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TITLE
Memories of a showman - the 'cant' languages
EXTERNAL ID
GB1796_SINCLAIR_WILLHAY_01
PERIOD
1980s; 1990s
CREATOR
Will Hay
SOURCE
Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
ASSET ID
2279
KEYWORDS
showmen
carnivals
circuses
funfairs
puppets
puppet shows
fairgrounds
audio

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Will Hay was a northern showman and Punch and Judy puppeteer. He came from a family of travelling entertainers; his great grandfather, John Morrison, had joined Pindar's Circus when it was on tour in Sutherland while his grandfather, William Duncan Morrison, and uncle, Duncan Morrison, put on Punch and Judy shows in and around Inverness. The Morrisons were also well-known for their bone-setting skills.

In this audio extract, Will talks to Graeme Farnell about some of the 'cant' languages used by various groups throughout the world.

There's a lot o cants, of course, there's various cants ye can use. Ye use back cant, Romany cant, paupers' cant, showmen's cant, thieves' cant. There's all kinds o thing, an if you use them all thegither, some o them, even the boys that's knows it sometimes is flummoxed, if ye use - cut it up a bit an add on bits and pieces. Aye.

Interviewer: So you used to use back cant as well?

Oh aye, Ah can use it, aye. A lot o people does that.

Interviewer: They say a lot of butchers -

Oh that was where, that's was where it was learnt away back in the old days, eh. Came oot of the Cockney London, actually. The back cant came oot o the traders, when they'd stalls an butchers an that, as you say, an traders an that, an they had to use a lot o this cant because they could 'do' the people, an they could tell you that they were being done, sort o thing, ye know? Aye. Of course, there's a lot o rhyming slang but we don't use much o rhyming slang. It's easy picked up, that. But ye can easily talk back cant.

Interviewer: But a lot of people can - are so used to talking back cant, that they can just talk that.

Oh it's just like a - just like a language to them, it's that quick. An, in fact, if you were talking back cant ye can add on ordinary words like 'too', 'the', 'as', 'do', the short words, an ye can whip it in an add it on till another word an you don't even know what it is. You don't have to use every word, separate. Ye can add them on, take them off. Ye know, all the short words, ye no need to use them at all.

Interviewer: Just mix them up.

An then, a long word, instead o using a long word, which can be picked up immediately, ye'll maybe cut a long word into four sentences, an ye'd never know what it is. Aye. Like, we could say [cant words] That means, well, 'Here comes a policeman' but you wouldn't understand it because it's chopped up an things like that, ye see? There's lots o cants ye can use but what we do on the road ourselves among our own people, her and me, we chop ours up an make it's just her and me understands it, but even the ordinary showmen don't. Aye. We do a lot o that ourselves.

Interviewer: That must be very useful?

Oh aye it is, aye. But back cant is easy to learn, Ah mean, you could pick it up within thirty seconds. Ye see, now you call, 'micro phone', ye see? Well, we would say 'icro' (micro phone), 'icro own pho', ye see? That's the way, it's the back word. Now, they call it 'Pig Latin' in America, but Pig Latin in America is easy picked up because they say 'eh' at the end of every sentence. Now say, 'Give me the book', they say, 'ivegeh eemeh eetheh ookbeh', ye see? Well, it's very easy to see that. We just say, 'imeh giveh ookboo', ye see? Just like that. That's what we say, ye see? Well, they say every word separate as Ah say, but we don't. We bring it in. And we don't pronounce the word 'eh' as they do, we pronounce the word that is pronounced, ye see? Like, for instance, you say, 'Fetch the coal'. In America they say 'etchfe eethe oaceh, oalceh' but it's like a - it's that stilted that they can - Ye can pick it up very quick. So we don't say, 'etchfe eethe oalceh', we say, 'e the oco' just quick like that 'e the oco'. We say 'the' as 'the', they say, 'etheh'. It's easy picked up. There's no harm in tellin ye that because it's used all over the world. Ye hear it in pictures, television an everythin, ye know?

