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A woman in a brown suit drinks next to a man in a brown leather jacket. They both look serious.
Elizabeth Laidlaw and Alex Goodrich by Michael Brosilow.

Explore this vocabulary list compiled by dramaturg Derek Matson. These definitions may help provide some context for regional and colloquial language in the fens. 


  • BUSINESSMAN: “Wild people. Fen tigers.”
    • Fen tigers: Nickname given to the 17th-century laborers in the Fens who opposed the drainage of their land because it destroyed their natural fisheries. When this drainage network system was implemented, it led to the redistribution of the Fens to the wealthy land speculators who put up the cash for the drainage work to be carried out. The poorer people of the Fens rebelled against this land scheme by sabotaging the efforts of the rich, new owners of their lands by filling up ditches as they being created and by breaching dikes as they were being constructed.

  • MRS. HASSETT: “What’s the matter, Val? Took short?”
    • To take (a person) short: To have an urgent need to urinate or defecate (colloquial)

  • NELL: “He walked all day and it got real dark and he was frit as hell.”
    • Frit: Frightened, terrified (dialect and colloquial)

  • NELL: “Then her husband came and said the pony trap was ready.”
    • Pony trap: A small, two-wheeled carriage on springs (colloquial)

  • NELL: “Then he told my grandfather his missus had been having an affair with the chap from the next smallholding.”
    • Smallholding: An agricultural holding smaller than a farm

  • SHIRLEY: “Same thing when I went into service.”
    • To go into service: To enter into the condition of being a servant or of serving a master

  • GEOFFREY: “Those French sending rockets to the Argies, forgotten what we did for them I should think.”
    • Argie: An Argentinian, frequently used in the context of the 1982 Anglo-Argentinian conflict over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (colloquial) 

  • NELL: “You going to top yourself, Tewson, like that farmer over Chatteris?”
    • To top oneself: Originally, to put to death by hanging (“topsman” = a hangman); now usually, to die by suicide (slang)

  • IVY: “When they were dredging the mud out of the leat.”
    • Leat: An artificial channel for the conveyance of water, especially for agricultural or industrial purposes

  • IVY: “Chased him with a besom.”
    • Besom: An implement for sweeping, usually made of a bunch of broom, heather, birch, or other twigs bound together round a handle; a broom (pronounced BEE-zəm)

  • VAL: “I marked the place with a biro.”
    • Biro: A particular make of ballpoint pen, named for its Hungarian inventor László Biró; also applied loosely to any ballpoint pen (pronounced BUY-roh)

  • VAL: “There’s the girl again, a long time ago when they believed in boggarts.”
    • Boggarts: Apectre, goblin, or bogy; in dialectal use, esp. a local goblin or sprite supposed to “haunt” a particular gloomy spot, or scene of violence


OED, The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989.

Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. 18th ed. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011.

Chamberlain, Mary. Fenwomen: A Portrait of Women in an English Village. Woodbridge, England: Full Circle, 2011.

Posted on January 25, 2023 in Learning Guides, Productions

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