Cod Almighty | Article
by Pete Green
18 June 2003
2: The word 'nunty'
If every slang word that seems more or less specific to Grimsby were to be covered in 'Things you only know', then the series would one day come to rival Coronation Street for longevity. We're going to have to be selective here; and salutary though it is to have grown up chewing spoggy, getting grufty, twagging school and pagging your mate, there is one word that merits special attention here; and that word is nunty.
Why? Because it does more than all the other Grimsby dialect words. Bealing is a mighty expression indeed (not least for the sheer weight of scorn that can be conveyed by building up emphasis on that initial 'b' - a powerful weapon in the arsenal of mockery deployed by cruel schoolchildren all over the town), but it is merely a straightforward synonym for 'crying'; while nunty, uniquely, provides a meaning that can't accurately be duplicated simply by substituting another word. If you wish to convey nuntiness but are not from Grimsby, then you will need an entire sentence or paragraph to do it. Nunty enriches the English language and bestows upon Grimbarians a semantic reach to the parts other words can't reach.
Asked recently to define nunty by someone who is not from Grimsby but who supports the Mariners (it can happen), I said it was like those ladies' clothes shops on the Grimsby Road that you walk past on the way up to Blundell Park. Quite a few years ago I spent a couple of months living up by Darley's - this was the pre-Leaking Boot era - and one day noticed an extraordinary sign in the window of one of them. It said: THIS IS NOT A SECOND HAND SHOP. Now for the proprietor of this boutique to deem such an explanation necessary, we were looking at some seriously nunty outfitting.
Knowing how definitions can vary between individuals, I emailed a load of Grimbarians asking for their definitions of nunty, so what follows is quite a broad spectrum of codhead lexicography.
- "Dressed in a old fashion style or outdated or very conservative - all relating to dress sense" (Daz T)
- "Afashionable, as in asexual" (Mick E)
- "My first experience of the term was in the factory when one of the women described my safety shoes as nunty. So to me it's not just uncool, dorky or square but something with a safe and/or practical use, which is also uncool, dorky or square" (Al W)
- "Well, nunty is just nunty isn't it? It's a bit like saying say, Dunlop trainers were nunty, but say, Reebok were cool. Or, nunty meant Grandma's curtains or settee or something like that. It also described everyone on the Nunny (hence the origin of the name). It would be something that is so dated that it is not be considered as cool anymore, like a hairstyle or a bike or clothing. It was a fairly cruel term really!!" (Emma C)
- "Having spoken to the fountain of knowledge (my mum), nunty is in fact ancient Meggie for somebody who's about twenty say but dresses like a forty-year-old...The fountain of knowledge remembers these strange folk from when she was seventeen and she's over 70 now, so it must be true! Maybe it came from 'hand-me-downs'" (Tim W)
- "I am sorry, I have no idea at all, as I had never heard this word before it was uttered by a slackperson. It must be an 80s thing" (Tony B)
- "I think it is to do with the way people dress and is a diametric opposite of 'cool', you know, trousers too short, hair by mum, A-line skirts and American tan tights" (Jo L)
- "I suppose it's quite close to chintzy, but not quite. Um. It's sort of how a Susan would dress. It's dressing like an 80-year-old when you're only 23" (Mark S)
- "Nunty means untrendy, naff, for example wearing a thick woolly pea green cardigan knitted by your gran, with old national health specs to match!" (Carrie M)
- "To me it's the girl who stands at the side of the playground in her navy anorak, sensible skirt, knee-length white socks and black patent shoes, wanting to join in with the games but knowing that the horrible boys will throw her clarinet case into a tree if she puts it down just for an instant to play along. She's also the one with parents who waited before having children, who turns up to a school disco in a nice flowery party dress and black patent leather shoes" (Andy H)
- "Old-fashioned, granny-ish & out of date" (Becky H)
- "Nunty is the epitome of everything that is the exact opposite of either 'nice' or 'trendy'. Context would be such as 'Eurgh! Look at her in those nunty clothes, she looks so nunty, the nunty mare' - the whole nunty look being something between a dour granny and a rough scrubber and anything but a nice, fashionable, stylistic and chic lady" (Claire W)
I received evidence just now for the remarkably narrow geographical reach of this definition, when I typed 'nunty' into Google and was given just 26 matches - from a search engine claiming to index 3,083,324,652 web pages. Among the 26 sites linked to, some seem to give nunty as a piece of martial arts equipment; some refer to a vicinity of Essex by the name of Nunty's Wood; and some are in Polish. One was headed up Louth Lincolnshire - Tales of Louth, which sounded close enough to home to warrant a click; and alongside a collection of historical anecdotes and trivia about the little market town ("In 1888 four pillar boxes were installed at a cost of £3 4s 0d"), is a lexicon of local dialect that includes the following:
- NUNTY: Precise or old-fashioned in dress; from the "nuntes folke", the gentry. Also called "Nobs"
So if the word originates from a term referring to posh people, then the undertones of snootiness in its modern usage, interestingly enough, represent a complete reversal of meaning. These come entertainingly if a bit uncomfortably to the fore in one final definition:
- "Nunty means grotty, it stems from 'fashions' enjoyed by natives from the Nunny, it indicates that the clothes are not only unstylish but possibly has never been introduced to a bar of soap. Nunty means old, worn out, fetid, mouldy. Grannies can be nunty, very young children can be nunty but as a direct result this would indicate that their parents are nunty too. Nunty is a choice for some, but mainly it is inherited either genetically or through taught behaviours and a misdirected appreciation of dressing for oneself but getting it oh so wrong. Nunty is to buy a woolly from Poundstretchers. Nunty is also a lifestyle choice. Nunty is to take your child to McDonalds for its birthday and invite all of its nunty mates. Nunty is to feed your child Mars bars for lunch because you believe that a Mars a day helps you work, rest and play. Nunty is a fact of life. We need nunty people so that we can feel good about ourselves. That is why nunty people are endured. Nunty people are the yin for the yang. Nunty people do karaoke on purpose." (Alison B)
So a dress style can be extended to a lifestyle; but even within the context of design we are not yet done with this word. Think about the look of a very old copy of the Highway Code. Or a Delia Smith cookbook from the 1970s. And next time the Jehovah's Witnesses pop round for a friendly natter about why you and your family and friends will surely writhe in unimaginable agony for all eternity as the doner meat in Satan's kebab, cop a glance at the covers of those pamphlets and things that they carry around. All of these publications number among the finest examples of the nunty movement in graphic design. Furthermore, when the current generation of cutting-edge web designers hit pensionable age we can look forward to a nunty renaissance on the internet - and assuming Grimsby isn't under 100 feet of globally warmed North Sea, its inhabitants will still have that word to describe it.