Sunset Glossary: Or English like what she is spoke


Editorial note: Since this article was written Sunset over Salhouse Broad has been revised and re-titled to become the Just One Mistake mystery and romantic suspense trilogy. So wherever you see Sunset, read JOM (or any of its individual titles). The glossary still applies.

A writer’s choosing to use dialect or technical words in a novel is apt to be fraught with misunderstanding. Not all readers will be familiar with these localised words, or with the peculiar usage or spelling of them that we often find in our English regions. They may not be recognised for what they are, so there is also a risk that some readers will revolt against what they see as the author’s laziness in failing to check his spelling. Nevertheless, used in the right places and in moderation dialect and idiom can enhance the depiction of character. Who does not know perfectly what is meant when, in Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, Lucille Fallon in answer to a question in court says, “He done it.” And to a further puzzled query, “What he been sayin he do.” And again, “Yes sir! He done!”.  And do not those deliberate (mis)spellings and carefully chosen words instantly tell you something interesting about the speaker?

That’s why in Sunset over Salhouse Broad/Just One Mistake Rob often starts a sentence with “That” when he means “IT”; and says things like “Do you haul now, John…” when he is not asking John a question but issuing a command; and says “Bootiful…” where most everyone not born and brought up in Norfolk or Suffolk, England, would say “beautiful…” as if that word had a letter Y in it.

Another issue that goes hand in hand with dialect is the depiction of local accents. The chief risks here are that creative spellings may cause the reader to stumble in the flow of their reading, which might spoil the experience for them; and that a native speaker of the accent might take offense at the author’s depiction of it. I assure one and all that I mean no disrespect – ever – when I try to convey the sound of a character’s speech by allowing them to utter a phrase in a peculiar form or spelling. A scouser, for example (a person from Liverpool, more or less – think of the Beatles) might well say: “Yez would’n wanna drop no-one in it, like. Know worra mean, mate?”. I challenge you to read that phrase with anything other than a Liverpool or vaguely Australian accent in mind, and the opening “Y’z” clinches the matter: the speaker is a scouser. But the key to success is moderation. It is enough to suggest a character’s form of speech. The reader does not want to be beaten over the head with it, nor have to work at reading the text, nor struggle to understand what is meant.

So for those reasons I have, in Sunset over Salhouse Broad, moderated the temptation to depict local accent or dialect, restricting myself to a very few instances where the meaning is, I hope, readily understood and the result entertaining without being offensive or difficult to read. I have, I confess, had some fun with a few specialised words such as futtocks and garboards, and I hope these are not so intrusive as to spoil the read.

However, below, in a spirit of help and entertainment for the baffled, is a glossary of dialect and technical words as used in Sunset over Salhouse Broad. It may seem a long list but spread throughout a 140,000 word MS I think it all contributes something useful to atmosphere and characterization.

But do you agree? Help me improve my writing by leaving a comment at the foot of this page. Of course you can hardly say how well or badly I have done without actually reading Sunset over Salhouse Broad, so here is a link to buy at Amazon UK | Amazon US. Yes, I know that’s a shameful plug, but hey, I have to make a living too, y’know?



doesnay = Scots dialect. Does not.

Dreich = snivelling weather typical of Scotland.

Slahnje vah = Gaelic. Good health!  (properly, slainte mhath). One declaims Slahnje vah (an approximate pronunciation only) moments before downing a dram of whisky (uisge beatha, (pronounced ooshki beh-ha) = water of life)

Mo Ghaoil = Gaelic. My dearie. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it; I’ve no idea. Perhaps a Gaelic reader could enlighten us all…

Ach! or Och! = Scots idiom. Emphatic exclamation somewhat equivalent to “Oh, but…”

*****Norfolk dialect or idioms*****

“Do you haul now, John…” = In Norfolk this is a command, not a question.

Thass = Norfolk dialect. A corruption of That Is. “Thass bootiful.” = That is beautiful. In Norfolk sentences often begin with That in place of It. “That snew today,” = It snowed today.

“Have it cooled yet, John?” = Norfolk idiom. Has it cooled…

“…time we have our fourses.” = Norfolk idiom. By the time we’ve had our four o’clock teabreak.

“His grandmother TELL him how she never liked his granf’a when they first MEET…” Norfolk dialect, not a misspelling of TELL or MEET.

*****Boating terms*****

Brightwork = Varnished wood or polished brass on a yacht, boat or ship.

Caulking = cotton or oakum fibre driven into the joints between planks of a wooden boat to ensure watertightness.

Toerail, or just rail = the upstanding edging to the deck of a yacht designed to prevent feet from slipping inconveniently overboard.

futtocks = the parts of a wooden boat’s built-up frame timbers.

garboard seam = the joint between the lowest plank (the garboard plank) and the keel of a wooden boat.

Halyard = a rope used to haul a sail up a yacht’s mast.

luff = the forward or windward edge of a sail.

mainsheet = the rope used to control the angle the mainsail makes to a boat’s centreline whilst sailing.

pinching up = steering the boat so nearly head to wind that the sail starts flapping.

bearing away = the opposite of pinching up, to correct the course when the sail does flap.

scarf = a joint used to connect two lengths of wood whereby the end of each is tapered so that the two tapers fit together precisely.

Staithe = A publicly accessible riverside landing place for boats in Norfolk, UK.

Wherry = the traditional cargo carrying sailing vessel of the Norfolk Broads. The sailing equivalent of today’s 44 ton articulated truck.

Quay heading = a section of riverbank neatly edged with wooden or steel pilings, for convenience of landing or mooring boats alongside.Image. Sunset over Salhouse Broad book jacket.

Tender = a small boat such as a dinghy carried or towed by its parent vessel for handy use in port.

*****Miscellaneous oddities*****

Health & Safety = In the UK a handy phrase often used as an excuse or as a term of abuse directed at nanny-state Authorities supposedly responsible for enforcing piffling or insignificant rules on erroneous grounds of “Health & Safety”.

Trouncing board = a board used by a reed cutter to stub his sheaves of cut reeds so their ends are all level, the way one stubs a sheaf of papers upright to make them level.


Looking back at that list I wonder if it gives the impression that Sunset is a very nautical novel? It is not. Though there is a backdrop of life and working in the boating industry Sunset’s main settings are in fact inland, and the action chiefly concerns the human relationships of the principle characters. Just goes to show: never judge a book by its author’s ramblings…

Buy Sunset over Salhouse Broad at Amazon UK | Amazon US

UPDATE: Following Jen’s comment below I shortened the above list by about 25%. Better?

PS: For the pedantic with a humour bypass, the title of this post is of course meant to be a joke…


4 Thoughts on “Sunset Glossary: Or English like what she is spoke

  1. Wow, what a long list, I’m glad I saw it after reading the book as I might never have started it with so many unfamiliar terms.
    As it happened I really enjoyed this story, the terms I wasn’t familiar with were all in context which meant I could easily glean the meaning and it certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

    • Charles on March 5, 2013 at 10:45 pm said:

      Oops! Maybe I should shorten the list? I just threw in everything I thought readers might not be totally familiar with. A bit of overkill, perhaps. How did you get on with the dialect? Did any of that throw you whilst reading?

  2. The dialect didn’t throw me at all as again it was only used in the right places, not very often and for a particular character. I think these days we are all familiar to localised accents via the media anyway.

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