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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book; and teach the history of printing at other institutions. I research language usage during the First World War, and lead the Languages and the First World War project. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch; and Words and the First World War. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

Doolally and the 1901 census

'Humours of the Census', from the Portsmouth Evening News, 4 April 1901.

Dealing with the experiences of the census-taker, the Yorkshire Post says it was of little use to threaten a frowsy housewife, more intent on the pot of beer on the table than on clearing up the litter around her, that in default of giving an account of her family she was subject to a fine of £5. “Ger away wi’ yo’,” she says, “we hanna five bob, let alone five pun,” and, a dangerous light coming into her eyes as she seized hold of a saucepan, “And if yo’ don’t clear out I’ll bang you wi’ this.” In one street, it is stated, “two Irishwomen, mother and daughter, welcomed us with musical honours – a refrain which began and ended with ‘Doolally, doolally’ – the paper had to be filled up for them. The daughter had a voice that could be heard behind the closed door of the cottage at the end of the next terrace. There was nothing she wished to conceal from the neighbours. It was ‘Limerick, me darlint,’ and ‘32 me swate one,’ and ‘onaisy me, not a child have I got,’ all like the sounding of a steam-packet’s fog-horn.”

All behaviour sounding fairly reasonable in the circumstances; but this may be the first printed documentation of ‘doolally’, though the exact meaning is not clear.

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