Manx English

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Location of the Isle of Man within the British Isles.

Manx English, or Anglo-Manx, is the historic dialect of English spoken on the Isle of Man, though today in decline. It has many borrowings from the original Manx language, a Goidelic language, and it differs widely from any other English, including other Celtic-derived dialects such as Welsh English and Hiberno-English.

Early strata of Anglo-Manx contain much of Gaelic and Norse origin, but more recent Anglo-Manx displays heavy influence from Liverpool and Lancashire in North West England. A.W. Moore noted that the dialect varied to some slight extent from parish to parish and from individual to individual, but in the main the same turns of phrase and the same foundational stock of words pervaded the whole Island.

The best known recorder of the Anglo-Manx dialect was the poet T.E. Brown. Following him, many poems and plays were written in Anglo-Manx at around the turn of the Twentieth Century, notably by Cushag, J. J. Kneen and Christopher R. Shimmin. More recently, Kathleen Faragher wrote a number of Anglo-Manx poetry books in the 1950s and 1960s. The published work of all these writers featured footnotes to explain much of the dialect terms.

In recent years, the Anglo-Manx dialect has almost disappeared in the face of increasing immigration and cultural influence from the United Kingdom. Sources such as A.W. Moore's A Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect (Oxford University Press, 1924) and W.W. Gill's Manx Dialect Words and Phrases (J.W. Arrowsmith, 1934) document the dialect in the last stages before its decline from common use – few of the words noted are still in common parlance today.

Moore's work notes the specific patterns of pronunciation for words in the dialect, many of which are no longer present in the last vestiges of the Manx dialect because of the influence of mainstream English.

Modern Anglo-Manx lexicon[edit]

Some of the following terms surviving from the original Anglo-Manx dialect are still in occasional use today. The task of identifying dialectical usage is complicated by the large cross-over between Manx Gaelic, idiomatic usage and technical/organisational terms such as "advocate" and "deemster".

  • Across – The United Kingdom; referred to as across the water.[1]
  • At – In possession of (from Gaelic usage). He's got a nice house at him (from Gaelic description of possession)[2]
  • Aye – Yes[2]
  • Boy – Common address from one male to another, originally an unmarried male (from Gaelic usage).Hey,Boy! is a common greeting between young men.[2]
  • Bumbee – Bumblebees (which were thought to be bad fairies).[2]
  • Coalie – A coalfish, (specifically P. Virens).
  • Comeover – A non-native person living in the Isle of Man.[2]
  • Down is used for going North, Up for going South, out for going West. The topology of the Isle of Man means that to go to the flat, glacial plains of the North of the island, one has to go down, whilst going South means climbing the slate uplands. This is in contrast to the English Up North, which new residents are more used to.
  • Fairy FlowerRed Campion, Silene dioica. (from Gaelic blaa ny ferrishyn, "the fairies' flower")[2]
  • Feller/Fella – A man/mate (fellow), common to other dialects, but much more frequent in Anglo-Manx.
  • For – towards, to; at the period of; wherefore, the reason why; in order to. Are you for goin'? (From Gaelic usage, erson).[2]
  • Gilpin – Young fish of indeterminate species, especially Callig.[2]
  • Herrin – Herring[2]
  • Himself – The master of the house, the husband. Is himself in? (from Gaelic usage; direct translation of eh hene, "himself", emphatic "he").[2]
  • In – In existence. The best that's in (from Gaelic usage; direct translation of ayn (in it), there (is)).[2]
  • Jinny Nettle – the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica.[2]
  • Lhergy – a hill-slope, or high wasteland. Goin' down the lhergy means going downhill in life. (from Gaelic Lhiargee or Lhiargagh meaning "slope")[2]
  • Little People – Fairies, supernatural beings. (from Gaelic usage; direct translation of Deiney Beggey or Mooinjer Veggey, "fairies" or "little people")[2]
  • Mann – the Isle of Man; e.g., Gaut made it, and all in Mann[2]
  • Manx and Manks – Pertaining to, or originating from the Isle of Man.[2]
  • Manxie – A Manx person or a Manx cat.[2]
  • Mark – A fishing-ground distinguished by landmarks.[2]
  • Middlin' – Tolerable, an equivalent of the Manx, castreycair.[2]
  • Neck – impudence; e.g., Oh, the neck of him!.[2]
  • Skeet – News, gossip, and also to take a look (take a skeet) at something. Direct usage of Manx word "skeet" or "steet".
  • Scutch – A quantity of something; e.g., There were a scutch of people there. (from Gaelic cooid, "selection", "amount", "number")[2]
  • Snigs – Young eels, or sand-eels.[2]
  • Themselves – Fairies, supernatural beings.[2]
  • Twenty Four – The House of Keys.
  • Yessir – Recorded by A.W. Moore in 1924 as a "disrespectful form of addressing a boy or man", is used as an informal address to a local acquaintance in modern Anglo-Manx. Early 20th-Century sources suggest that its origin may lie in a contraction of You, Sir, but Gaelic scholars have suggested that it is a hangover from Ussey, the emphatic form of You in Manx Gaelic, which is used in a similar context. Not congruous with Yes, Sir in mainstream English.[2]

