Language and History

Language is fluid. It changes all the time. Writing any language down sets it fast.

Writing about language is fun. The language of other times is interesting. Use of nouns, adjectives and verbs of former times amuses us and sometimes surprises us too.

Is all language fluid? Perhaps not. The Law for example is not subject to change in the same way. Perhaps it is the language with which we were once familiar in our town. Perhaps so familiar that we sometimes forget how it was as we embrace the fluidity of the changing spoken language.

For example:- Using the Bus in North Manchester. There was the driver in his cab. The man who took the fares was called the Guard. There were no female guards. We knew that they were officially called “Conductors”. They were never much referred to as “Conductors” or in Manchester. Neither were they referred to as “Clippies”.

Fares were asked for by parents. A parent with two children would say to the Guard: “One and two halves to Manchester please”. Manchester would mean “the terminus”.

Children on their own would ask for fares by the value. A journey for 2d (pronounced ‘Tuppence’) would be asked for as “Two please”. When the 3d (pronounced ‘threp’nce’ and paid for by a “threpny bit”) standard came in, and you might have to pay for your sibling as well, you would ask for “Two Threes please” (paid for by a “tanner”).

For all of these fares, you would receive a ticket to the value of the money tendered.

When one-man buses were becoming more common, the cry would go up “There’s a Guard on”. People might ask you “Is there a Guard on?” as the bus pulled up at the stop. One-man operated buses were called “Pay As You Enter” buses when they first came out, especially if the entrance was at the front.

Sometimes the bus might be nearly full. The Guard would announce at the stop “Two inside and one on top”.

“Inside” meant the Lower saloon and this took its name from the time when on the old trams, there was – literally – “Inside” and “Outside”, “Outside” being literally that, on the open top deck, exposed to the elements.

A bus that was not going to cover the whole route was known as a “turnback” and invariably referred to as an “x” or “an extra”. As in: “Don’t get on that one, it’s an x”.

Single deck buses were often referred to as “a little bus”. As in  situation where a bus might be approaching a stop. One passenger says “Is this one ours?” and the reply might be “Yes but it’s a little bus today”.

Route numbers were referred to as Cardinal numbers if they were two digits (also including the number 100). If they were one digit, they were often preceded by the word “Number”, as in: “Which is the bus to Bamford?” “You need (get, take, use) a (or the) Number 4 from Cannon Street”. “Which is the bus to Rochdale?”. You need (get, take, use) a (or the) 17 from Cannon Street.
If it were a three digit number, the numbers were read out as three digits. “Which is the bus to Langley?” “You need (get, take, use) a (or the) 1-2-1 (one two one) from Church Street.

And while we’re on about it, in Manchester, when you wanted to get off the bus, you got up from your seat immediately the bus left the stop before yours. This too had its roots in tramway practice. The old trams had only the one bell push on the back platform, hence you got up quickly or you would miss being able to signal your wish to the driver.

On the Manchester buses too, the bell only rang in the cab. If you were a passenger and rang the bell, you only heard a buzzer, which was situated on the platform.

Ah! The details of life and how they can be altered so easily by those who write history but who were not there…


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