The door bell rings and I open it to find that it’s the delivery guy from a courier company. He’s a regular on this route, and happens to be from the Black Country. “Owroight chick?” he says, “Can you sign this for me?” If you’re not used the regional use of ‘chick’ as a friendly greeting by complete strangers, or you’re not a time-traveller recently arrived from the 1960s, it can be a little startling. But I love it. There’s a version for use when addressing males too, which is even more alarming if you’re not familiar with it. Mr Bsag and I were on the Metro in Birmingham a few years ago, heading to the Black Country to meet up with some friends. At one of the stops, an elderly couple got up to leave the tram1. As the tram swayed, the woman half fell against Mr. Bsag and said, “Oh I’m sorry cock! Are you alright?”.
I really hope that these regional terms of endearment to strangers2 aren’t dying out, or being replaced with the generic South-East-centric ‘mate’, because I think they are wonderful. There’s something about them — perhaps helped by the fact that they tend to be used by people considerably older than oneself — that makes them warm and charming. It could come across as condescending, belittling, or over-familiar, but somehow it never does, because it is used in a spirit of human fellow-feeling and friendliness even though you are a complete stranger to the person addressing you.
When I lived in Bristol, I came to love the fact that bus drivers, shop assistants, waiters and waitresses would routinely address you as “my lover” with a lovely West Country burr, as in “All right my lover?”. This roughly translated as “how can I help you?”, but was so much more enjoyable. Unlike the Black Country ‘cock/chick’ terms, it was used by both sexes (usually older people) towards both men and women. Again, it sounds alarmingly intimate if you’re not used to it, but in the spirit that it tends to be used, it’s just warm and friendly. I really miss hearing it, and it brings a smile to my face when I hear it on TV or radio.
There are lots of these regional terms in the UK. There’s the Cockney ‘sweetheart’ or ‘treacle’, though you don’t hear that much now. In Newcastle I’ve been addressed as ‘petal’, ‘flower’ and ‘pet’. I asked an older woman the way to the railway station in Glasgow many years ago, and got called ‘hen’. I’m sure there are others I haven’t come across.