A personal guide to all things "Scouse" for LFC Fans around the world
A Personal Guide to ‘Scouse’ for LFC Toronto Fans
Now the battle it started next morning, Under the radiant sun, I remember our poor Scouser Tommy, He was shot by an old Nazi gun
Oh, I am a Liverpudlian, And I come from the Spion Kop…
The River Mersey and Liverpool Pier Head: The Three Graces – Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building, and Port of Liverpool Building, plus Anglican Cathedral. [The ‘s’ in Mersey is hard. Liver rhymes with fiver.]
A person from Liverpool is officially a Liverpudlian, but colloquially referred to as a Scouse or Scouser, plural Scousers – Scouse does not take a plural. The term Scouse or Scouser originated as a pejorative expression denigrating the poor, potato-famine Irish influx into Liverpool, who lived on a diet of cheap, potato-based stew.
As is the way with derogatory expressions, ‘Scouse’ and ‘Scouser’ have been reclaimed by Liverpudians as proud identifiers. Use of the terms by neutrals is accepted endearingly, unless uttered by Man United or Chelsea supporters, who invariably prefix it with a negative adjective, e.g., whining Scousers.
The term ‘Scouse’ is derived allegedly from the Norwegian ‘Lapskaus’, a meat and potato stew eaten by Norwegian sailors that found its way into Liverpool kitchens. In the 1990s, I worked on cruise ships out of Miami, Florida, and the Port of Miami Crew Center, run by Norwegian Cruise Lines, had ‘Lapskaus’ on their menu. (The only item on the menu.)
The expressions ‘Scouse’ and “Scouser’ did not gain common usage nationally, until the fame of the Beatles in the 1960s, together with a show on UK television.
‘Till Death Us Do Part’ was a ten-year long (1965-1975), BBC TV Situation Comedy (20 million viewership) of an East End London family with a live-in Liverpudlian son-in-law, regularly referred to as a “Scouse git” by the West Ham supporting patriarch.
In 1974, UK municipal boundaries were redrawn, and greater Liverpool expanded to become Metropolitan ‘Merseyside’. Liverpudlians moved and Scouse as an accent spread. People from affluent parts across the Mersey are mocked as ‘Posh Scousers’.
The expression ‘Scouse’ has evolved to become a quadruple noun, denoting;
- Scouse: a type of stew,
- Scouse: a person from Liverpool,
- Scouse: the culture,
- Scouse: the accent they talk in.
Scouse as stew:
When I was a child, Scouse was a school dinner staple. Contrary to the ‘breakfast, lunch and dinner’ convention, Liverpool mealtimes were (still are) ‘breakfast, dinner and tea’. ‘Lunch’ was a class-based affectation. I never heard the word used until I left Liverpool.
In this YouTube film, Adam Franklin, head chef at Liverpool Yacht Club, discusses making Scouse stew ahead of Global Scouse Day [more later]. My recollection of Scouse as stew is of a home dish, not a restaurant dish. Who eats stew in a restaurant?
Not mentioned in the preparation is ‘Blind Scouse’, a vegetarian meat-free version, originally known as ‘poor man’s Scouse’. Another feature not mentioned is that Scouse keeps well, and tastes better on the second day.
The notion of the Liverpool riverfront having a ‘Yacht Club’ made me laugh. Half a century of river clean up, global warming and dockland, gentrified redevelopment has transformed the Liverpool-side River Mersey into a pretend leisure resort.
The occasional dolphin sighting in the Mersey does little to negate the 1960s’ memory that the river was a certified, ‘biologically dead’ combination of industrial pollution and sewage waste. Discarded, river borne condoms were known as Mersey Goldfish.
Liverpudlian Graham Hughes is a Guinness World Record Holder as the first person to visit all 193 United Nations member states, and several other territories, without flying.
Graham Hughes claimed that no matter what country he was in, he would always bump into a fellow Scouser. Some time around 2008, Graham started to celebrate all things Scouse by having ‘Scouse suppers’ on his birthday – February 28th. Laura O’Connor of Laura’s Little Bakery continued the supper tradition, and Global Scouse Day was born.
Laura O’Connor talks Global Scouse Day on The Guide Liverpool.
Scouse as a person:
Shenanigans (now closed) was a bar on St. Clair Avenue West at Yonge Street, previously known as Scallywags when it was home to TLSC (Toronto Liverpool Supporters’ Club). The irony of Liverpool FC supporters having a home base named ‘Scallywags’ was collectively lost on the mass of people attending.
People in Liverpool smile knowingly when I tell them that ‘Scallywags’ was the name of the (former) LFC supporters’ venue. A ‘Scallywag’ is an old nautical term for ‘a person who behaves badly, but in an amusingly mischievous rather than harmful way’. [OED]
There was a framed copy of the explanation hanging on the bar wall, near the window.
