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The Old Language
When I first started this page and grandiosely
entitled it The Old Language I was being more accurate than I knew.
At first I was somewhat embarrassed that many
Cumbrian words appeared
to be corruptions of English words but it seems that
generally the contrary is the case. The Cumbrian word is the original,
unchanged since Old English while the modern English word and
pronunciation is the vulgar corruption.
However I will retain my glossary here as a record of words and phrases actually still in use in the second half of the twentieth century. A few of my words are missing from Ref 1 and a few others have slightly different meanings and spellings (which indicates a variation in pronunciation).One is acutely aware that much of the old language (some of which predates the Norman Conquest according to Dickson-Brown) has been lost.
Even Prevost, writing a hundred years ago, lamented the loss of the old language which he blamed on the introduction of the railways and the Board Schools. Since then the invention of the wireless has accelerated the erosion, bringing the Southern English vocabulary and Received Pronunciation to even the most remote dales thanks to programmes broadcast from the BBC in London.
glossary is a recollection of Cumbrian as spoken in and around Low
Nest, Keswick in the middle to end of the twentieth century. The
pronunciation fifteen miles away in West Cumberland was discernibly
different, in the north of the county around Carlisle it was different
Cumbria has only existed as an administrative county since 1974 It was created from the old counties of Cumberland, Westmorland* and the Furness district of Lancashire.
Cumberland was referred to as Cummerlan and its citizens referred to themselves as Cummerlan-fwolk. However it is convenient to use the term Cumbrian since the dialect does extend into Westmorland and Furness. Also Cumbrian makes a more felicitous adjective than Cummerlan'ish.
*Note that Westmorland is the correct spelling. Many people wrongly insert an 'e'. Our American friends are particular prone to this error and consequently are led to pronounce it wrongly. We should not blame them too harshly since most of their dictionaries have the wrong spelling. (even some old English documents spell it with 'more'; others spell it 'Westmerland' but the pronunciation was always Westmerland')
Much of the difference between American and English is due to the fact that the American dictionaries were written at the beginning of the nineteenth century and agree with English spellings at that time. Since then, whereas American dictionaries have been conservative, English has changed, for example being influenced by a fashion for French style (changing -ize to -ise, -er to -re etc.)
Syntax and PronunciationAn important point of syntax in Cumbrian speech is that the definite article is nearly always elided to t'. e.g. put t'wood in t'wohl = please shut the door.
Many southerners attempting to speak Cumbrian (or other variants of Northern English) fail to hear the short t' sound and omit it. This is a grave solecism, as bad as omitting 'the' in Southern English. Thoo is also often elide to t' or ta as in "whoos t' gaan on?' (how do you do?)
Vowel sounds in
derived from the standard northern vowels which are mostly pronounced
as they are written. The North was not afflicted by the Great Vowel
Shift of the 14th and 15th centuries that mangled the
pronunciation of English in the southern extremities of the country.
However Cumbrian does
vary quite considerably even from the standard Northern pronunciation
- the vowel 'oo' has a
'y' sound inserted - e.g. book, cook, fool, cool are pronounced
'byeuk', 'cyeuk', 'fyeul', 'cyeul',
whether they should be listed in the glossary as distinct words.
* apologies to southern readers if this seems a bit overstated. It is in the nature of a protest at the inequality of respect afforded to northern and southern pronunciation.
Pronunciations of some placenames
'Tra penah' -
References and Footnotes
"By its abolition of many inflexional endings, the Dialect goes even farther towards a perfectly analytical grammar than English, and is in fact as inflexionless as Danish."
Something that is always wrong in period dramas on film or TV is that dirt roads only show a pair of tracks. In reality there were always three, the broad centre track made by the horse was no less pronounced than the narrow tracks made by the slender cart wheels.
Another thing they get wrong is that the cows are nearly always Friesians and the hens Rhode Island Reds - both these breeds were virtually unknown before about 1960 - except perhaps in Friesland and Rhode Island. The main breeds of cattle in England before 1960 were the Shorthorn, Ayrshire and Hereford with the occasional Jersey, Galloway and Aberdeen Angus. After 1960 the black and white Friesian suddenly took over due to its greater milk production, helped by the introduction of artificial insemination The next breed to be introduced was the Charolais which soon replaced the Hereford as the preferred beef breed. Later introductions were the Holstein and then the Chianina
Loavin days!. -
expression of surprise also appears in the Keswick
Guardian of July 1881 :- Supply
and Demand – Butter and eggs, even at Keswick, are subject
to this immutable law, as the following colloquy in the market last
Saturday will testify; Housewife: “Hoo ar ye sellin’ eggs today?”
Farmer’s Wife: “Ten”. Housewife: “Loavin days they’re varra dear”.
Farmer’s Wife: “Aye, ye know its t’invention* next week”. For the same
reason butter was raised by threepence to fourpence a pound
Grandfather's improbable perjorative "Nick't at t'heid" may
be related to Prevost's ref2 equally
bizarre entry for nick -
There is an aversion in the
dialect to pronouncing the letter Q.
Quey Fold was
a dwelling in Wythburn, now lost beneath Thirlmere. The name is given
as Whyfold in Clarke's map of 1787 (below). In the censuses it is given as Quey
Fold (1861), Quyfold (1871 & 1881) and Quay Fold
Because censuses transcribers tend not to be familiar with
archaic words like quey and because the census handwriting is ornate,
the name is usually mistranscribed as Ivy Fold or Lucy Fold.
