Ian McMillan: It’s a tiny movement that hardly disturbs any air

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I like punctuation, and I like relating to it in Yorkshire ways. Here’s the dropped flat cap of the full stop, and the slipping flat cap of the comma. Here come the waves on the moonlit beach at Scarborough that is the semicolon, and the reflected moon on the calm waters off Brid that is the colon. And the ellipsis…? Well, that’s three Yorkshire puddings on a plate, obviously, and the question mark and the exclamation mark follow the emotions of the Yorkshire football fan as they prepare for the new season. Will we get promoted? Of course we’ll get promoted!

The other day, though, I felt the urgent need for a new piece of Yorkshire punctuation that would actively relate to the way we speak round here. I was walking down the street towards Darfield’s Central Business District, which not far from the Financial Area, as we call The Museum and the cash machine outside the Post Office, when I exchanged greetings with an old bloke. Because this is South Yorkshire, our greetings weren’t mellifluous or wordy. We barely broke stride and we both said ‘aye’ simultaneously; this isn’t to suggest that we came over all Californian and drawled ‘Hi!’ because as I said, this is South Yorkshire we’re talking about here. No, we said ‘Aye’, as though previously, perhaps the day before or the week before or the year before, we’d said Good Morning to each other, and now we were just acknowledging the fact that we’d said it, and sort-of saying it again without really saying it again. I hope I’m not confusing you, but I’m certainly confusing me. It’s complicated, this Yorkshire language.

I was walking down the street towards Darfield’s Central Business District, which not far from the Financial Area, as we call The Museum and the cash machine outside the Post Office

Then we both did that wonderful half-wink and barely perceptible nod of the head; it’s a tiny movement that hardly disturbs any air, but I believe it’s an important item of Yorkshire punctuation and as such I think we should have a sign for it, a mark that you can write down because round here it’s an important part of speech and just as important as a semicolon or an ellipsis. I mean…whoever uses an ellipsis? Just how do we represent that slight sideways movement of the skull as a punctuation mark on the page? It’s vital that I think of one, though, because it’ll enrich the writing down of Yorkshire encounters no end.

So, I try to visualise a symbol for our nods. Would a / work? ‘Aye /’. It’s more or less what we do with our faces but actually it looks a bit dramatic, a bit more of a hand or fist gesture. Is it more hesitant than that? Maybe a semicolon followed by a colon would do the trick? ‘Aye;:’ that doesn’t work at all. It looks like we’re juggling with smoked kippers.

Perhaps I could take an existing piece of punctuation and mess around with it, Yorkshire-ise it a little. So I turn back to the three dots I’ve been disparaging all day… the ellipsis. As it stands, it represents quite a pause in a sentence. It builds tension. The murderer is… Trevor! But how about two dots, just two little dots: ‘Aye..’ That seems gentler, there doesn’t seem to be quite as much movement in it. In those two dots the head moves slightly, the micro-greeting made with dignity and minimalism. Aye..