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19 April 2010

Monday's Word - boughten

My sister and I were raised by my father's sister after our mother died. 'Aunty Grace' was a great housewife and we had hot home cooked and meals each day and we would regularly come home to the smell of baking - fresh bread, cakes and my favourite Welsh cakes hot from the griddle and begging to be eaten hot. (In case anyone doesn't know, I lived most of my life in rural Wales.) I don't think she ever opened a packet or pre-packed meal and was openly hostile to the idea of 'boughten' meals or cakes. 'Boughten' was a word she often used, so I didn't think there was anything unusual about it, until I read this article in Michael Quinion's 'Worldwide Words.' This is what he has to say:

"It started when I read a report by Jon Henley in the Guardian on 7 April. As part of the current British election campaign, the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, was visiting a bakery in Bolton, Lancashire. He made a lame joke about his failure to make his own bread which Jon Henley rendered as "So it'll be back to boughten loaves in future, he promised."

"Boughten" is an adjective formed from the irregular past tense of the verb "to buy" and refers to something that's commercially made or shop-bought, as opposed to made or grown at home. If Mr Cameron actually said it, he was using it correctly. However, he comes of upper-middle-class stock, educated at Eton and Oxford, and it's highly unlikely that "boughten" is natively his.

Two hundred years ago, "boughten" had a brief literary moment, used poetically by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. Otherwise it has never been part of standard British English. It was formerly in some dialects in southern England but has now almost totally died out, with only a few very elderly men and women - especially in the West Country - still having it in their vocabularies (a newspaper report ten years ago in Bristol quoted "boughten" as an example of Somerset dialect that survived among old Bristolians; that may no longer be so). It has in the past been rather more widely known in North America and many examples turn up in American writings of the nineteenth century, whereas it's almost completely
unknown in their British counterparts. I'm told that it's still used to some extent in north central parts of the US, such as Michigan - where "shop-boughten" may also be heard - but most Americans would consider it rustic or old-fashioned if they ever heard it."
Well, it might have died out in England but the word is still alive and well in parts of America, it seems - and certainly by the older generation in Wales. Such a simple little word, I never realised it had such an interesting history!

*World Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2010. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org/