TO YOUTHS IT MAY CONCERN,
I’ve got a secret. Some tea, if you will. The boomers are gonna be shook knowing I told you this, but tea is as tea does, and good tea must be spilled. Here it is:
Low key… libraries are lit AF.
Even here on this archipelago of perpetual off-fleekness, our library, yes the library, the Bermuda National Library, slaps hard. While you’ve been TikToking, the BNL has been keeping it 100.
I stan the BNL, and you should too. For many reasons, but mainly because of an eleven year old schoolboy named Little Willie. But we’ll get to him in a minute.
He is with us today because of the BNL’s Digital Collection—the free-to-access online archive of Bermuda’s major publications dating back to 1784. And from what I can tell, he is the first verifiable master of Bermudian slang. From 1906 to 1908, he was a local celebrity, and I’m making it my mission to bring him back.
Because we need Little Willie.
You need Little Willie.
Keep your skrrts’s, your yikes’s, big oofs, bigger moods, deadasses, fires, fits, and flexes. I need to be hearing a lot more Bermewjan verds in between them though. That’s our heritage. And I worry that heritage is disappearing amongst you, my Zoomer countrymen.
Must you eschew dicty for drip?
Must you bing bong instead of chingas?
Perhaps it was inevitable that such terms would become dated. The internet will ultimately rob us all of our linguistic identity. But not on my watch.
I come bearing a veritable wellspring of new content for the lexicon, provided by the aforementioned 11 year old schoolboy, in 1907, who I believe to be the progenitor of the published Bermewjan Verd.
The archives show Little Willie arrived on the scene in December 1906, but he was most likely known well before then. A more thorough search will be needed to trace the full timeline of Little Willie. For now we’ll have to do with the letters our beloved librarians have managed to capture—letters to the editor of the Royal Gazette, John Foggo Eve, written with every other word spelled out phonetically in a distinctly Bermudian accent.
In these letters you will find references to “them bies”, descriptions of “goin’ long”, cricketers “taking licks”, and a wonderful assortment of other time honoured Bermudian slang that you’re unlikely to find published at any point beforehand.
Over the next year, we will be re-publishing Little Willie’s letters on the date they were published back in 1907.
THE ROYAL GAZETTE — JAN 1, 1907
I wish you a happy Nue Year.
To the Editor of the “Ryle Gazette.”
DEAR SUR—I wish Krismus wood come twice a year. Golly! us byes had a fine time. Kenny told me that there won’t be no Sandy Claws ‘tall. He said “bye, you must be stoopid, why your pa and ma is Sandy Claws,” but I no better ‘cos, didn’t Sandy find my soks wen I was livin at Aunt Jane’s and pa and ma wont there nuther.
I didn’t get one of them junker junker bikes but I got lots of candy, a mask, a sogers hamlet with a red horse tail stickin out of the top of it, a gun with a bagnet. I ‘speck Sandy thought I belonged to the “King’s Last Hopes” or the Kadet Kore.
I wanted one of them squeeky baloons and a tin bugle but I didn’t get them, so I swapped my soger’s hat for a baloon that had a squeek you could hear from Heyl’s corner over to the Town Hall, oh! I bet its pardon, the City Hall. Pa says he wood like to pulavrize the lot of those noisy things and give me a good skoldin for swappin my hat and made me go and get it back. Wat a fuss about a little bit of squeekin.
Krismus only comes once a year and it wood not seem like it if, us kids didn’t make a noise and enjoy ourselves a little bit extra.
The drang old baloons only last about half day anyhow before they bust.
Aunt Mary was grumblin about the bands a playin so urly Krismus mornin, but ma said “why my dear sister, that custom is almost as old as Bermuda and it wood be a pity to stop it now. Bermudians wood miss it and no doubt if that custom goes the Kassava pie will be the next thing to follow.” I hope not, cos I do like Kassava pie and bags of noise too Krismus times. Unkle Tom told us that we didn’t no wat noise meant in Bermuda, that if we wanted the reel Simon Pure in the Krismus racket biziness, we shood go Spain.
He says that they have an instrument called Zombomba that can diskount anything here for noise. It makes its appearance the fust week in December on the streets and every child and nearly every grown up is supplied with one and the racket they make wood turn our Bermuda noise pale in the face.
Sandy Claws bro’t ma a lot of nice things, a luvly parisole, a pair of gloves with long legs to em to cum up to the elboes and lots of things. Bess and Lil got a lot of stuff that gurls like, such as power boxes, and chewin gun, extract of wite rose, and pea nuts.
Pa got a pair of slippers which he says “must have been built for Ruffin,” but they are konvenient to get his feet into each on bein right or left just as you pick it up, a box of cigars, each one with a paper round its middle in which the word “general” is printed. They were made were “Spider” works ‘smole easy byes.’ My big bruther says they are ‘hot stuff’ but pa will give him ‘hot stuff’ when he misses them outen the box
Aunt Mary was readin something in the paper ‘bout some feller who wants to start the “Konsolodated Labour Union of Bermuda” for the purpose of raisin the wages of those who labour. Pa said fiddlesticks, I wish to grashus there was a way of raisin wages. I find it pretty hard to raise ‘nuff to pay my men on Saturdays. If a union was started to make the labourers work for the wages they are getting, it wood fill the bill.
There is no place in the world where the labourer is better off than he is here, nor better paid for the amount of work daily performed. Why the labouring people in Bermuda don’t know what work is. Let them go to the States or England and see what they wood have to do for a day’s pay. The very man who is trying to organize the Union knows this too, and no dout has experienced the difficulty there is in gettin people to work every day, week in and week out, and to get his work thoroughly done since his arrival in these islands.
I don’t know his object in trying to start this Union unless it is for notoriety and surely, he acquired sufficient of that commodity by the slot machines which caused many of the labourers’ families to go short of food whilst they were in full blast.
Aunt Mary says “She supposes the next thing we shall see is a sort of ‘Coxey’s Army’ marchin through the streets headed by a band of musik. Gee if there’s going to be a band me and Kenny and the other chaps will be right in the swim. Goodbuy, I must go and catch some round Robins for bate cos pa and his friend Villers is goin fishin to-morrer. Wishing you all a happy and prosperous Nue year.
I remain the same,
Old 2 and 6,