"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On Yorkshire dialect

Every so often I’ll say something and everyone will either laugh or look baffled. Having grown up deep in Yorkshire my language is smattered with dialect words. At school it was never a problem because we all spoke the same, but as soon as I moved away for university it became apparent that I was speaking an alien tongue!
One of the first words that caused a problem was ‘mash’, meaning ‘to brew’. It can either be used as ‘the tea’s mashing’ i.e. it’s brewing, or ‘mash some tea’ – make some tea, literally ‘pour the water onto the teabag so it can brew’. The first time I said that at university, no one got it.
When I moved into my second year university house, I was giving my boyfriend directions and said ‘down the ginnel’ – he had no idea what I meant. A ginnel is an alleyway or passage, sometimes with a roof. The word comes from the French ‘venelle’, which itself must be a derivative of ‘venir’, the verb ‘to come’. Interestingly Durham, my university city, is full of vennels’, but it wasn’t until much later that I connected the two words.
Both of these were words that I’d never realised weren’t ‘real’ English. I thought everyone said them. Even now I’ll read somewhere that something is a dialect word, and I had no idea, to me it was just the name for something!
I know that once again I have gone slightly off topic, but I think my visit home at the weekend has given me the urge to celebrate my Yorkshire roots. I like the fact that I have this dialect (which is becoming increasingly rare), and that it connects me to my family history.
Language is connected to place of course , but it is also passed down through the family generations. After all, our first words are learnt from our parents, and their first words were learnt from their parents too. My very local dialect is a fitting reminder that I have 200+ years of family history in the same small area.  If you want to truly understand where your ancestors came from, most genealogists would probably agree that a visit is a good idea. Even though places change over time, they all retain some vestiges of their history and culture.  
This is why one of my next daytrips will be taking in the Forest of Dean, where many of my ‘Welsh’ grandfather’s family came from. It’s right on my doorstep here in Cheltenham, and it will give me a fantastic opportunity to get a feel for the history, culture and language of a branch of thr family that I know relatively little about.
So, for those of you with West Yorkshire ancestors, here’s a little taster of some local dialect. These are a few of my favourites, and ones that I would use without even stopping to think. I’ve essentially cobbled together the spelling based on my instincts, which probably gives you some idea of how I hear them:
‘Buffet’ (the t is pronounced) meaning a stool
‘Clap cold’ meaning gone completely cold, usually of food or drink
‘Frame yourself’ meaning ‘hurry up’ or ‘get on with it’
‘Gip’ meaning to retch
‘Lathered’ meaning hot, usually used as 'I'm lathered'
‘Morngy’ meaning sulky or whingeing, usually of a child
‘Parky’ meaning cold (of the weather)
‘Stalled’ meaning to be fed up or running out of patience – ‘I’m getting stalled’

L x


  1. The fantastic thing about Yorkshire is the regional dialects within the county. I grew up in North Yorkshire and yet I have no idea what any of those words/phrases mean!

    I found a big difference at university with the north/south divide. A favourite of ours was what time dinner is eaten!

    And don't even get me started on the folk from Birmingham with gamboles!

  2. Enjoyed your article, though not much was familiar to a Texan. Fantasizing about Yorkshire roots without being able to prove them [Hague/Haig] -- A Campbell from Texas.

  3. Katelyn, I have no idea what 'gamboles' are?

    Anonymous, I hope you have some luck finding your Yorkshire roots, there's nowhere I'd rather come from!


Don't be shy...