“Proper London”

When I moved from London to Norfolk in 2012, I soon realised that my distinctive city accent was unfamiliar to many people I met locally. At least four people asked me if I was Australian, one asked me if I was Canadian, and another said he had never heard anyone from London speak, except on television.

I found it hard to believe that many people who had watched Michael Caine films, or the London-set soap opera ‘Eastenders’ had no idea that they were listening to London accents. Julie didn’t have the same issues. Although her accent is undoubtedly ‘Southern’ as far as British people are concerned, she is from Hertfordshire, not London. Although only 30 miles north-west of the capital, their accent is not the same as those of us born and bred in the centre.

When she worked at a bank in Dereham, she made friends with some of her colleagues. One in particular, Jo, was considerably younger than Julie, but became one of her closest friends, even to this day. Jo is from Norfolk, and has a distinct Norfolk accent. But she is also widely travelled, and can recognise British regional accents very easily. One evening, I had offered to give Julie a lift to a girl’s night out, at a restaurant in North Tuddenham. We picked Jo up on the way, and chatted happily during the 15-minute journey.

As they got out, Jo turned and said, “You’re proper London, you are”.

Thinking about that earlier today, it occured to me to explain some of the differences in what is undoubtedly working-class ‘London English’. One of the obvious speech patterns is that the letter ‘H’ is rarely sounded in casual conversation.

Hotel becomes ‘Otel’. Hat will be ‘Att’, with the emphasis on the ‘T’. This also applies to names of course.
Harry = ‘Arry’
Henry = ‘Enery’
Helen = ‘Ellen’
Then in general, ignore the ‘H’. Hitching a trailer would be ‘Itching a trailer’.
Going to hospital might sound like ‘Going to awspittle’.
Having a laugh is always ‘Avving a larff’, and so on.

A reply of I haven’t got any, would always be ‘I ain’t got none’.
I will fetch my car would be ‘I’ll get me motor’.

Words containing ‘th’ will usually have the letter ‘V’ substituted, sometimes more than one. Or the letter ‘F’.
Neither = ‘Neaver’
Whether = ‘Wevver’
Nothing = ‘Nuffin’

Others beginning with ‘th’ will have those replaced with an ‘F’.
Thing = ‘Fing’
Thermometer = ‘Furmommetta’
Think = ‘Fink’
Thought = ‘Faut’
Theatre = ‘Fearter’

I could go on all day.

So if you ever hear me talking, when I am relaxed and not being ‘careful’, bear in mind you may require a translator.

76 thoughts on ““Proper London”

  1. I really needed this when I was writing about an American girl at Cambridge. But only for the introductory bits. After that you have to let too much colloquial syntax go. I got me Scots from Irvine Welsh and Billy Connolly. As far as “other” places a hundred years ago I worked as a very bad waiter for a couple of weeks. One night a man with an offshore accent (This was Houston, Texas) sat by himself and killed a pitcher of Margaritas and was still coherent. I asked him if he was Australian. As this is a family blog I’ll edit his response to “Australians are living proof Englishmen (have sex) with kangaroos.”
    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, and thanks for the tips, Pete. I’ll have to pass this on to one of my students, who is travelling to London with his wife in a few weeks. It will help him no end!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoy the vestiges of English accents that persist in parts of the United States. African Americans from the South regularly substitute “f” for “th” especially in Happy Birthday, always pronounced “Birfday.” As I told you some time ago the glottal t persist in central Connecticut where New Britain is always New “bri-stop-un.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would pronounce Britain as ‘Brittun’, so we are not that far removed. I might have to do another post about slang and colloquialisms in London. In my latest serial, I was going to include ‘A Monkey’, which means ยฃ500 to me. But knowing it might confuse readers, I altered the sentence.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t have an accent, early years in Yorkshire, then Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire in teenage years knocked that about, now a few Geordie bits turn up when I’m speaking and no-one knows where the hell I’ve come from!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I went to cities like Liverpool and Manchester in the past, they always spotted my accent after one or two words, and not always in a ‘good way’. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I was very surprised when people around Beetley had no idea I was from London.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I grew up with the same London accent but have tried to modify it over the years. However, sometimes I sound as though I should be on the set of EastEnders – it depends on who I’m talking to these days. Years ago my friend’s father had a nickname for me – ‘traaahsis’, as that’s how bad my accent was! Have you guessed what the proper word is?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Malina loves my impersonation of a cockney accent and can copy it quite well, even if it is only a few sentences. I do quite a convincing scouse as well, and don’t get me started on Irish as I find it hard to stop. Of course the most important thing to be able to do as a Yorkshireman is to know if someone is from Lancashire, a skill which I have honed over the years and I find myself checking on Wiki to see if I spotted the correct birthplace of actors and the like on TV. Considering the border is only 8 miles away from my home town the subtleties can be hard to spot sometimes ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m hopeless at mimicking any accents, but I do remember the outrage when I asked a Yorkshire-born copper if he was from Manchester! ๐Ÿ™‚
      I hope your supposed cockney accent doesn’t sound like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins?
      Cheers, Pete.

