Shag and Chirp

I learned a Latvian word the other night, ‘vilkme’. It was translated messily as ‘draft’ by Google Translate, but I was informed it means gravitational pressure, but can also mean a breeze. It is not in popular usage and is considered an obscure word. Last time I question the name of a hipster-brewed beer!

I have had to explain a couple of words I use in my speech to non-native English speakers here in Riga.

Lush, for example, which I guess I apply liberally outside its standard usage. Like ‘awesome’: are you truly in ‘awe’ of something, or are you essentially just saying ‘okay’?

Guernsey slang I’ve had the most trouble explaining.


Most non-native speakers I chirp to are aware of the word ‘shag’. But they are somewhat taken aback when I greet them with a, “Hello there, shag.” So I inform them that shag has many meanings, amongst which are ‘shag’ as they and Austin Powers understand it; ‘shag’ as a certain type of tobacco; ‘shag’ as a thick carpet or matted material, whence derives the adjective ‘shaggy’; and ‘shag’ as a cormorant, a type of bird native to Guernsey, and other less beautiful places.

Then, then there is ‘shag’ as I and many a Guern use it, meaning ‘mate’ or ‘pal’, a term of friendly endearment. A ‘very seventies’ word, as my former receptionist informed me, yet one which you still hear out and about. (“Wotcher! How goes it shag?” “Nae too bad mucker, and you me’ole fruit?” Etcetera.)

I am a fierce proponent of bringing this glorious term, and all its derivations, back into the common vernacular. My German friend here in Riga has taken to ‘shaggo’. I often opt for ‘shagwano’ or ‘sheg’. My Grandlad calls me ‘Harry Shaggas’.

Speaking with so many non-native English speakers – forever putting my own foreign language speaking skills to shame – has drawn to my attention how my speech is perpetually punctuated by another word I need often to explain.


I learned this word from some Guernsey friends. Chirp I would define as good humour, bright attitude, sociability, liveliness – chirpiness! 🙂

It’s one of those versatile words that acts as a noun, verb and adjective. You can refer to a chirpy person as a ‘chirper’. You may ask a friend to ‘chirp up’, and tell them you ‘chirped’ to another friend today. You could describe a fun excursion as ‘good chirp’. And of course there is the more common ‘chirpy’.

What I find interesting and credible about the word is how difficult it was to define to my non-native English-speaking friends, without using the word chirp itself. There isn’t a better word with which to denote and describe what chirp means, aside from listing words that hang around the word, or by giving examples of its usage, as I have done above.

I have come to see chirp as a mindset or a heartset, a philosophy. I believe cultivating a cheery disposition, being chirpy, is a moral good. This is not as frivolous a statement as the word chirp may imply. In our current climate, with people’s thoughts and emotions being fraught and fractious, chirp is no trivial thing. Your chirp or lack thereof could be the cause of someone’s mood changing for better or for worse. This is a precious, dangerous power to wield.

Why be an Eeyore, for whom all of life is but a tiresome toilsome chore, only capable of complaint? You can opt to be a Winnie the Pooh, who asks Piglet, “What day is it?” Piglet replies, “It’s today.” To which Winnie the Pooh chirpily responds, “My favourite day.” Be Pooh. Fake it till you make it, if you must. It works. Or your money back.

So, there’s my little chirp on a couple of uniquely Guernsey words. I am a fierce proponent of these words being popularised as widely as possible, as they have been in Guernsey, and to a very modest extent here in Riga.

Though I must say chirp is entering international vernacular far more easily than is shag.

2 thoughts on “Shag and Chirp

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