Sunday, 27 January 2013


What links a ginnel, a twitchell and a weint? Answer they are all dialect worlds for alley from Yorkshire, Nottingham and the Isle of Man respectively. Similarly the words wag, bob and twag all mean playing truant. The reason that I draw your attention to this fact arises out of a news item I heard on radio on the future of dialect words.

Linguists at the British Library have assembled a list of thousands of rare words and phrases from dialects in order to preserve them - and make them available far beyond their native area.

Around 4,000 locally-used words have been contributed to the "wordbank" the public who visited the library, in central London, or attended a series of events at provincial libraries, at which they were asked to provide local phrases.

North Staffordshire, I believe, is particularly rich in dialect words both in the urban and rural areas. One word, which is known throughout the North Midlands, is the word “nesh” meaning susceptible to the cold. It has a long provenance cropping up in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and more modern writers such as the Nottinghamshire born DH Lawrence. A word that I particularly like is lozzuck meaning a layabout. There are others like ganzi meaning an outer garment, which may have its origins in Hindi and was probably brought over by soldiers of the Raj. Sometimes words can be misunderstood. The word “starving” in the Moorlands means freezing. In 1947 in the context of the Great Freeze of that year its thought by authority that the natives of Grindon were famished rather than perished. Tragically a rescue plane crashed killing all occupants on what seems to have been an unnecessary mission.

In my travels around the country I have come across other excellent dialect words. My own favourites are “pofagged” from Wigan meaning exhausted, “lakin” a York expression for playing and “clarty” a North Eastern word for “muddy”.

There are those who think that local words are dying out driven out by the media and population movement. I hope not and their continued existence hints at resilience.