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Folk-Talk Contents 

YORKSHIRE FOLK-TALK

Written in 1892 by the

Rev. M.C.F. Morris B.C.L., M.A.



CHAPTER IV.

IDIOMS AND WORDS.

 

LIKE every other kind of speech the Yorkshire dialect has its idioms. Without a knowledge of these it is impossible to write it correctly or to speak it as it should be spoken. Some of these usages differ but slightly from ordinary English, but these may be said to form the niceties of the folk-talk, and it is here that the difficulty in acquiring it mainly lies.

It may possibly be found of interest if I give a few examples of our idioms and modes of expression, though they can only be taken as samples of hundreds of others, and I shall not be able here to arrange them in any kind of order.

Perhaps I can begin with no better instance than our peculiar use of the verb 'to call.' In asking a person his name, the Yorkshire form of the question is not 'what is your name?' but 'what do they call you?' When examining school children in the country districts it frequently happened in putting this, the first question in the Catechism, to them, that I was met only with vacant stares; but the moment the form was changed to that in common dialectical use the answer was invariably given. For some reason or other this first question in the Church Catechism is often omitted by the teachers - a mistake surely, for many a lesson may be taught from the meaning or use of a name; and to those who are inclined to pass over this important question in the Catechism and who ask 'what's in a name,' I reply, often a great deal. But I must not wander off into by-paths.

There is another meaning of 'to call' which is of universal use throughout the district. 'To call' people means to abuse them to their faces (to abuse behind their backs is to illify), to call them bad names. Often when words run high the pronoun thoo is interspersed with great emphasis, thus indicating supreme contempt, while in cooler moments and without emphasis it is but the sign of close familiarity and friendship. There is, for instance, all the difference in the world, in commencing a sentence, between Dust ta think? &c. and Dust thoo think? &c. The Yorkshire equivalent for 'to call' anyone, in the sense of attracting their attention, is 'to call of' him; thus we should say Noo, Polly, be sharp; run an' call of Tom. Similarly we say 'wait of' a person, never 'wait for' him.

There are two expressions in connection with the verb 'to think' which deserve notice, viz. 'think to' and 'think on.' ' Think to' is equivalent to 'think of' in standard English, as in the phrase 'what do you think to it?' 'Think on' signifies the same as 'remember,' as in the sentence, Noo, thoo mun think on. This idiom is also used actively as Think ma on, i.e. remind me.'

The double negative is in universal use: it is no uncommon thing to hear three or even four negatives in succession where one only is required; thus, He nivver said nowt neeaways ti neean on 'em (He never said anything one way or another to any of them). Again, the double negative would be used in such an expression as the following - He'd nut putten a deal o' nowt inti t' land (He had not put much of anything into the land). Times and oft when I was Inspector of Schools have I heard and seen written 'Lead us not into no temptation'; and this, perhaps, is as good an example as any, because here the negative is thrown in when there is no corresponding affirmative in the sentence, thus showing what a strong tendency there is to use it. The following example I cannot refrain from quoting: it was said by an irate owner of a garden when peeping over the wall after the reception of a few stones or other missiles, and seeing a boy standing demurely, looking as if butter would not melt in his mouth - neeabody 's neea bisniss ti thraw nowt inti neeabody's gardin!

There is a peculiar use of the verb 'to be' which may here be noticed. The ordinary construction of the past participle passive is changed to the infinitive active with 'be.' Thus the expression 'it will have to be taken up' becomes in dialectical form it'll be ti tak up. Or again, at a game at cricket, for instance, some one disputes the word of the umpire, and indignantly exclaims: Whya! if ah 's oot, ah s'all be ti hug oot (Well I if I'm out, I shall have to be carried out). Or perhaps the ball is lost, whereupon the fielder calls out that it'll be ti finnd, not 'it will have to be found.'

