Street Talk: The Language of Coronation Street

Street Talk: The Language of Coronation Street was compiled by Jeffrey Miller and published in 1986. It was an alphabetical list of words and phrases used in the show. Many of these Mancunian or northern English expressions would be unknown to Canadian ears and Miller–an American by birth yet living in Canada at the time of publication–wanted to make the viewing experience easier for the Canadian audience. I am a regular viewer of the show and can assert that I have never heard some of these words and expressions, but then Miller did say in his descriptions that some of the occurrences were rare, or used by only one character who, by 1985 (when I started watching) had long ago left the show. 

Miller gave perfect examples of the words or expressions in context, and I could hear the character using them in my mind’s ear. I still laugh when I read the definition of “quality folk”:

“gentlefolk, professional people. Quality folk are the middle classes, typified by Dr and Mrs Lowther (Hilda used to do for [1] them) and Kevin Webster’s former girlfriend, Michelle Robinson, who came from the ‘better’ part of Weatherfield. ‘Quality folk’ would look on Street folk individually as either ‘very reliable’ or ‘those awful people’.”

I have modified my own dialogue from “Coronation Street” in the adoption of the possessive “our” to denote familiarity and endearment. This has caught on among some of my Scrabble friends as whenever they see me coming, I am greeted with “It’s our Craig!”. Miller included photos which illustrated the terms in question, often accompanied by funny captions. After so many years of watching the show I was surprised to learn that one certain expression meant the opposite of what I had thought: “done up like a dog’s dinner” means “dressed stylishly”. And all this time I had thought that it meant messily, sloppily. I imagined a food bowl and how it would look after a dog got its snout into it. If one was “done up like a dog’s dinner” it made sense to me that one’s clothes might look dishevelled or at least put on in some combination oblivious to style. 

The author description said that Miller was “currently finishing a novel”. So, I wonder, did he? I’d be interested in reading it. 

[1] Bold type used in definitions referred to separate entries. In this case, however, the bolded expression should have been do for, which means “to clean for someone, or act as caretaker or landlady.”

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