July 18, 2023

Speaking Cornish by Carol Diggs

St Michaels Mount Cornwall Cornish flag flying

How to Speak like Cousin Jack*

You know how people say, “It’s easier to travel to Britain, at least I speak the language.” It’s true – sort of.

Many years ago, I had lived for a while in London and often stumbled into the gaps between American English and The Queen’s English. So, when I arrived in London again for Dacey’s Cornish Tour in May 2023, I thought, “I got this.”

Except it was Coronation Weekend, so it’s now The King’s English. When our tour guide extraordinaire David said the new monarchs marked the occasion by recording the messages (e.g., “Mind the gap”) for the Underground, I was immediately impressed with the range of David’s knowledge – and felt much chummier toward Chuck and Camilla.

Then we were off for Cornwall. Luckily, we didn’t have to actually learn Cornish – while a few hardy folks may speak their old Celtic language, the “Kernow a’gas dynnergh” (Welcome to Cornwall) signs and the few words our driver Steve dropped made it clear that Cornish would be a long study. 

David helped by clueing us in to Cornish English:

  • First and VERY IMPORTANT, that iconic Cornish stew-in-a pastry-packet is a PAH-stee (sounding like ‘past’) – only barbarians and Americans say PAY-stee (like ‘tasty’). Work on this so you don’t hear the locals snickering behind your back when you order a pasty – which you should, they are delicious!
  • Next, life in Cornwall moves much closer to a natural rhythm than say, New York City. When someone says they will do it directly, they mean ‘all in good time’ (maybe later today or maybe tomorrow or maybe by the weekend). It’s all good; you’re here to get to know Cornwall and its ways.
  • Then, every place has its words for people who didn’t grow up there – foreigners, immigrants, or (where I live) Northerners. In Cornwall, we were all emmets. David says the term derives from an ancient word for ants, which tells you about how popular Cornwall is as a tourist destination. Other possibilities are incomers or blow-ins – and, when Cornish seaside towns are packed for the vacation season, sometimes less neutral terms.
  • Get ready to be called lovedearysweetheart, and similar endearments, no matter your age or gender. The Cornish are a friendly folk.

Lastly, you can benefit from my personal faux pas: use the British term for lavatories, which is the very direct ‘toilet.’ I was taken aback when I said “Where is the rest room?” to a hotel staffer rushing by, and she directed me to the restaurant which I had just left. So, use the word the locals use – and remember to keep a few small coins in your pocket, some of the public toilets require payment!

Most of all, relax! You will have a fabulous time with David and your fellow travelers on Dacey’s Cornish Tours – enjoy every minute, no matter how often you slip and say ‘PAY-stee.’ 

*a term for a man who comes from Cornwall, likely coined during the great Cornish exodus abroad in the early 19thcentury

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  1. August 1, 2023 at 10:27 am

    Janis Cramer


    Thanks Carol, I enjoyed reminiscing about our trip through your eyes. Such a wonderful time we had!

  2. July 23, 2023 at 10:49 pm

    Priscilla Decker


    I am a happy alumna of Dacey’s Tours, but the mention here of “Mind the Gap” reminds me that after my husband, son and I spent a brief sojourn in London about 1997, he came back to Oklahoma and had a sweat shirt printed with “Mind the Gap” on the front. He sometimes wore it to teach his college biochemistry classes and suggested it could signify the gap between what they knew and he knew about the subject.

  3. July 23, 2023 at 10:30 pm

    Charlotte Burgess


    Yes!!! This article really hits the nail on the head when describing the tour! Thank you for taking us back across the pond one more time, Carol !!

  4. July 23, 2023 at 8:31 pm

    Adele Cushing


    Glad you enjoyed yourself Carol. Thank you for taking the time to write up your experience and advice for others. I too am glad to not have to learn Cornish 😀

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