Manx loanwords[edit]

Words of Manx Gaelic origin frequently cropped up in the original dialect, as did patterns of speech derived from Gaelic usage. In modern usage, much fewer words of Gaelic origin are used, symptomatic of the decline of Manx Gaelic in its later years.

  • Bloghan – Pollock (specifically P. Virens), Saithe or Coalfish.[3]
  • Bollan Bane – Mugwort.[3]
  • Bonnag – A flat cake-bread, usually made with dried fruit.[3]
  • Brabbag – Pronounced "Bravvag", to warm the backs of the legs by the fire.[3]
  • Broogh – A steep bank, a grassy cliff/headland.[3]
  • Callig – Pollock (specifically P. Pollachius).[3]
  • Chimlee – A chimney.[2]
  • Claddagh – land by a river[2]
  • Croaghan – A horsefly.[2]
  • Cronk – Hill.[2]
  • Crosh Bollan – Mouth-bone of the Ballan Wrasse, worn as a charm.[2]
  • Cruinnaght – Cultural gathering.[3]
  • Curragh – bog, fen or swamp.[2]
  • Cushagragwort, the National Flower of the Isle of Man.[2]
  • Dub – A small hollow, damp area or pool.[2]
  • Ellan VanninIsle of Man.[3]
  • Farrain – Hogweed.[2]
  • Garee – Wasteland (sometimes mis-spelt garey which instead means garden).[3]
  • Glen – A wooded valley (in Manx this is glioan or glion).
  • Gobbag – Pronounced govag, literally a dogfish, but used to mean someone from Peel.[3]
  • Hop-tu-NaaHallowe'en. Cited by Moore as Hop-the-nei, which he suggests originates from Hop ! ta'n oie but possibly cognate with the Scottish Hogmanay, which is in origin not a Gaelic word.
  • Jarrood – From the Manx for forget; people will speak of being a bit jarrood.[3]
  • Jough – A drink[2]
  • Keck – Animal dung, Shit[2]
  • Keeill – A small ancient monastic cell or chapel.[2]
  • Litcheragh – Lazy.[2]
  • Mannin – Manx for Isle of Man. Compare with Ellan Vannin; Mannin is the genitive of Mannan, the name of the son of the god of the sea (Líor), Mananán Mac Lír.[3]
  • Mhelliah – A festival or party to celebrate harvest.[2]
  • Moal – Literally slow, but used in the sense of ill.[2]
  • Moaney – Peat-land.[3]
  • Mollag – A dog/sheep skin fishing float; e.g., as fat as a Mollag or as full of wind as a Mollag.[2]
  • Qualtagh – The first person met on New Year's Day, first-foot.[2]
  • Sally/Sallie – A willow tree, whence the placename Ballasalla derives, from the Manx Shellagh, tr. willow.
  • Skeeal – tr. story, or news.[2]
  • Spiddag – A small sealing peg from a dog-skin fishing float (Mollag). Used colloquially to refer to something/someone small.[2]
  • Suggane – Straw rope.[2]
  • Tholtan – Abandoned traditional building.[3]
  • Tramman – An elder tree.[3]