Again, we frequently find words verbalised, and not seldom fittingly and forcibly so. Let me give one or two specimens: a good example is that formed from 'over' to be overed means to be finished, and is one of our commonest usages. Or take the case of the word 'meat,' which in the dialect, as in the Bible (Lev. xiv. 10; St. Luke xxiv. 41, &c.), means any kind of food, and not simply flesh meatwhich, by the way, is called butcher's meat: to meat mysen simply means to find my own food. A relative of mine once went into the cottage of a widow who was very badly off: to eke out a living she took in a lodger; the house was small and the visitor expressed surprise that the arrangement could be carried out, and enquired how it was managed; whereto the widow made answer: Well ya see, ma'am, he meats hissen an' ah weshes him, i.e.' he finds his own food, and I wash for him.' To reet means 'to set to rights,' and is used in a variety of ways: sometimes 'up' is added to the verbal form, and to reet up means 'to correct,' or, as we say in Yorkshire, ti stthraiten. Thus it was said to me once with reference to a troublesome boy: Ah can't deea nowt wit' lad; he wants sum yan ti reet him up. To hot and to bath are substituted for 'to heat,' and 'to bathe'; even such phrases as to potato and to strawberry would be commonly used to express to plant with potatoes or strawberries. To voice a person is to make him hear by calling to him, to make the voice reach him.

'Good' and 'bad' have their peculiar treatment. In the first place, they have the meaning of 'easy' and 'difficult' ; e.g. we say good ti see or bad ti see; good ti tell or bad ti tell. Again, good often signifies 'well,' e. g. yan mud as good stop at yam (one might as well stay at home). If a thing is well made it is said to be good made; or if a sheep has a thick fleece, it is said to be good wool'd; this expression being also used figuratively in the sense of plucky or brave. Also we must note the verbal use of the same word, which is curious; thus ah gooded mysen means 'I raised my hopes'; it would be used in such a sentence as the following: Ah gooded mysen at ah could git ti t' chetch ov Eeastther Day. And lastly, we have the phrase a good few, meaning 'a considerable number.'

There 's nowt aboot that is an expression used in an argument, and signifies 'there is nothing to be said against that'; i. e. I admit that point. He 's going in twenty, thirty, &c., i. e. 'he is in his twentieth, thirtieth, &c. year.

The dialect is prolific in words that relate to the state of a person's health or bodily condition - medical terms, as we may call them. In visiting the sick, a clergyman is naturally in the way of hearing many words of this class, some of them very peculiar. I scarcely know how a south-country man who comes suddenly to practise in Yorkshire escapes making an occasional blunder in prescribing for his patients, at least in the case of many of the old folks.

You ask a man how he is, and he says, ah 's betther or ah 's quiet betther; this does not mean that he is improving, but that he is quite well again; if he wished to express that he was only improving, he would say ah 's betther 'an what ah a'e been, and he might add bud ah's nobbut badly yit.

Let us take an imaginary case which will illustrate a few of these medical words and phrases.

The mother says to her neighbour, Oor Joe's leeaked a bad leeak of a lang whahl; and they agree that the doctor should be sent for. He comes; and they explain that poor Joe catch'd cau'd t' last backend; it was perhaps a varry blethery tahm, an' t' lad teeak neea tent of hissen; the cold clap'd on tiv his chist and he has nivver fair kested it yit, he mended a bit aboot Kessmas, and then after a week or two he had some sad backenins. The doctor then asks a few questions as to how the patient is affected, and the mother describes that at t'fost end the lad was nobbut a bit hoarst, but that he rapidly warsened till at length he was fair closed up. After that, she might go on to say, he had some despert bad coughin' bouts; that he was bedfast for a fo't-nith, and that the cough tewed him seea whahl he couldn't git neea rust neeaways. This went on till the unfortunate Joe got that waakly an' doddhery whahl he could hardlins trail hissen across t' chaam'r fleear; at times he would be full of pain, perhaps his back would wark whahl he didn't knaw hoo ti bahd; they tried oils and all manner of stuff to try to dill the pain when it was on him, but it was all ti neea use. The mother would perhaps relate that she herself had been poorly with nursing her son, and had got a cough; but she did not think the complaint was smitting, but that, what with one thing or another, she was quiet stall'd oot, that she had now gotten ti t' far end, and send for the Doctor she must; and when he had come and examined her son she might ask him if he thought the illness had not sadly fleeced the invalid, and, if the case was serious, whether he thought there was still onny mends for him. He takes the doctor's medicine, and for a time possibly there is no visible improvement, he nowther dees nor dows, or he maks poorly oot; but after a time a change takes place; after several bottles of stuff another is sent which caps him, and in the end he nips aboot as cobby as owt.
A severe pain would not be said to be hard to bear, but bad ti bahd. If one feels shivery and shaky, as if some poisonous matter had got into one's very bones and blood, we sometimes say that we are all iv a atterill. Many other examples under this head might be quoted, but these must suffice.

