The Lord Provides

Words come when you need them. One day you meet a curious new one, or reencounter a strange old friend. Your curiosity having been engaged but for whatever reason left unsatisfied, what do you see next day but the same word! I have seen so many instances of this phenomenon that I am hard put to attribute it to any influence but that of a kind and loving God.

For instance, summat, meaning “something” in certain dialects of English. I convinced myself last night that characters in The Office were using this word, which I’d only seen in books.

It’s an easy-to-say version of somewhat. Folks I talk to only use somewhat adverbially, as in “Isn’t it somewhat annoyingly faux-folksy to use the word folks in linguistic exposition?”. But since its earliest days it’s also been able to mean “something”, which is easy to handle if you think of what not as relative or interrogative, but as substantival. If you see what what I’m talking about.

Anyways, I was catching up today on the disheartening backlog of words I’ve marked to look up in Patrick O’Brian novels, and came across the following [H.M.S. Surprise, p. 68]:

He found himself staring at Killick, who said, ‘Three bells, sir. Gentleman back presently. Here’s coffee, sir, and a rasher. Do get summat in your gaff, sir, God love us.’

I think I’ve seen the word in George Eliot, too, so maybe it’s “Midlands” English? That label, however, wouldn’t quite fit Slough, where The Office is set — that city is in the Southeast of England. Ah well — I just don’t have the right dictionary to know about the distribution of summat. The OED is very close to useless on regional variation — alls you ever get is their haughty little “regional” label, with never an indication of what “region” they’re talking about.

8 Responses to “The Lord Provides”

  1. Donna Wentworth Says:

    I LOVE “The Office.” I haven’t seen the Christmas special yet. I must.

  2. adam Says:

    i’ve always used sommat to mean “something like that.”


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