NIPFIGS AND MARMPUSSES

TODAY would have been my mother’s 100th birthday.  She died in July 1986 leaving a rich legacy of weird words and expressions: some traditional Sheffield dialect – ‘siling it down’, for raining (though Ian says that in Hull it was just siling); crozzled for just-about-burnt (usually bacon); ‘frame yourself’, for what today would probably be ‘get a grip’; and ‘nesh’ meaning feebly unable to stand the cold – but quite a few were her own invention.
‘Good garden stuff!’ was a favourite exclamation of horror or surprise, and I heard it as a kind of complete word, never stopping to analyse it: you don’t when you’re six. It was years before I realised its significance as a polite word for **** (ie manure). ‘Snerped up’ was the perfect description of something, anything, that had become dried and shrivelled, and ‘Tissy Lizzy’ was the Queen Mother for whom she had a totally irrational dislike (as she did for Princess Margaret).
But my favourites were the two truly original insults invented for those women who incurred her displeasure – how, and why, we never knew, and I’m not sure she did – the nipfig and the marmpuss.  A tricky distinction, to be sure. “She’s a real nipfig,” she would say of someone she regarded as small-minded and judgmental, while the marmpuss was the one who adopted a sneering and superior air. Nobody, but nobody, was superior to my mother in her own estimation.
She also had a lifelong habit of casually naming people after the expressions they used frequently. So the office colleague who always wanted to know everybody’s age became “Our-ode-is-ee,” and the woman who couldn’t say thank you often enough was “Mrs Ever-so-grateful.” When she died, my brothers thanked the Derbyshire undertaker as he left the house after discussing the funeral arrangements. “We really appreciate the trouble you’ve taken,” said one. He replied, enigmatically, “No problem. ‘Appens reg’lar.” You kind have had to be there.  But “Appens Reglar” is how we knew him from then on. She’d have approved.

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