In no department does the dialect retain such a strong hold as in agricultural terms. Whether we look at the fields, the plants, tools, implements, work, men, horses, cattle, sheep, poultry, carts, harvest, corn, the dairy, or anything else connected with the farm, we find any number of quaint words and phrases, most of which have been handed down from father to son through many long year-hundreds.

Let us walk through t' staggarth yat and take our stand there for a moment. What do we see? There lies before us the good au'd swath which is used for t' coo-pastur; beyond on one side is another swath-garth which has just been mucked ower wi good manishment preparatory for hay-tahm, and in hope of a good fog afterwards; on the left hand is t' au'd twenty yacker liggin i faugh, in which two ploughs are now at work, and being strongish land and hot weather the horses are weeantly tew'd; but it is now lowsin tahm, and t' hames and barfams will shortly be hung up till next morning, when the horses will again be yoked. There on the ground lie the gearing and swingle-trees, and hard by is an old harrow with its bulls brokken.

At the far-end of the field is Ned, yan o' t' daytal men, liggin a hedge; although gallick-handed be is a don hand at t' job. Not far off is his young son coming home after flaayin' creeaks all day long, while his still younger brother has been tentin' t' coos it' looans. The hedges, whether 'laid' in the ordinary way, or whether in stake an' yether, all look neat, and the cam-sides are well cleaned. But we must take a look at the dairy, and on our way back through the staggarth we see some nice cletches of chickens picking away at the remains of some hinder-ends and caff. The dairy is well kept, with its cream pankins, siles, briggs, skeels, piggins, and all the rest of it, though now-a-days skeels and piggins have given place to cans of a different sort. Perhaps one of the cows has just cau'ven and there are some jars of beeas'lins with which to make puddings for the household. The newly-made butter is well blaked, but some of the cream looks a bit bratty.

No better Yorkshire was spoken than in the hayfield or harvest-field before machinery was as much used as it is now. How delightful on the early morning in July to hear the music of the strickle against the old leea; in other words, the sharpening - sharping as we call it - of the scythe, made by three or four stalwart mowers. The gess as it lay i sweeath caught the rays of the rising sun, which, aided by the spreedin of the hay makers, quickly did its work; then some of the hands would put in to pave the way for the rakers, and thus the hay in time was got into windrow preparatory to being put into cock or pike; or, if the weather happens to be wankle, all the hands are at work to get the partly-made hay off t' grunnd and into lap-cock, which was a sort of twisted armful lightly laid on the ground.

If a 'foreigner' were to go about among the men, he might catch such words as limmers, leading, shelvins, skell up, teeam, bleck, thill-horse, or snubbits, and perhaps he might not be much the wiser. The hales or steer-tree of a plough might even sound strange to him, if he happened to get upon that subject.

Possibly one field on the farm is nowt bud reins an geirs, another is seeavy or sumpy, or others full of bull fronts, brassics, ketlocks, kelks, or weeds of some kind or other, which require hand-lukin at times.

If, at another time of the year, the stranger were to look for a moment towards the stacks, he might see here on the ground a dess or two of hay ready to be put into the heck, or there, a bottle of straw for bedding. Away in a grip in one of the fields the hind sees yan o' t' yows rigg-welted, and quickly sets her on her feet again: he looks at her with some interest, for it is near clippin tahm; he finds that the hogs will require well weshing ti year, for there's a vast o' cotty 'uns amang 'em.

Many old words keep dropping out of use in the speech of the country folk, but perhaps not quite so rapidly as some suppose. The dialect is not quite dead yet. Let us take as a test of this the Glossary at the end of vol. ii. of Marshall's Rural Economy of Yorkshire, 2nd edition, 1796. This work concerns the North and East Ridings, so that it is well suited for our purpose.

A correspondent from the neighbourhood of Kirby Moorside, whose memory ranges over the past forty years, has given me, firstly, a list of those words which during that period (1851 - 1891) he does not remember ever to have heard at all, and secondly those which have become obsolete in his district during the same interval. It must be borne in mind that this is but a rough-and-ready test, and only applies to a very limited area.

i. Words not heard from 1851 to 1891.
 
