I wouldn’t fash masel’ about the facts

George Malpas as seaman Swales in the excellent 1977 BBC version of Dracula


Like most readers of ‘Dracula’, I had no idea what the old sailor was talking about when he advised Mina ‘I wouldn’t fash masel’ about them, miss’. I later realised it was intended as Yorkshire dialect; a way of saying ‘I wouldn’t fuss myself about them’ i.e. ‘I wouldn’t worry about them’. Yet, according to some, most notably Bram Stoker’s author descendant Dacre, this was a piece of Doric dialect that Bram Stoker picked up whilst staying in Scotland. This despite the fact that the scene is set, and was written, in the coastal town of Whitby in the North Riding of Yorkshire. I was a little taken aback at first, thinking perhaps that I had it wrong, but sure enough, whereas ‘fash masel’ features in Doric, it’s also well-documented Yorkshire dialect. In fact many words and phrases that are said or implied to be uniquely Scottish are also found across broad swathes of northern England, which is unsurprising to those familiar with the history of the two countries and their shared language. Still other Scots words are also archaic English words, which always gives me pause for thought when the debate over the status of Scots arises. That is, whether Scots is a dialect of English or a distinct language. The whole thing is massively political, and really, it shouldn’t matter. English is just as much a Scottish language as it is an English or British one. Anyway, I digress. Suffice to say that Bram Stoker was not silly enough to put Doric in the mouth of a Yorkshireman. He may have first heard it in Scotland, but he must also have known that it was in wider usage. I don’t blame Dacre Stoker, as a North American, for not realising this, but I think it’s worth correcting this error.

Now, as for the claim in the same Scottish Sun article that Slains Castle ‘matches the floorplan of’ Dracula’s castle, that deserves its own post…


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7 Responses to “I wouldn’t fash masel’ about the facts”

  1. greenandmusty Says:

    Man who taught me French in Ireland a half-century ago told us that “Don’t fash yourself” was a common expression in (provincial) Hiberno-English, and came from the French “se fâcher” – in the sense of becoming agitated or upset rather than angry (cf modern FR synonym “ne t’énerve pas”). Seems plausible. And it may well have been common in Stoker’s Dublin.

    • bshistorian Says:

      I can well believe it, but see my reply to Dacre about it actually being quite widespread in the British Isles.

  2. Dacre Stoker Says:

    I am quoted here, and I stand by my quote; how I came by this information needs further explanation. On a recent trip to Cruden Bay, Scotland, I spent 2 1/2 days with local Bram Stoker researcher and author Mike Shepherd. Mike and I discussed the presence of Doric dialect in a few of Bram’s books set in Cruden Bay, “The Waters Mou” and “The Mystery of the Sea” and “Dracula” which we both strongly believe was written on his summer holidays in Cruden Bay. Bram strived to create an authentic feel by including a lot of Yorkshire dialect in chapters 6-8 set in Whitby. Whitby and Cruden Bay were both fishing villages, so it is very possible that fishermen from both towns/regions would have been in contact with each other and have “exchanged” expressions. It is also possible that Bram was paying homage to the fishermen in Cruden Bay by sliding in that little tidbit of an expression coming out of a Yorkshire fisherman’s mouth. It is also possible that Bram simply mixed up the two dialects when writing. Mike Shepherd’s book will soon find a publisher, it contains a treasure trove of information about Bram and his 18 years in Aberdeenshire.

    • bshistorian Says:

      Hi Dacre, and many thanks for commenting here. I greatly enjoyed ‘The Undead’ and was really hoping to see it made as a movie. Now, I can well believe that Bram included the expression because he was familiar with it from Doric, but I find it hard to believe that he ‘mixed up’ the two dialects. If he did, it was a fortunate co-incidence indeed that the phrase was in current use in Yorkshire English as well. Especially as Chapter 4 was definitively written in Whitby, and Bram did a fair bit of research whilst there. Miller’s ‘Notes for Dracula’ state that there are ‘ten pages of words in the Yorkshire dialect’ (p.289) and reproduce these on p.142. The fact that ‘fash ma’sel’ (or some variant of it) isn’t on there does suggest that Bram was already familiar with the phrase, but it stretches credulity to suggest that he didn’t know that it was Yorkshire dialect as well as Doric.

      There is no need to suggest some special exchange of language between Cruden Bay and Whitby – the word ‘fash’ is common to most dialects of northern England – don’t forget that Doric and other Scots dialects are directly related to English – they developed from the same original imported language. There was continuous cultural and linguistic exchange, and indeed large parts of Lowland Scotland were actually part of England for a long time (the Kingdom of Northumbria). Likewise ‘ma’sel’ is simply a contraction, common in various forms of English. I called the two together a ‘phrase’, but they aren’t as such; more of a construction of two commonly used words.

      Anyway, thanks again for the comment.

  3. Mike Shepherd Says:

    The phrase ‘fash masel’ is Buchan or Doric dialect. Whereas fash (from the French fache) is common to Scotland and North England, it’s the word masel’ that is distinctly Doric with its vowel shift so common in the spoken dialect up here. Masel’ = myself.

    • bshistorian Says:

      I’ll grant you that ‘masel’ with an ‘a’ might be more suggestive of Scots pronunciation, but ‘mesel’ is VERY common in Yorkshire and other northern English dialects. It’s the same word, originating in Middle (possibly even Old) English, which of course was common to both the Scottish and English kingdoms until the dialects/languages began to diverge. ‘Masel/mesel’ was preserved in both.

      At best, Stoker’s written realisation of the phrase has a Scots influence. But he’s trying (and succeeding) to reflect *Yorkshire* dialect, not Scots/Doric.

  4. Mike Shepherd Says:

    I should also add that variations on this phrase are very common up here, especially ‘dinna fash yersel’ aboot that’. I’ve used this myself – my father spoke the Buchan dialect and I did so as a child. The phrase ‘fash masel’ is instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Doric.

    It is of interest to note that Bram Stoker wrote two novels in the Buchan dialect and yes, he uses the word masel’ here. It’s the vowel shift that is the dead giveaway.

    If you google the phrase “fash masel” it appears several times in various pieces of writing in Doric. I have not seen any examples of the phrase turning up attributed to any local English dialects .

    I have absolutely no doubt that ‘fash masel’ is a Doric phrase and I suspect Bram Stoker was well aware of this. In my book about Bram Stoker in Scotland I mention a discussion with a friend up here who expressed the opinion that a Whitby fisherman probably visited the Buchan region on numerous occasions and could have picked up the phrase that way.

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