Glenarriff Forest Park, Northern Ireland
Before I went ‘over the water’ to find fame and fortune as a copywriter in London, my grandfather gave me some advice: ‘You should put lots of wee Irish phrases in your adverts.’
As diverse as our clients are, I’m not sure his favourites – cheugh as a wuddy and quare an’ thran –will come in all that useful, though I’ll be leaping on the first chance that I get to use them. Translation attempts on a postcard addressed to the Dept. of Words, please.
Chances to use dialects in national advertising are rare, and when they are used, they’re often reduced to punchlines, like in this advert for Hotels.com.
The joke revolves around the incomprehensibility of the Geordie dialect. Which is, I suppose, the reason why you don’t hear more of it in adverts. Dialects are necessarily exclusive, so they leave some people out. And you don’t want to muddy your copy with words that people won’t understand.
But the other side of the exclusivity of dialects is that they bring people together. They’re a response to the intricacies and nuances of a social and geographical environment. Where ‘standard’ English fails, dialects swell to meet the challenge of getting things just right. In that respect, they have more in common with copywriting than it might initially seem.
So, even if national campaigns aren’t always the place for dialect, then it’s worth getting an ear into some places that are.
Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks contains glossaries of British and Irish dialectical words for landscapes, some of which are arrestingly lovely – to thaw in Northamptonshire is to ‘ungive’, and an icicle in Hampshire is a ‘clinkerbell’ or ‘daggler’.
I have a particular soft spot for Seamus Heaney, who was fully alive to the joy of regional Irish speech, and to its detractors.
I tried to write about the sycamores
And innovated a South Derry rhyme
With hushed and lulled full chimes for pushed and pulled.
Those hobnailed boots from beyond the mountain
Were walking, by God, all over the fine
Lawns of elocution.
The entire poem, brimming with what Heaney described as ‘the speech of Northern Ireland: rigged and jigged and rhymed for effect, the kind of flotsam and jetsam that blows in one ear and out the other in every childhood, but that finally ends up lodged between the ears of the adult’, can be found here.