Addiwissen: a fool's errand(nearly obsolete in 1796). Booac: to reach.
Aiger: a tide wave. Boorly: gross or large made.
Aither: a flowing. Bride-door.
Angles: the holes or runs of moles, field-mice, &c. Bride-wain.
Ass-card: fire shovel. Bun: a hollow stalk.
Aumas: an alms. Buyer: the gnat.
Average : the pasturage of common fields and other stubbles after harvest. Canty: lively.
Badger: a huckster, Capes: ears of corn broken off in thrashing.
Bauf: well-grown, lusty. Clapperclaw: to beat with the open hand.
Beesucken: applied to the ash when its bark is cankerous. Clavver : to clamber as children
Belive: in the evening. Dindle : to experience a sort of tremulous sensation after a blow.


Dordum: a riotous noise. Keeans: scum of ale.
Dorman: the beam of a bed-room floor. Kimlin: a large dough-tub.
Dove: to doze, Kin: a chop in the hand.
Dowled: flat (of liquor). Lafter: all the eggs laid between two separate brood ings.
Droke: darnel. Lairock: the skylark.
Eased: dirtied. Leap: a large deep basket.
Elsin: an awl. Leathe: to relax.
Falter: to thrash barley in the chaff in order to break off the awns Leathwake: lithe, flexible.
Fastness-een: Shrove Tuesday. Leaze: to pick out by the hand.
Fey: to winnow with the natural wind. Leeav: to walk heavily.
Fezzon-on: to seize fiercely. Leeavlang: oblong.
Fleaks: hurdles woven with twigs. Leer: a barn.
Flig: able to fly. Maiz: a kind of large light hay basket.
Fooaz: to level the top of a fleece of wool with shears. Mang: a mash of bran, malt, &c.
Frag: to fill full. Mauf: a brother-in-law.
Frem: strange. Maul : a beetle.
Fruggan: an oven poker. Mauls: mallows.
Gammer: to idle. Maund: a large basket.
Garfits: garbage. Meals: mould, earth, &c.
Glead: the kite, Mealin: an oven broom.
Glut: a large wooden wedge. Moot out: to break out into holes as old clothes.
God sharld: God forbid. Murl: to crumble as bread (verb active).
Gossip: a godfather. Nat: a straw mattress.
Groze: to save money. Neeze: to sneeze.
Hagsnare; a stub. Nowt-herd: a keeper of cattle.
Heap: a quarter of a peck. Orling: a stinted child.
Hip : to skip in reading. Osken: an ox-gang.
Hum : the space between the sides of an open chimney and the roof of the house. Owerwelt: laid on the back (of a sheep).
Jaup: to make a noise like liquor agitated in a close vessel. Pannel: a soft packsaddle.


Pick up : to vomit. Spaw: the spit of a pen.
Picks: the suit of diamonds in cards. Speng'd : pied, as cattle.
Piggin: a small wooden drinking-vessel. Spires : timber stands (not common).
Pot-kelps: the loose bow or handle of a porridge-pot. Spittle: a little spade.
Prood-tailier: the goldfinch. Spoil: the weaver's quill.
Pubble: plump, full-bodied (as corn), Stife: strong tasted.
Reeang'd: discoloured in stripes. Stoven: a sapling shoot.
Renky: tall and athletic. Strum: the hose used in brewing, &c., to keep the tap free.
Rie: to turn corn in a sieve. Swatch: a pattern of cloth.
Roil: to romp as a boy. Teylpeyat: a tell-tale.
Rowt: to low as cattle. Twitters: thread unevenly spun is said to be in twitters.
Rassell'd: withered, as an apple. Uvver: upper.
Sark: a shirt, Wallaneering: an expression of pity.
Saul: a kind of moth. Wazistheart: an expression of condolence.
Scalderings: the under-burnt cores of stone lime. Wead: very angry.
Shandy: somewhat crazy. Whittle: a pocket-knife.
Side: long, deep. Wike: the corner of the mouth or eye.
Sind: to rinse, or wash out. Wun: to live or abide.
Snooac: to smell in a snuffing manner. Yowl: to howl as a dog
Sowl: to pull about in water.
Now it may happen that words which have fallen out of use in one district survive in another. It is so in the present instance. In this parish, Newton on Ouse, eight miles north west of York, the following from the above list are still, even at this date (1891), current coin, though it is true some are interchanged but seldom.