In Liverpool, any adolescent, usually male, with too much time on their hands for potential delinquency would be referred to as a ‘Scally’. Liverpool is, or was, full of Scallies. The usual Scally catchphrase on Match Days is, ‘Mind your car [for you] mister?’ The inference being that if you didn’t tip / pay up first, you might come back and find one of your tires let down. [Street parking, not LFC parking]
In the early 1960s, ‘Scouse’ as an entity was restricted to the city boundary. Regional non-Scousers were referred to as ‘Woolly Backs’, i.e. sheep farming, country people who spoke with a rural accent. Current vernacular has reduced individuals to simply ‘A Wool’.
According to YouTube postings, it has become fashionable to berate outsiders as ‘pretend Scousers’. To the amusement of ‘proper Scousers’ – the sort of males who engage in ‘lad banter’ and go to football matches – there is a mental list of social and sartorial indiscretions that label unsuspecting non-locals as ‘A Wool’.
Proper Scousers confirm their Scouse credentials by belittling those who do not conform to a ‘Scouse’ identity. Make of that what you will: it’s part of current Scouse Culture. This only applies to regional non-locals. Visiting Canadians would be treated like royalty.
As a schoolboy in the 1960s the de facto differential was sarcasm. For the uninitiated, sarcasm comes as blunt or subtle, but both forms are designed to elicit a response. The objective was not to offend but to be humorous.
The speed and wit of the responder determined how ‘Scouse’ the person was. If you didn’t respond, you weren’t Scouse. If you answered that sarcasm was the lowest form of wit, then the rejoinder was, ‘I vary my wit to suit the company’.
Scouse as culture:
The City of Liverpool derived its identity and wealth as a port facing the Atlantic and the ‘New World’, but Liverpool’s national prominence was relatively short lived. The construction in 1893 of the Ship Canal inland to Manchester diminished the need for Liverpool as a port, and supposedly started the rivalry to all things Manchester.
Liverpool’s status as ‘second port of the Empire’ [after London] began in the nineteenth century with the Industrial Revolution (and the growth of the docks), but suffered a near terminal decline immediately post Second World War [1939-1945] with economic gravitation southeast towards London / mainland Europe, and the death knell of 1950s’ shipping – Containerisation. Liverpool’s tidal locks were too small for container ships.
The post war collapse of the Liverpool economy coincided with a Detroit-like population depletion that began as early as the 1930s with ‘slum clearance’, ran rampant with 1960s’ construction of peripheral housing estates (projects), and did not stop until the end of the century by which time the population had halved with over 400,000 inner city residents relocated to far flung New Towns.
Liverpool Corporation’s compulsion to lay waste whole neighbourhoods of repairable housing garnered a typical Scouse joke: the Corporation was congratulated on inventing the Inverse Neutron Bomb – a bomb that demolished buildings, but left people standing.
The UK ‘Financial Deregulation’ of the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government, produced an economic boom in London and the southeast of England at the same time as regions of the UK North descended into deindustrialised wasteland.
Harry Enfield, a stand-up London comedian, personified the north-south economic divide by denigrating ‘out of work Scousers’, while wafting ‘a wad of readies’ (cash) for all to see, and bellowing his catch phrase, “loadsamoney”.
Scouse culture hardened against the pseudo-elitism of ‘loadsamoney’, Londoners. It’s not unusual for a Scouser to say, “I’m not from England, I’m from Liverpool” – a separatist identity that goes back at least to the early 1980s when Liverpool’s ‘Militant Tendency’ (far left, Trotskyist Local Government) proposed to secede from National (Conservative) Government. The proposal was unsuccessful but the concept took hold.
In 1981, ruling Conservative Cabinet Ministers were privately urging the Prime Minister that the City of Liverpool should be abandoned to a fate of "managed decline". The current hostility to the National Anthem by Liverpool supporters has a long history in perceived National Government neglect that started well before ‘Hillsborough’.
Economic recession and supposed national alienation compounded a defensive need for Liverpool as a city to look in on itself. The Manchester region recovered from economic downturn quicker than the Liverpool region, consolidating the animosity between the two cities. Fortunately, Liverpool had football and music.
In the mid 1960s, the City of Liverpool was riding high on the fortunes of both Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs. The Beatles, from a Liverpool perspective, were initially just icing on the cake: as soon as they were famous they had moved to London.
Liverpool Corporation in its misguided wisdom allowed the original ‘Cavern’ to be filled in, and it took the city 20 years to realise its error and exploit the ‘Cavern Quarter’. The current ‘Cavern Club’ is a rebuild with salvaged, original bricks. The ‘entrance’ is almost in the same location, but the basement is only an approximation to the 1950s’ cellar.
