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Do people really say 'ay up me duck?'

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Media captionPrince Harry, Angelina Jolie and Dolly Parton have all had a go at saying 'ay up me duck'

Dolly Parton has become the latest celebrity to have a go at uttering the East Midlands phrase "ay up me duck". But do people in the region actually use this phrase?

When Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie introduced Derby actor Jack O'Connell with the phrase "ay up me duck" at an awards ceremony she left most members of the audience baffled.

Now American singer-songwriter Dolly Parton has used the phrase too, and even Prince Harry has said it in the past.

After eight years of living in Nottingham - and working in Nottingham, Derby and Leicester - I've become used to people calling me "duck" or "ducky", or greeting me by saying "ay up".

But I have to confess I can only remember people saying "ay up me duck" to me in an ironic way.

Image copyright Dick Clark Productions
Image caption Angelina Jolie used the phrase at the Hollywood Film Awards when presenting Jack O'Connell with an award

I phone up Nottingham artist Dave Bishop, who dresses as Elvis and famously beat the Liberal Democrats in a by-election.

Mr Bishop, 71, answers the phone by saying "Hiya ducky", and says he regularly uses the full phrase "ay up me duck" in conversation.

"I grew up in Broxtowe, the council estate, and we always talked like that," he says.

"In working class circles they still say ay up me duck, but maybe the younger generation don't.

"I would imagine it's probably more for my generation that were brought up in the 50s and 60s."

Mr Bishop says people are more likely to say "ducky" to girls or women, while duck or "midduck" is used to address both sexes.

Image copyright Shawn Ryan
Image caption Nottingham artist Dave Bishop, AKA Bus Pass Elvis, still uses the phrase Ay Up Me Duck

"Middle class people often give me a funny look when you say 'midduck'," he says.

He remembers a woman telling him off for saying "midduck" in the 1970s, because she felt the term was sexist.

"She said that word is evil, or something like that," says Mr Bishop.

"I said 'Napalm bombing is evil, and if you don't like the word 'midduck' you had better leave Nottingham'.

"I'm not ashamed of it, I think it's great, and I don't think it's sexist either."

Natalie Braber, a linguist from Nottingham Trent University who specialises in regional dialect, finds it interesting that "duck" can be used to address both men and women.

"I'm from Glasgow, where people say hen, and in Glasgow you can only say it for a woman," says Dr Braber.

She said the work "duck" probably originates from the Anglo-Saxon term ducas, used to show someone respect.

"I think it's a thing that you only hear in the East Midlands and the Stoke type area," says Dr Braber.

"Ay up", sometimes written as "ayup", "ey up", "eh up" and even "aye up", could originate from an old Norse term meaning "watch out", she says.

She says it is common to hear "ay up" by itself, but less common to hear the full phrase "ay up me duck".

It could be that people are using the phrase as a way of emphasising their local identity, she adds.

This could be why the phrase is used by actor O'Connell, who taught his co-star Jolie to use it while they were working on the film Unbroken.

O'Connell likes to emphasise his Derby roots, even tweeting in a way that hints at his Derby accent, and reportedly turning George Clooney into a Derby County FC fan.

Nottingham and Derby are fierce rivals when it comes to football and there is also rivalry between the neighbouring cities when it comes to ownership of the phrase "ay up me duck".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prince Harry said "ay up me duck" on a visit to Nottingham in 2013
Image copyright AP
Image caption Angelina Jolie picked up the phrase after working with Jack O'Connell

Heidi Hargreaves, who runs a gift shop in Nottingham called Dukki, has experienced this rivalry.

"A lot of people come into the shop and say 'That's not Nottingham, it's Derby'," says Ms Hargreaves.

"I'm from Leicestershire so my dad always said 'me duck' anyway."

She said people often come into the shop and buy merchandise with the phrase "ay up me duck" on because they remember their older relatives saying it.

People also buy gifts for East Midlands expats who are proud of their roots - including one man living in America who has a car registration plate with "AY UP 1" on it.

"I find it so endearing," she says.

"People are quite shocked when they hear someone calling them duck and they don't always know what it means.

"But it's such a friendly thing to say, I think."

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