Aumas, Beesucken, Booac or Boak, Buver or Buer, Canty, Dordum, Elsin, Falter, Fezzon on, Flig, Gammer, Garfits, Glut, Jaup, Lafter, Leap (a fisherman's basket), Leathwake, Leeavlang, Piggin (a milking-pail), Renky, Sark, Sind, Sowl Spittle, Teylpeyat (now pronounced Tellpyat), Wike, Yowl.

It is possible that others might be added to these, for in certain cases, unless special enquiry were made, they might easily escape notice. The word aiger would hardly be heard except on a tidal river, but the cry wahr aiger raised by the boatmen when the approaching tidal wave is visible, is still common on the lower part of the river Ouse.

Other of the words quoted may retain their hold in other parts, e. g. doven, another form of dove (to slumber), is still heard in the Wold country, and in one locality in the East Riding nowttherer, another form of nowtherd, is also in use.


2. Words gradually fallen out of use in the interval 1851 - 1891 (as above stated).
Ananters: lest, in case. Cod: a pod.
Ar: a scar. Coop: an ox-cart without shelvings.
Arf: afraid. Coor: to crouch
Ark: a large chest. Cowdy: pert.
Backbeearaway: the bat. Cowstriplings: cowslips.
Blendings: peas and beans grown together. Cruse : pleased.
Botchet: mead. Cushia: cow-parsnip.
Breea: the brink of a river. Dessably: orderly.
Broach: the spire of a church. Doory: very little.
Bummle-kites: blackberries. Dow: to thrive.
Burden-band: a hempen hay band. Downdinner: afternoon luncheon.
Cake: to cackle as geese. Draff: brewer's grains.
Cazzons: dried dung of cattle. Duds: clothes.
Char: to chide. Faantickles: freckles on the face.
Chunter: to repine at trifles. Faff: to blow in puffs.
Clavver: clover, Fixfax: the sinews of the neck of cattle.


Fowt a fool. Purely: pretty well.
Gad : a long rod or whip. Ripple: to scratch as with a pin.
Gallick-handed: left-handed. Rooter: a kind of rushing noise.
Gamashes: gaiters. Rush: a meeting.
Gauve: to stare vacantly. Scaldered: chafed.
Glorfat: very fat. Scug: to hide.
Gotherly: affable Sidelong: to fetter cattle.
Gowpen : two hands together full. Sie : to stretch.
Graith: riches. Scraffle: to crawl in haste.
Har: a strong fog. Skeller: to squint.
Haver: oats. Snevver: slender and neat.
Hotter: to shake. Speck: the heel-piece of a shoe.
Hurple : to stick up the back(of cattle). Spalder: to spell.
Kelter: state. Stark: tight.
Mainswear: to swear falsely. Sunder: to air.
Met: two bushels. Swaimish: bashful.
Mint: to make a feint. Taal: to settle in a place.
Moy: muggy. Thaavle: a pot-stick.
Nithered : perishing with cold. Unkard: strange.
Old farrand: old-fashioned. Weea (to be) : to be sorry.
Over get: to overtake on a road. Whimly: softly.
Owergait: a gap in a hedge. Woonkers : an exclamation.
Pulsey: a poultice. Yaud: a riding-horse.
The same remark applies to this as to the former list of words. Many of them are at this time in common, or fairly common, use in the district where I live. The following are some such:-

Arf, Blendings, Chunter, Cod, Cruse, Deeary (another form of Doory), Dow, Duds, Faantickles, Fowt, Gallick-handed, Gauve, Glorfat, Hurple, Kelter, Mint, Nithered, Old-farrand, Sie.

I am strongly of opinion that, in spite of the great tendency to decay in our dialect during recent years, there are still many more archaic words and expressions in use in certain parts here and there than some of us have any idea of. I know by my own experience in one district at least that this is the case. It is true the old words and phrases are not now so often heard by educated people as they used to be; the country folk are much more shy of using them before strangers than they were; but for all that, they are used largely by many of the elderly inhabitants when conversing freely among themselves.

It only remains for me to add a few idioms and verbal usages of a general character, most of which have occurred to me in conversation with our folk from time to time, some of them very frequently.

 

Miscellaneous examples of idioms and verbal usages.

I add here a few sayings that have been communicated to me by a correspondent.

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