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Memories of a showman - the 'cant' languages

1980s; 1990s

showmen; carnivals; circuses; funfairs; puppets; puppet shows; fairgrounds; audio

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

Bill Sinclair Audio: Will Hay, Memories of a Showman

Will Hay was a northern showman and Punch and Judy puppeteer. He came from a family of travelling entertainers; his great grandfather, John Morrison, had joined Pindar's Circus when it was on tour in Sutherland while his grandfather, William Duncan Morrison, and uncle, Duncan Morrison, put on Punch and Judy shows in and around Inverness. The Morrisons were also well-known for their bone-setting skills. <br /> <br /> In this audio extract, Will talks to Graeme Farnell about some of the 'cant' languages used by various groups throughout the world.<br /> <br /> There's a lot o cants, of course, there's various cants ye can use. Ye use back cant, Romany cant, paupers' cant, showmen's cant, thieves' cant. There's all kinds o thing, an if you use them all thegither, some o them, even the boys that's knows it sometimes is flummoxed, if ye use - cut it up a bit an add on bits and pieces. Aye.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: So you used to use back cant as well?<br /> <br /> Oh aye, Ah can use it, aye. A lot o people does that. <br /> <br /> Interviewer: They say a lot of butchers - <br /> <br /> Oh that was where, that's was where it was learnt away back in the old days, eh. Came oot of the Cockney London, actually. The back cant came oot o the traders, when they'd stalls an butchers an that, as you say, an traders an that, an they had to use a lot o this cant because they could 'do' the people, an they could tell you that they were being done, sort o thing, ye know? Aye. Of course, there's a lot o rhyming slang but we don't use much o rhyming slang. It's easy picked up, that. But ye can easily talk back cant.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: But a lot of people can - are so used to talking back cant, that they can just talk that.<br /> <br /> Oh it's just like a - just like a language to them, it's that quick. An, in fact, if you were talking back cant ye can add on ordinary words like 'too', 'the', 'as', 'do', the short words, an ye can whip it in an add it on till another word an you don't even know what it is. You don't have to use every word, separate. Ye can add them on, take them off. Ye know, all the short words, ye no need to use them at all.<br /> <br /> Interviewer: Just mix them up.<br /> <br /> An then, a long word, instead o using a long word, which can be picked up immediately, ye'll maybe cut a long word into four sentences, an ye'd never know what it is. Aye. Like, we could say [cant words] That means, well, 'Here comes a policeman' but you wouldn't understand it because it's chopped up an things like that, ye see? There's lots o cants ye can use but what we do on the road ourselves among our own people, her and me, we chop ours up an make it's just her and me understands it, but even the ordinary showmen don't. Aye. We do a lot o that ourselves. <br /> <br /> Interviewer: That must be very useful?<br /> <br /> Oh aye it is, aye. But back cant is easy to learn, Ah mean, you could pick it up within thirty seconds. Ye see, now you call, 'micro phone', ye see? Well, we would say 'icro' (micro phone), 'icro own pho', ye see? That's the way, it's the back word. Now, they call it 'Pig Latin' in America, but Pig Latin in America is easy picked up because they say 'eh' at the end of every sentence. Now say, 'Give me the book', they say, 'ivegeh eemeh eetheh ookbeh', ye see? Well, it's very easy to see that. We just say, 'imeh giveh ookboo', ye see? Just like that. That's what we say, ye see? Well, they say every word separate as Ah say, but we don't. We bring it in. And we don't pronounce the word 'eh' as they do, we pronounce the word that is pronounced, ye see? Like, for instance, you say, 'Fetch the coal'. In America they say 'etchfe eethe oaceh, oalceh' but it's like a - it's that stilted that they can - Ye can pick it up very quick. So we don't say, 'etchfe eethe oalceh', we say, 'e the oco' just quick like that 'e the oco'. We say 'the' as 'the', they say, 'etheh'. It's easy picked up. There's no harm in tellin ye that because it's used all over the world. Ye hear it in pictures, television an everythin, ye know?