The Mancunian Nasal Twang

Lancastrian Nose Flute

I am often asked what is the cause of the distinctive, almost lyrical, nasal twang in the Mancunian accent. The clue, of course, is in the question.

The Mancunian Nasal Twang is a small instrument of working class origin that has again become fashionable in certain parts of Manchester.

It is directly related to the Lancastrian Nose Flute (above) that were widespread in the 19th century when they were used in the cotton mills so that workers could communicate above the noise of the machinery.

They had been around for much longer than that, of course. Twanging had been a traditional craft since the middles ages when they were carved from oak or elm, usually by men, using skills handed down from father to son.

Thanks to miniaturisation and micro-technology, the modern Nasal Twang is much smaller than the original, normally no larger than a grain of rice, and yet still capable of producing the same distinctive tone.

They are most commonly fitted to the nose in the first few months after birth so that the Mancunian child is able to learn how to use the twang even as they learn to speak.

Generally speaking, the Nasal Twang is worn discreetly, however there has been a trend in recent times towards a more blatant display of the twang, particularly among lower socioeconomic groups.

This might be because of a genuine pride in their working class heritage, or that they simply like to flaunt their bling. Whatever the reason, the twang is now frequently visible on one side of the nose with attention deliberately drawn to it through the use of precious metals and gem stones.

Sadly, this is also an indicator of poor quality, overseas manufacture and the result is a discordant note that can be harsh on the listener’s ear, particularly when the wearers are gathered in large groups in retail areas, such as the Arndale Centre.

The more refined twang wearers are disparaging of this trend and you can see them express their disapproval when in the company of their chavvier brethren by holding their noses in the air while making a droning, monotone note of disapprobation.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

7 comments… Add yours
  • Greasemonkey Pudding 14th April 2012

    Thanks for the elucidation. Previously, I thought “Twang!” was a musical written by Lionel Bart, based on the character of the legendary outlaw Robin Hood. It was most famous for its disastrous box-office failure. Starring a cast of Mancunians, it opened at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London’s West End on 20 December 1965 and closed on 29 January 1966 after just 43 performances, playing to mostly empty houses.

  • Mr Parrot 14th April 2012

    Lionel Bart was born in Blackley, Manchester, and not Stepney. He only claimed to have been born in London to get round the blatant southern prejudice against the North. He was proved right, of course, with ‘Twang’ which he actually wrote in honour of his home city. It flopped after a News of the World exposé of his true roots.

  • rhymeswithplague 14th April 2012

    My question has two halves (just like my bum). The first half is: Why are people from Manchester called Mancusian? The second half is: Why are people from Liverpool called Liverpudlian?

  • rhymeswithplague 14th April 2012

    Excuse me, I meant Mancunian.

  • Mr Parrot 14th April 2012

    An interesting question Mr Plague. The name ‘Mancunian’ is a throw back to the Medieval Latin name for the city – Mancunium. In the modern idiom, citizens are also known as Mancs, pronounced with a hard C.

    The name ‘Liverpudlian’ is a 19th century joke on the city, replacing ‘pool’ with ‘puddle’. Originally known as Liuerpul (c.1190), it means ‘Pool with Muddy Water’. Citizens are also known as Scouse or Scousers.

  • Trevor Rowley 14th April 2012

    Not wishing to confuse the issue, but the original name for Manchester was Mamucium (sometimes, Mamuciam) because of the breast-shaped hill that General Julius Agricola was standing near at the time.

    As for the nasal monotones, that’s nothing more than sloppy speech. Lots of inbreeding in and around the decrepit cotton mills and foul chemical factories of Collyhurst, Clayton and Ancoats and you largely end up with a population who are unable to open their mouths let alone their jaws. References to “goin’ wi’ Tanyoh down toh th’Asdoh” are just about typical of an underclass who originate from the bowels of the working classes. Let’s be honest, we’ve all been there. Just check out the Youtube clip “Ideal – Psycho Paul dumps Tanya.” Priceless.

  • Mr Parrot 14th April 2012

    I had to leave a link to Psycho Paul and Tanyoh. It would be interesting to trace where the accent actually came from. I don’t recall it being quite so pronounced and more Lancashire until about 30 years ago. I think you can detect a hint of Irish (the city’s largest immigrant population) but there must be lots of other influences as well.


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