderings of Penwith meaning,  'The last promontory', 'the promontory on the left' and 'the headland of slaughter', this last is probably due to the many burial places of prehistory that litter the landscape.  Wivell or Wyevell means the "shire of Welshmen or strangers"

Hilla-Ridden.  West Cornish for nightmare or tormenting dreams, or to 'have the stag' which means having a weight upon one's chest which prevents breathing.. Now the cure for these was to crawl or 'crame' through the ringed stone of the Men-an-Tol, or better still to wash in the water of Madron Well.


  1. Trying to think if I own a copy of 'Vanishing Cornwall' or borrowed if from a library several times in the past--and I mustn't get side-tracked into looking for such a book. I began reading Daphne DuMaurier's books at a young and impressionable age--'The King's General' with its web of ancient lineage was a favorite.
    Recently a good friend asked [knowing that I dabble in family research] if I would 'try to find' the background of her husband's mother. Astonishingly, that research has led to a solid Cornish background in his Mother's paternal line. Davidstow, located between Launceton and Camelford--thanks to google I've been able to 'walk' the very road.
    I have wondered what elements of speech this man may have passed down to his children, or if he quickly began to sound more like his neighbors in upstate New York.

  2. Perhaps Sharon, and I might be talking complete nonsense, but the 'burr' of the American accent is similar to the Cornish one. When I wrote about Daniel Gumb, someone from America told me about her people who had moved from Cornwall to Australia all directly related to the different children of Gumb. Apparently The mother of the Bronte children was Cornish, as was her sister who looked after the children when their mother died. Maurier thinks their strong storytelling instincts came from the stories they had learnt from these two women.

    1. Daniel Gumb by the way was the man in the 18th century who lived in a large rock shelter below the Cheesewring on Bodmin Moor with his wife and children, and was considered very clever.

    2. If you Google ‘Appalachian English’ you’ll find some interesting parallels with English spoken in that region of the US to ‘Elizabethan English’. A Telegraph article states that, “Inspired by working with Kevin Spacey, Sir Trevor Nunn has claimed that American accents are "closer" than contemporary English to the accents of those used in the Bard's day.

      “The eminent Shakespearean scholar John Barton has suggested that Shakespeare's accent would have sounded to modern ears like a cross between a contemporary Irish, Yorkshire and West Country accent.”

      You can hear some of it here - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9143302/How-should-Shakespeare-really-sound.html

    3. Our move to Kentucky has brought us into a region whose vernacular has a style of its own--quite ungrammatical--and with a different softening and broadening of vowel sounds than I've noticed in other regions of the south. Many of Appalachias's early settlers would have brought with them the accents of Scotland and Ireland, as well as English--and of course in saying that we have to imagine a finer breakdown of regional speech.
      One of the oddest local remarks here is 'I wouldn't care to do that'--which translates to 'I'd be happy to do that!'

  3. Have you noticed any of these old words around where you live Thelma - particularly amongst the old farming communities? My farmer uses the odd word which I am sure dates back to antiquity.

  4. No Pat, though the accents are different of course, and I do have difficulty understanding occasionally. Perhaps I should ask around....