Infantilising the English Language – or Not…

Many of you will have noticed that I usually write and post on Mondays and Fridays – today I have a free day, so you lucky, lucky people get an extra this week!!


In the UK, there is and has been a habit of making regular words into a kind of ‘baby talk’. I don’t know if other countries do this – I would be interested to hear what readers from India, Germany, America and so forth, use in their day to day speech.

Of course, growing up British, these words were not unusual to me. As I reached adulthood and my world of contacts expanded, I realised that not everyone in the UK uses these words, though they may know what they mean (sometimes), some words are regional.

I had thought it was because we hadn’t grown up, as a nation, linguistically, research proved me wrong. I trawled through many online dictionaries, as well as my trusty ‘real life’ actual dictionary in book form.

N.B: Don’t get your shortened alterations confused with British slang; not the same.


I’m going to give you just a flavour of what I mean:

 Butty – also buttie:  Northern English – A filled or open sandwich. E.G. ‘a bacon butty’. This originated in the 19th Century, from buttered bread, buttery, butty!

Sarnie: British informal – a sandwich. E.G.  ‘…two crates of beer and a plate of sarnies.’   Probably originated in the 20th century; from Northern or dialect pronunciation of the first syllable of sandwich. N.B. I disagree with this; pronunciation of the word sandwich in Northern England uses a flat vowel ‘a’ as in cat. In the South, they pronounce this as ‘ar’ so the word could only have come from the south surely?

Telly: British Informal – television. E.G. ‘he’s watchin’ the telly in the front room’. First recorded in 1935-40; tel (evision) + -y.

Cardy: Short for cardigan. E.G. ‘she had a hole in the sleeve of her cardy’. Traced to the 1960’s.

Veronica’s cardy was knit from reinforced steel, thus keeping her in a permanent pose.

 Welly – also wellie: Short for wellington boot. E.G. ‘I lost my blue welly’. Use of this contraction can be traced as far back as 1817, but became most commonly used from the 1970s onwards.

Chocky Bicky  – also choccie biccie: A chocolate biscuit. E.G. ‘I like a choccy biccy with a cup of tea’. I couldn’t find the origins of this, but I do know they say it in Australia.

Jim Jams: That’s pyjama’s to you! E.G. ‘I’m getting my jim jams on when I get home from work’. Originated in the early 20th century: abbreviation of the pronunciation; pie-jim-jams, alteration of pyjamas.

Baccy: Tobacco, particularly the self-rolling brigade use this. E.G. ‘got any baccy mate? I’m all out’. By shortening and alteration of the word to-bacc-o, we end up with baccy. First Known Use: 1821.

Sister Ermintrude and co enjoyed  the new baccy they were growing on Mother Superior’s allotment plot.

We also say words to children because either they have onomatopoeic qualities or to avoid saying the ‘real’ words!!! So a cat becomes a ‘pussy cat’, (much hilarious usage ensued in TV sitcoms of the 1970’s) or kitty. Bobo’s – sleep. Wee wee – urinate. Poo poo – a shit. Woof Woof– dog. Brum brum – car. Birdy – bird. Moo moo – cow. Ducky – duck. Horsey – horse.

You can see a pattern here can’t you?! If you stick a ‘y’ on the end, that generally works – no don’t be an idiot! You can’t put it on the end of chair – chairy? Really? We aren’t that dumb! Or you can repeat the same word. I t goes on endlessly, and I have encountered a huge amount of ‘baby talk’ dating back to the 1920s and 1930’s, primarily from the upper classes. They seemed to have had a penchant for developing a sickly, fluffy, hurl inducing way of speaking to animals and people they were very fond of –  Ickle wickle is a prime example. (I think I’m going to vomit).Working class folk were far too busy in the mines and pits and ship building yards, rolling their baccy into ciggies, to have time to develop a child-adult-lovers collective language.

I love Dorothy Parker‘s writings and attitude; she once worked for the New Yorker and did a review of A.A. Milne’s ‘The House At Pooh Corner. Parker wrote under the pen-name of Constant Reader. She purposefully mimicked the baby talk when dismissing the book’s syrupy prose style: “It is that word ‘hummy,’ my darlings, that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”  Richard Thompson even wrote a song about it, Baby Talk, in which he implores his sweetheart to grow up – ‘I’m sending you back to nursery school, When you start talking you sound like a fool’.

Time for a cuppa and a choccy biccy.

Bye bye for now weaders!








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Writer of fiction, sci-fi, horror and more. Painter of magic realism. Grower of cabbages and currants.

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