      Like

    1. In some ways they do, Audrey. Young Londoners adopted many American expressions, and here in rural Norfolk, most teenagers have little or no local accent. However, go north or west, and those accents are still dominant.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My former assistant teacher from Sheffield always said ‘me mum’ instead of ‘my mum.’ Replacing ‘th’ with ‘f’ is a classic speech impediment in America. This was a fun post to read, Charles.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So right Pete, London and UK accents are something to behold. Memory of visiting a very small country pub in Suffolk many years ago, it was more like someones living room. 3 elderly gents all sitting in different corners having a conversation with each other basically shouting across the room, I couldn’t understand a single word, too many Arrrrrghs etc, oh the good ol days

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great piece Pete. My nan grew up in Goldhawk Rd and though she left at 21 she retained her accent all her life. My granddad joked he’d rescued her from Steptoe land…Cockney speech in Dickens is fascinating particularly Vs and Ws …..so the word very becomes werry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Dickens’ characters, and Steptoe was set in Shepherd’s Bush, so spot on.
      (They call Goldhawk Road ‘Chiswick’ now. Estate agents messing with history!)
      Cheers, Pete.

      Like

  10. If I ever visit London, I’m going to wear maple leaf patches on my clothing and bags. But first I’ll practice speaking French with a Quรฉbรฉcois accent. It would be interesting to see if I could get away with it.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I love hearing different accents from people all over the world. I have often wondered though, since I am an American from California, do we also have an accent and does it sound as great as yours? I picture ours not being as beautiful as others such as yours or the Australian accent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You do have many accents in America. My preferred one has always been the deep South, the Carolinas, Georgia, and New Orleans. As in “I do declare”, and similar. ๐Ÿ™‚
      My London accent is probably your equivalent to a strong New York City accent, something like “Youse guys”.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m a Londoner, though I’ve never had much of an accent… or so I thought, till I lived in the North West. I’m a great fan of cockney rhyming slang though, I think it’s really inventive. One of my favourites is Chalfonts (Chalfont St Giles = piles)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I have a huge everyday vocabulary of that slang, but not the modern ‘made up stuff’. I cannot stand how they use examples invented in the 1990s and beyond. The original is the only acceptable version for me.
        Best wishes, Pete.

        Like

  12. Accents fascinate me. It’s amazing how differently people sound within just short differences. I would love to challenge one of those people who claim to be able to place you by your speech. I’m not even sure where I am “from” myself!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. And isn’t an “h” put in where none should be? Like in “(h)alive”? One word/pronuciation that I still remember with a twinlke in my eyes and try to utter sometimes, is “hot water bottle” in the Cockney way, with the glottal stops replacing the “t”s. Sorry, I can’t transcribe that here. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am so fascinated by accents. when visiting my daughter’s inlaws in australia, most people said, ‘I know, you’re a Canadian.’ think it was my American accent, having picked up a touch of the Aussie accent combined )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I usually confuse Australia and New Zealand. There are many from both those countries living in the UK. They don’t like it if you get it wrong! Canadian tourists in London usually wear maple leaf patches on their clothing or bags. They hate to be mistaken for American tourists. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  15. I love hearing the different dialects when we watch British TV. My husband is from York and his father has a distinct Yorkshire accent, although hubby didnยดt. He lived in Canada since he was 21 so he has lost most of his accent. Most people canยดt figure out where he is from.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thanks Pete. I never considered British accents to be so diverse. Texas is the same way. East Texas is extremely “hickish”. The closer you get to Louisiana, the more Cajun/French it becomes, and West Texas is a slow drawl. South and North are very much the same, but I can spot a Texan in just a few words.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Phil, British accents are incredibly diverse. Even in London, they are different north and south of the river. Get up as far as Durham and Newcastle in the north-east close to Scotland, and it is more or less a totally different language. Then many people in Wales speak Welsh, which is a Celtic language and incomprehensible to others in the UK.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Pete, this is a great post. I liked reading all this London lingo. When we travelled to the UK with your young boys in 2009, Michael was so confused by all the accents (we travelled above) he stopped speaking entirely. He was 3 at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you come back to live here, you will soon get used to that variety. There are some South Africans living in Beetley, and they were surprised when I knew where they were from. London has changed a lot since my childhood, and it is now such a multi-cultural city, the ‘old-school’ accent is fast disappearing.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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