This blog was written by James Conder practical volunteer at RSPB West Sedgemoor, Greylake and Swell Wood

I was blundering through the wires of the Internet the other day when I stumbled across a fascinating document – A Glossary of Provincial Words & Phrases In Use In Somersetshire collected in 1873 by Wadham Pigott Williams (then the Vicar of Bishop’s Hull) and William Arthur Jones. This account is freely available online thanks to Project Gutenberg at the following url:

It’s a pretty enormous list of words, and as a Somerset lad born and bred, it’s fascinating to note that the vast majority I’ve never heard in use in the 21st century. Unsurprisingly given the county’s rural history, most of the vocabulary revolves around nature or agriculture, and of course I took particular interest in the birds.

I found over a dozen dialect names for specific birds in the glossary, which I’ve listed below. They are a great collection of words, full of the characters of the birds they name. I’m going to be trying my best to revive these in common parlance at every chance I get, and encourage all our readers to do the same!

What more suitable name for the finely turned-out goldfinch than a proud-taylor? Why say wood-pigeon when quisty sounds so perfectly Somerset? Why ever say long-tailed tit and wren when you can say bumtowel and titty-todger with an infantile snigger? Who wants to call a wagtail a wagtail when you could instead refer to it as a dippity-washty? (Incidentally, with reference to our blog title, a pulk is a small pool of water)

Picture of a pied wagtail

A dippity-washty in a pulk

 John Crispin

A few mammals also turn up in the glossary, with equally charismatic names. A flittermouse is obviously a bat, and I consider muddy-want very suitable for a mole. Even better, our notoriously somnolent dormouse is called the seven-sleeper – sleeping seven days a week one presumes, a rather tempting way to pass the week.

I’d be fascinated to hear if any of our readers have ever heard any of the names below in use, a perhaps know any other dialect names for birds they could share – I’ll try and revive those too! In the meantime, I’m going to ring up my younger brother to call him a nestle-tripe, a Somerset term for the weakest chick in the nest!




The Birds

Beebird or Haysucker – Whitethroat

Bumtowel – Long-tailed Tit

Colley – Blackbird (this one you may remember from the Christmas song!)

Dippity-Washty – Wagtail

Drasher – Thrush

Dummic – Dunnock

Holme-Screech – Mistle Thrush

Hoop – Bullfinch

Pink-Twink – Chaffinch

Proud-Tailor – Goldfinch

Quisty – Wood Pigeon

Rain-Pie or Yappingale – Green Woodpecker

Ruddick – Robin

Skir-Devil – Swift

Skitty – Water Rail

Titty-Todger – Wren