Linguistic good taste.



I took the car in to get an MOT and service this morning. As I walked home two women passed me walking in the opposite direction. As one said to the other, “He were having a fag behind the recycling bins.”

Such is the joy of the English language that this probably means something entirely different depending on what part of the English speaking world you hail from.

Apparently it was the Canadian, James D. Nicoll, who commented that “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

When we acquire these words, we sometimes give them meanings that the original owners had never contemplated. So we have raddle. This can apparently be spelled ruddle or reddle (because all three words mean the same thing.).They may have originated as a term meaning ‘to paint red.’

About the only use for raddle now is when you smear it on the chest of a tup or ram before turning him out with his harem. It has the advantage that it rubs off on them and you know that he’s working and that they’re coming in season.

Obviously a ewe that has been smeared with raddle is ‘raddled’ and that’s another word that has wandered off into more mainstream parlance. I suspect that it’s not perhaps as widely used as it might once have been.

It’s funny that dyes of varying sorts seem to linger around the fringes of agriculture. Years ago (probably pre-EEC) there used to be ‘stockfeed potatoes.’ What happened was that when the potato price collapsed, the government would buy up surplus potatoes that weren’t needed, to put a bottom in the market. They’d then have them sprayed with a purple dye and sold cheaply to farmers for livestock feed.

Because the supermarkets and other retailers didn’t particularly want the very big potatoes, they were often the ones chosen for cattle potatoes. Given that they were both very large and very cheap, I remember a lot of talk about the number of chip shops where you might find purple stained potato peel in the waste bins. After all the dye didn’t soak into the potato, and it also had to be safe because livestock were going to eat it.

Another place where they use a lot of dye is the slaughterhouse. Because of various regulations, some offals cannot be eaten. To make sure they’re kept out of the food chain, government inspectors will watch as they’re sprayed with dye. This stuff is designed not to wash off, to ensure that the stuff sprayed goes for proper disposal. To be fair to the authorities, it works.

There are disadvantages. I remember taking cattle in, and one of the lasses was doing the paperwork for me in the office. One of the slaughtermen came in off the line and handed her a sheaf of papers. She examined them carefully and then gingerly took them off him. Because the lads were spraying the dye about, they’d get it on themselves and then it’d get on the paperwork, and then it’d get everywhere.

As she said, “It gets so that I have to really scrub my hands before I go to the loo. Otherwise my husband keeps asking me whose are the hand prints on my knickers.”


Funny old world isn’t it!

As a reviewer commented, “Like the other two books in this series, Jim Webster gives us a perspective of farm life we may not have appreciated. Some of the facts given will come as a shock to non-farming readers, but they do need to be read. Having said that, there are plenty of humorous anecdotes to make the book an enjoyable read.”

Tagged: , , , ,

18 thoughts on “Linguistic good taste.

  1. Sue Vincent October 26, 2017 at 8:34 pm Reply

    You have to love the English language in all its glorious eccentricity 🙂

  2. jenanita01 October 27, 2017 at 8:22 am Reply

    Reblogged this on anita dawes and jaye marie.

    • jwebster2 October 27, 2017 at 3:06 pm Reply

      that’s a sign of linguistic good taste in itself 🙂

  3. jenanita01 October 27, 2017 at 8:24 am Reply

    I have long been fascinated by the origins of our words…but on the whole, I think our language is far too complicated!

    • jwebster2 October 27, 2017 at 3:06 pm Reply

      I suspect that a language merely mirrors the people who use it 🙂

  4. franklparker October 27, 2017 at 9:59 am Reply

    Fascinating stuff. I wonder if you have readers ‘over there’ who are still wondering about the British use of the word ‘Fag’? Oh, and don’t forget that the word also was used in the past to designate a junior boy performing the duties of a ‘slave’ to an older boy in our public schools (which is British for private schools!). And for goodness sake don’t get hung up on the idea of “the duties of a slave” – it generally meant nothing more erotic than cleaning shoes and lighting common room fires!

    • jwebster2 October 27, 2017 at 3:04 pm Reply

      oh I do hope to have readers who’re now wondering about the public school system (but of course that term will convince them as you pointed out)
      Ideally chaos will reign 🙂

  5. The Story Reading Ape October 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm Reply

    The purple dye trick wouldn’t have worked in Northern Ireland when I was a lad – we grew potatoes with a purple-blue skin that were used for boiling or chips – in both cases, they were eaten with the skins still on 😎

  6. mimispeike October 28, 2018 at 4:39 pm Reply

    I see that I’m going to have to read everything in your archive.

    • jwebster2 October 28, 2018 at 4:45 pm Reply

      could take you the whole afternoon to read 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: