Wednesday, 12 February 2014

A bit more Yorkshire dialect

I have just been out for a walk with Molly. There has been a light fall of snow overnight and the road was what could be described as 'slape'  or slippery. I think it is the first snow I have seen this winter. All we have had is incessant rain and wind but at least here in the North we have not had the terrible floods which have inundated large areas of south west England.

But back to dialect. I recently wrote a brief  article about Yorkshire dialect which was published in the Goole Times, the local paper. I reproduce it below.

 Yorkshire talk

I often talk to older local people who have lived in this area all their lives.  And many of those who have been brought up  in this area of Yorkshire still use, quite naturally, the local words and expressions which would have been used by their ancestors.

Our Yorkshire dialect is sadly dying out as we all listen to the same TV and radio programmes and families are much more mobile so that they often live far away from where they were brought up.

But some words and phrases survive and their use can sometimes be traced back to  the early Norse settlers who came here from Scandinavia,  before the Norman Conquest.

For example locally children are often referred to as 'bairns', a word which dates back to when the Vikings lived in Yorkshire - their word for a child was 'barn'.

Other common local words which have a Scandinavian origin  include 'laiking' or 'larkin' [playing],  'lug' [as in carry something], 'midden' [rubbish tip or dungheap],  'rive at' [as in pull at], 'slape' [slippery], 'spretch' [as in eggs cracking just before hatching].

And  Yorkshire farmers will describe a young female sheep as a gimmer [ from the Old Norse 'gymbr'].

I had an East Riding village childhood and have tried to pick out words which I either use or have heard used. Sometimes  dialect dictionaries list words which have long fallen out of use or which were only maybe used in a mining or mill area.

The problem too is realising what is dialect and you only find that out when you use a word outside Yorkshire and people look at you a bit oddly and ask what it means.

So I have had 'trouble' when describing a ball of string as being 'taffled up',  asking someone to 'rozzle up the fire' [ I think this is from my father who came from Driffield], 'side the  table/ pots' or 'mash the tea'.

Many dialect expressions refer to the occupations of those who use them. So in this area we have a lot of farming and rural words and phrases although they are not the same as those used further west and north.

Here are some I have heard recently:

"It were wick with fleas" [a dead hedgehog picked up by a dog - 'wick' means alive although I have also heard someone ask if a cable was 'wick' [live].

Also I have heard people talk of 'an owd tup' [a tup is a ram],  'a black clock',  [beetle],  'a spuggy' [sparrow], 'a stee'[ladder], 'a chimley' [chimney] and a  'peggy stick' [for stirring clothes in a wash tub].

A farmer might talk about 'leading hay' [moving it from field to barn] and being held up because  'it's siling down" [raining very heavily - a 'sile' was a coarse sieve used in the dairy] and someone who has been outside in the weather might come in 'fair nithered'  or 'starved'[ both mean very cold'] and 'wet as thack' [ thatch]. When the work began someone might take out the 'drinkings' [the refreshments taken out to field workers] which in some areas were known as 'lowance'.
If a field was wet  someone might say 'It's carr land"  [land which is low lying and prone to be wet] and this same word is often used in names - there are many Carr Lanes about.

Other Yorkshire phrases often still used  include:

'I'll bray you', 'I'm feeling badly', 'Stop faffing about', 'Can you fettle it?' ' Me kegs are all clarty', 'A'm fair mafted','There's a 'mawk' in that apple', 'Ah'l tret you', 'Bags I foggy', 'E's right fond clever'.

I have not included a translation of the phrases above -  maybe someone would like to send one in and also any other Yorkshire phrases I have not mentioned.

In fact you might be surprised at how many words and phrases you use which in other parts of England might need translating.

So far I have not even touched on typical Yorkshire behaviour - the deadpan comment for example of a Hull bus driver this weekend who told me ' I'm not giving change today luv'  before he handed me mine with a grin.

And of course the stock answer to the polite query 'How are you?'. A Yorkshire person rarely replies 'Very well, thank you' - he or she will usually say 'Oh, not so bad'.

