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In Norfolk, when a child misbehaves in a demanding, or sulking way, they are often said to 'put on their parts'.

'She is putting on her parts again', means that she is following a pattern, typical for her, where she is being loud, difficult, insistent or awkward.

It can also be used for adults and has an added force since it suggests they are behaving like a child. But I am wondering if the expression is widely understood?

Presumably it derives from the following meaning of the noun 'parts':

Meaning 12 of on-line OED

†a. A character sustained, assumed, or feigned by a person, esp. for a special purpose. Also in extended use. Obs.

earlier references deleted.

a1732 J. Gay Fables (1738) II. vi. 47 The man of pure and simple heart Through life disdains a double part. 1885 Dict. National Biogr. at Thomas Blood, It is not improbable that he was at this time..acting a double part, keeping the government informed of so much as might secure his own safety.

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    I've never heard it in America (NE,MW,SW,SoCal)
    – Jim
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 19:17
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    Nor have I (SE,UMW,LMW). But it's marvellous. OED 1 doesn't know about it; I wonder whether it derives from sense 9, 11 or 12, or something else entirely. Commented May 11, 2014 at 19:21
  • Try posting your question to the etymologist Michael Quinion at WorldWideWords.org. He's excellent at winkling out pretty obscure terms, whether dialect or archaic. However, you'll have to take a chance on whether he is able to get to it.
    – Erik Kowal
    Commented May 11, 2014 at 20:06
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    @WS2: I wouldn't like to swear I've never heard this usage before, but Google Books doesn't have a single written instance of any permutation of put/putting on his/her parts. Having said that, in any context I can imagine, the intended sense would probably be obvious, so I wouldn't be particularly likely to remember it (I'd naturally assume I could work it out again from context if necessary). To cut a long story short - No, it's not used everywhere. In fact, the only online reference I could find apart from this post was in Wikipedia. Commented May 11, 2014 at 20:51
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    I've lived in Norfolk most of my life and it was a very common phrase for someone to say He's been putting on his parts all day, meaning he'd been playing up like a child, but I have no idea where this comes from, just that it's been common usage until quite recently.
    – Vicky234
    Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 10:47

2 Answers 2

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Per comments to the question, I personally am not familiar with this (apparently, highly localised) dialectal usage. But my guess is parts here is being used in much the same way as ...

a man of (many) parts - a man with great ability in many different areas

Picking up on the theatrical allusions of "parts", one could also see it as another way of saying...

"She's going through her repertoire [of irritating behaviour patterns, etc.]"


Given the low prevalence of an expression which seems to be almost exclusively spoken, colloquial, I think it's unlikely anyone will be able to turn up a "first use" from which one might be able to determine precisely what was in the minds of the people who originally used the term.

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  • The leading academic authority on the Norfolk Dialect is Professor Peter Trudgill of UEA, a Norwich boy, but with wide interests in local dialects across Europe. He is also president of FOND (Friends of the Norfolk Dialect) of which I am a member. (Barrie England knows all about him). He is also a Professor at the University of Zurich. When I am back home I will check if there is a reference in his book to 'putting on parts'.
    – WS2
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 6:06
  • I suppose I could send in a suggestion to the OED. They were very helpful and responsive over another query I once made. I will see what Trudgill says first.
    – WS2
    Commented May 12, 2014 at 6:09
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This expression was commonly used during my childhood near Swaffham by parents who were both of Norfolk heritage.

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