To baffle the unsuspecting tourist even more, a ‘Cavern Pub’ has been added across the street with confusing, original ‘Cavern’ typeface lettering. When I’m back in Liverpool, I avoid the phony Beatle mania of Mathew Street, and head for Ye Hole In Ye Wall a block away, for a quiet pint in a pub that was serving beer when America was still a colony.[That’s a 20 fl. oz. Imperial pint, not a shortchanged, 16 fl. oz. American pint.]
Previous attempts had been made (and failed) to promote Liverpool City’s national standing, so there is a sad irony that the city’s recent moment in the spotlight was at the expense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – intended hosts of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Eurovision 2023 may not have gleaned much publicity here in Canada, but European interest was off the scale: Australia was even a contestant. ‘Eurovision’ is way too much glitz and glamour for my taste, but the “most-watched Eurovision final in UK history” certainly elevated Liverpool in peoples’ consciousness, and put the city back on the map.
This 5 minute promotional video for the Eurovision Song Contest has excellent drone views of the Liverpool waterfront, together with bona fide Scouse commentary. Watching this video you might wonder if you’re looking at the same city that I’m talking about. I barely recognise it myself, but I left fifty years ago. The past is a foreign country.
Scouse as accent:
North America is such a huge landmass, it is understandable that people this side of the pond find it difficult to comprehend that in the UK accents can change every 50 or even 30 miles. The whole of the United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – is less than a quarter the size of the Province of Ontario.
Into this small area resides a population double that of Canada, and the British have had two thousand years since the Romans invaded to evolve how they talked. Romano- British lasted for four centuries before the Anglo-Saxons made their mark on the spoken language, followed by the Norman Conquest and subjugation to all things French. Pre- Roman Celtic languages are still spoken in certain areas, e.g. Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.
The Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century saw a mass migration of people from the countryside to newly expanding cities: rural accents mingled with harder town accents.
Liverpool already had substantial numbers of Welsh and Irish itinerant workers before the 1845-’49 potato crop blight in Ireland that subsequently deluged the port of Liverpool with Irish escaping famine and poverty.
In excess of half a million Irish made their way to Liverpool in search of a better life. Those that could afford the passage sailed to North America: those that couldn’t, stayed and swelled the ranks of Liverpool’s poor. In a twenty-year period from 1860 to 1880, the population of Liverpool increased from 400,000 to 650,000. The ‘Irish’ contributed to the ‘English’ language and ‘Scouse’ as an accent was conceived. There are times when I can’t tell the difference between a Dublin accent and a Liverpool accent.
Some time in the second half of the twentieth century, with the UK growth of National Television and movement of people away from cities to ‘New Towns’, it was anticipated that accents in the UK would become diluted and homogenize: that we would all talk with some variant of BBC English. People did move but accents simply intensified.
In Liverpool, mid 20th century slum clearance endeavors relocated whole communities from the inner city to anonymous peripheral estates [projects]. Here accents hardened as identifiers: I might not live in the city centre, but I’m still Scouse.
To the more discerning ear, there are two variants of Scouse, nasal and guttural. There is speculation on the origin citing smog, damp, and poor air quality but the Liverpool diaspora has been spread so thinly it is difficult to be certain how or where they differentiated. Ringo Starr would be an example of guttural Scouse, with Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher as exponents of nasal Scouse.
I grew up in South Liverpool, which was largely guttural Scouse, and my accent was set in concrete by the age of six. I left Liverpool in my early twenties, but the accent stayed. Working in North America, I’ve even been told that my accent sounds endearing, not an accolade I’ve ever received in England. Online, there are a multitude of Theses on the origin and spread of ‘Scouse’: a plethora of PhD candidates looking for a subject.
To a Brit, Scouse is no harder on the ears than Cockney (London), Geordie (Newcastle) or Brummie (Birmingham), to name three accents at random, not that US Americans would hear any difference: they think we all sound the same. When Americans try to talk ‘British’, they copy an upper class accent: a choice that baffles anyone from the UK.
In class-obsessed Britain, accents are both locational and societal identifiers: any non-‘Received Pronunciation’ accent automatically defines you as ‘working class’. Edwardian era hierarchies may seem like pre-history, but Brits have the class system written into their DNA. ‘Downton Abbey’ may be a TV show, but Eton College still produces Conservative Prime Ministers – David Cameron and Boris Johnson the most recent two.
Scouser and LFC Toronto Member, Tom Speke
Are you a Scouser living in Toronto? A Toronto LFC fan who travels to Liverpool?
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