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Pit Talk of the East Midlands

Natalie Braber
Mon 31 Jul, 2017

Nottingham's once vast coalfields was not just a source of the nation's energy, but a fertile ground for language. While the collieries have now seen their pit wheels cease turning, the language lives on. Natalie Braber tells us more about how she is working to keep this utterly unique dialect alive...

In a previous blog, I wrote about my research into the accents and dialects of Nottingham and what makes them so fascinating. When I was working on this research, some of the people I spoke to suggested I speak to some local miners, ‘as they had a funny language all of their own’. 

After speaking to some local miners, I discovered that many of the terms and words they used comprised a completely unique – and much overlooked – language variety, which we can refer to as ‘pit talk’. It quickly became clear that the East Midlands had not one, but many variations of ‘pit talk’. This is the language used by miners in their daily work, and isn’t just ‘swearing’ as some miners initially commented! It is a language which is distinctive but is now at risk of being lost with the closures of the collieries throughout the country.

In the summer of 2013, Nottingham Trent University awarded me some funding to engage two undergraduate students (Alice Cope and Chris Dann) on a ‘pit talk’ project. We started interviewing local miners. We noticed straightaway that much work needed to be done, but fortunately we also received a lot of media interest (we were on the Channel 4 news, in local papers and even on teletext!) and the publicity around our project attracted the attention of individuals and local mining groups who wanted to participate. So, together we were able to create a preliminary set of ‘pit talk’ items, such as words and expressions used by miners.

The project was able to be continued when in 2015 The British Academy awarded further funding which allowed me to employ Suzy Harrison (a PhD student at Nottingham Trent University specialising in intangible heritage) and Claire Ashmore (a PhD student at Sheffield Hallam specialising in the language of Chesterfield, Derbyshire) to come on board for a full year to work on this in a lot more depth.

During this year we were able to establish more links and contacts with former miners and mining heritage groups, create a web page, open a twitter account and conduct interviews across Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. The miners we interviewed had so much to tell us. We were able to gather a large amount of facts, not just words and expressions, but also information about the daily work of a miner, and life outside the mine.

This research resulted in the publication of a book, Pit Talk of the East Midlands, published in 2017 by Bradwell Books (and on sale in Waterstone’s and online!) In this book, we have collected information from miners from different areas of the East Midlands. As you will see, people from across the region sometimes have different opinions – and they don’t always agree with each other!

There was not enough space to cover every aspect of ‘pit talk’. We had to limit ourselves to the creation of a mini dictionary and on what we believe were the crucial elements of mining life. Some of you may feel that essential subjects have been missed and you may not always agree with the descriptions we have given, but we hope you’re not disappointed with the book. It’s a start and, as always, diversity is the spice of life – and as you will discover – pit talk. 

Some examples of pit talk:

  • Barkle: when dirt sticks to someone or something; for example 'He always comes home barkled up from the pit!'
  • Greenun: throwing a sickie.
  • Mosh: used for coal which was likely to break down through transportation
  • Grabbers: Men who regularly work overtime



This post is tagged in

dialect slang History Mining language

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