Despite being taken to task by a dialect expert who wrote an erudite reply to my article explaining the complex origins of some of the words and suggesting that our dialect is not dying out, only evolving, I shall continue collecting interesting words and phrases I hear in conversation.

After all how many young people will tweet about it being 'Black ower Bill's mother's'  [there is a black cloud and it  looks like rain] or send a text sharing the joke "What's worse than finding a 'mawk' in an apple?" "Finding half a mawk"? [ a mawk is a maggot]

I actually think that as I have been writing this I have probably proved my point. My word processing program has littered my words with red underlining and has corrected several of the words for me. Writing dialect is a challenge in modern times.


  1. Hello Susan,
    I found this post really interesting. I've often wondered about Yorkshire dialect and the origins of words. I remember using the term "taffled up" when living in London and being asked what on earth I was talking about!
    Slape, larking, siling down, chimley etc all used frequently by my family and friends in East Yorkshire.
    I still enjoy "dipping into" your Eastrington and Howden books. (I met you last summer at the Eastrington show and we've communicated in the past via email.
    Kind regards,

  2. Hello Susan
    I loved your blog on Yorkshire dialect, reminding me so much of my husband Bill who, when communicating with his Yorkshire family, always used many of your phrases. Happy memories.
    Best wishes

  3. Reading this reminded me of when I worked alongside a Southern colleague. She saw me in the staffroom one day and I was rubbing my ankle, she asked what I had done and I told her I had cockled over, the look on her face was a picture, she had never heard this expression before and don't think she believed it was a 'proper' word. Later I googled it and it said it came from cock fighting, they often tied one of the poor cockerel's legs up! Cockled over...

  4. Have just en-lightened a colleague about the word SPRETCH whilst awaiting for some Osprey eggs to hatch, a new word for Northumberland.
    Another word I remember from East Yorkshire is STOGGY or STOGGIE used to describe a Wood Pigeon.

  5. To bray is to smack, feeling badly is to feel ill, faffing about is messing about and if you fettle something you have sorted it out or repaired it.
    I remember grandad saying he was 'all blattered up' when he came in muddy and wet.
    Finally, when I was in a teenage mood, mum would call me ' maungy', no idea how to spell it.

  6. 'A'm fair mafted' I am very hot, 'There's a 'mawk' in that apple' There is a maggot in that apple, 'Ah'l tret you' I'll treat you, 'Bags I foggy' I want to go first, 'E's right fond clever' He is full of his own importance.

  7. We should have lots of sex. Hey, i am looking for an online sexual partner ;) Click on my boobs if you are interested (. )( .)

  8. Thank you for writing this all out!
    My grandmother immigrated to Australia back in the 60's and I've lived with her most of my life. She grew up in Hull, and I'm doing my bit to learn more about the culture and place that she came from and to know more about some of the phrases she's always used.

    You'll be pleased to know that a few people here in Canberra often say, "stop faffing about!" And plan to continue.

  9. 'I'll bray you', to beat someone 'I'm feeling badly', i feel unwell 'Stop faffing about', stop messing about 'A'm fair mafted', im hot, 'Ah'l tret you', ill treat you 'Bags I foggy', im going first 'E's right fond clever' he is clever?. I know origin in Old Norse of "bags" or "bagsy" where im from, "bagi" is someones bag/property to take ownership of it in Old Norse, so we would say something like "bagsy sitting in front seat in the car" im taking ownership of the front seat and "foggy" where im from is "fost" so it would be "bagsy going fost on the bike" "im going first on the bike"... We also speak about ourselves and others really strangely, say if i saw you and i knew you and someone asked if i had seen you recently id say, "yes" and if they asked if you was with someone or on your own, and you where on your own i would say precisely like this with letters removed for pronunciation, "e wez by is'sen" "he was by himself" or "she wez by er'sen" or "she was by herself" or "owez by mi'sen" "i was by myself" also we dont say "broken" we say "brock" or brocken" as in "yev brocken it" "youve broken it" there are actually loads that we dont even realise...