Norse origin[edit]

  • Fell – hill, of Norse origin.[1]
  • Graip/Grep – recorded by Moore as "a manure fork", a hybrid agricultural tool that has parallels with the Norse "Greip" and the Scots "Graip"[2]
  • Kirk – Church, used in parish names, of Norse origin[2]
  • Tynwald – the Manx parliament, from Old-Norse Thingvollr and originally written similarly to Icelandic with a þ which is pronounced [θ]. The thing means an assembly or court of justice and the vollr is a field or plain.[2]

Superstitions and word replacement[edit]

V'eh mee-lowit dy enmys mwaagh er boayrd, as conning, marish roddan as kayt. Va'n mwaagh 'fer yn chleaysh vooar', as yn conning 'pomet', as yn roddan 'sacote', as yn kayt 'scraverey'.

— Neddy Beg Hom Ruy 1831–1908, Skeealyn 'sy Ghailck

It was forbidden to name a hare on board, or a rabbit, or a rat or a cat. The hare was 'the big-eared fellow', and the rabbit 'pomet', and the rat 'sacote', and the cat 'scratcher'.

— Edward Faragher 1831–1908, Skeealyn 'sy Ghailck

Because of the unpredictable nature of weather in the Irish sea, fishing could be a dangerous business – sailors were consequently very superstitious and it was considered taboo to use certain words or behaviours (using the word "conney" for rabbit, or whistling, for example) whilst on board ship. Some names were substituted for others – "rat" became "sacote" or "long-tailed fellow", amongst other names.

This has evolved into a modern superstition where the word "rat" (roddan in Manx) is considered unlucky, even when not used aboard ship. Although this particular sea-taboo was one amongst many and was not held to apply on land, it has become a popular modern belief that the word is somehow unlucky and the sea-taboo has been adopted by some as a typical Manx practice, despite the fact that the old Manx had no qualms in using the word, or its Manx equivalent, "roddan". In modern times, even non-local and unsuperstitious people will refrain from using the word "rat" perhaps in an effort to fit in with those who take it seriously, or in an attempt to sound folksy. In reality this is a rather warped version of the original sea-taboo.

Alternate words for rat in neo-Anglo-Manx dialect include Longtail,Iron fella,Joey,Jiggler,Queerfella,Ringie,an r-a-t (a more recent expression).

Anglo-Manx phrases[edit]

A few phrases have survived to become common parlance, amongst these (all of Gaelic origin):

  • Traa-dy-Liooar – (Trah the looar) Manx for "time enough", either an incitement to take things easier, or as an insult for a lazy person.[2]
  • Lhiam-Lhiat – (lyam-lyat) An inconsistent person who changes sides easily – from Manx Gaelic for "with me – with you"[2]
  • Bock Yuan Fannee – "John the Flayer's Pony" – on foot, cf "Shanks' pony" in English dialect.[2]
  • Shoh Slaynt – The Manx toast, a Manx translation of here's health, used as cheers.[3]

See also[edit]

Other English dialects heavily influenced by Celtic languages


  1. ^ a b Gill, W.W. (1934). Manx Dialect Words and Phrases. J.W. Arrowsmith. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax Moore, A.W. (1924). A Vocabulary of the Anglo-Manx Dialect. Oxford University Press. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Kelly, Phil. "Manx-English Dictionary". Retrieved 23 November 2012.