"pebbledash" -- WOTY?

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Sun Apr 19 14:08:20 UTC 2009

> "All the attention has been quite an upheaval, and she is quite
> tired," Miss [Susan] Boyle's brother, John, told reporters Thursday
> outside her tiny pebbledash cottage in tiny, previously unexciting
> Blackburn, Scotland.

> The New York Times, Saturday, April 18, page C1, col. 5.  Sarah
> Lyall, from London, where the interesting words come easier to the pen.

> And postdates OED draft rev. Dec. 2009, adj.,  -1991.

It's much older than that. I've known what it meant since at least the late
1970's, when we lived in a house that was, I think, pebbledashed. I
remember my mother not liking that aspect of the house. (NB the variation
in the orthographic form, the expected development from /St/ to [S], I
suppose.) But of course I don't have a cite to back it up!

For anyone who's not familiar with the technique or its social implications
- since I don't think I've seen it in the States, now I think about it, and
my American wife's not familiar with it either, having seen a picture - it
consists in covering every inch of the walls of a house in pebbles /
gravel, which would be efficiently done by 'dashing' the pebbles against
the walls, ie throwing them there, though I'm not sure that's how it's

The social implications are that people who live in pebbledashed houses are
(by reputation!) socially aspirational, probably (upper-)working-class
attempting to become middle-class, but without enough money to decorate
their house in an expensive(-looking) manner (and so not really
middle-class). The reputation of the type of people who are supposed to
live in pebbledashed houses chimes with the 'unexciting' description of the
town where Susan Boyle lives: those places are quiet because their
occupants wouldn't want to do anything which would shock the neighbours,
the story goes. Of course, all this is unfortunate for you if you've bought
a house which was already pebbledashed!

Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
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The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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