“The roses am sheeden,” commented our neighbour, contemplating the mass of petals on the grass after the latest downpour. I was immediately transported back in time to old Aunt Mirrie’s garden, where as a child I heard this expression for the first time, as her rambling roses scattered their petals like confetti.
“Sheeden” – a variant of “shedding”, in this case shedding their petals – is a good old Black Country word, which I hadn’t heard for many years. This dialect retains a number of features of early English and has resisted many changes from Middle English. If you are puzzled by “the roses am” the reason is that Black Country dialect substitutes “am” for “are” when conjugating the verb to be; thus, “we am / yow am / they am”.
In my childhood, the first person singular was not “I am” but “Ah bin” with the negative “ah bay”. Second person singular was “ Tha bist”. I haven’t heard those for a long time: “Ah bay” seems to have given way to “Oi ay” and the greeting “Ow bist?” replaced by “Ow am yer?” However, the personal pronouns “aer”(= her) for “she” and “we” for “us” remain in common use, and if you tell children their mother is calling them, and it isn’t their mother after all, those children will still reply: “Aer ay a-callin we!”
Another evocative Black Country word that I heard recently in the post office queue, as a little boy tried to squeeze into the front of the line, is “podgin”, much more descriptive and physical-sounding than “jumping the queue”. Podging is an unforgivable sin in a culture where queuing is a way of life, and elicits cries of indignation from those displaced from their rightful place, especially by a disrespectful child!
I’m always pleased to hear these good old-fashioned terms still being used. It’s a sign that this dialect is still alive at a time when dialects generally seem to be weakening. The fact that scholars are taking a serious interest in the Black Country vernacular could be an indication that as it evolves, as all living languages must, much is being lost. However, the people of the Black Country won’t let it go without a fight, and a quick look at Google reveals many active efforts to keep it thriving.
There is actually a Black Country translation service available for those who don’t know what to do if they find a bobowler in their room or are asked to look after the whammel. I’m more impressed by this one, though.
If you want to know what it sounds like, watch and listen carefully to these
And consider that this may be quite close to how Shakespeare sounded.