KESWICK GUARDIAN Saturday 10th September
( Published 1902 )
1 A Glossary of the Words and Phrases
Pertaining to the Dialect of Cumberland by W. Dickinson F.L.S. 1879.
Ref 2 Supplement to Ref 1 by E.W.Prevost 1905
3 The Folk-Speech of Cumberland and some
districts adjacent;: being short stories and rhymes in the dialects of
the west border counties
6 Lakeland Words
Ref 9 The Farmers Guide to Scientific and Practical Agriculture
Purity of the GlossaryWithout extensive research it is difficult to know which words are exclusive to Low Nest*, which are exclusive to Cumbrian and which have wider currency. We used to think 'mowdy' for mole was peculiar to our family until we found Mouldywarp is the English dictionary.
What can be asserted is that the words listed below are more commonly used in Cumbrian than in Southern English. For instance 'mowdy' may be in the dictionary but is rarely heard on the BBC.
The more commonplace northern words e.g. ghyll, beck, fell have been omitted since they are well known and recorded elsewhere. Many of these words are derived from Norse, thanks to Viking incursions and settlement; others derive from Icelandic.
* Initially I was concerned that my glossary might be
contaminated by stray words brought by friends and visitors from
Tyneside and Teeside or elsewhere** or introduced by Carl from his
north German dialect. However I have since corroborated most of the
words in my glossary in various Cumbrian dictionaries. Many of Carl's
words that I had assumed were of German origin (Brazzle, Kizzened,
Neudlin) turned out to be pure Cumbrian.
** memorable foreign phrases heard at Low Nest include 'du muss liebe simon, Peter' by a Brazilian visitor to her child abusing the cat; and a Lithuanian casual worker introduced 'Gyegander?' which apparently meant 'shall I go and sarra the beest in High Nest byre?'
Ah , me, thoo - I, me, you
A', Aw N. All
Awuhr, Awivver - However, indeed. (often appended for emphasis or contradiction). 'Ah will awivver'
Bait, Bate - N Packed lunch or more often 'ten
o'clocks'. Usually carried in a canvas 'bate bag', 'Ten o'clocks'
ideally consisted of a round of cheese sandwiches, followed
by apple cyak and a flask* of coffee. This was a particularly
agreeable combination of flavours..
Back-end - N Autumn
Badly - Adj. Ill, sick O.E. bædling = ill
Barn, Barney - N A child. (from Scots bairn via Geordie)
Barney - N An altercation, with or without fisticuffs
Beest - N Cattle (both singular and plural)
Beestins - N Colostrum
Bettermer - Adj Superior. 'Bettermer mak o' folk'. (Only ever heard in this phrase )
Block - V. To strike a blow to the head, often
with an implement, vigorous enough to render a person insensible or a
small animal dead.
Body - N A person;
innocent, inoffensive, usually a woman.
Brat - N An apron, sometimes improvised from jute sacking. I found a jute one recently in a barn and was surprised to find it was tailored, it had darts so as to fit someone with broad hips and a narrow waist.
Bray - V To hit or beat. To give a good hiding.
Brazzle - N - ??? only heard in the
phrase 'hard as brazzle', in the context of a cooking accident - see
Brossen - Adj. Bloated and round with food particularly as applied to a cow, sheep or other herbivore (Think of a Thelwell pony)
Carry-on - N A fuss, a to-do, an unfortunate event or sequence of events. 'Thoo'l laik on til thoo carries-on' (= there will be tears)
Car - N Cart (from O.E. carr, from Norman French carre - a carriage, wagon, cart or chariot. Ref 8) This old English word occurs in the name of the ancient Livery Company "The Worshipful Company of Carmen."Car-rack - N Cart track.
See Why cart tracks are always wrong in period dramas.
Caulkers - N The iron strips nailed to the bottom of
clogs, similar in principle to a horse shoe but more slender and
foot-shaped. (It is particularly difficult to walk in snow in clogs.
The snow freezes to the caulkers and builds up between them and with
each step another layer of snow sticks to the bottom) Do horses have
Clocker - N A broody hen. (from the distinctive sound it makes)
Clocker box - N A small cage in which a clocker was confined for several days until it lost interest in being broody and ceased to 'clock'.
Clowk - V To claw, to scratch. 'Divn't clowk thee heid! Has thoo got nits?'
Cock, haycock - N A conical pile of hay shaped so that the rain runs off. See footnote
Come-bye! - Imp. Command to a sheepdog to set off to the
left and circle clockwise around the sheep. The opposite is
Coolin hoose, Separator hoose - N Dairy. The building where the cow-warm milk is cooled and the cream is separated and sometimes churned into butter.
Dairy - N Larder. The coolest room in a house usually with stone flagged floor and slate sconces.
Coppy - N A three-legged milking stool
Cowp - V to topple. ' t'coppy was on a cant and cowpt ower'
Crack - N conversation, gossip, news.. (from Scots) (Apparently the Irish Gaelic craic is also a recent derivation from the Scots)
Crowdie - N A sort of dog food made by mixing Euveeka with hot water
Euveeka - N Flaked maize, a bit like large cornflakes, a brand name?
Cush - Ejac. An expression
of surprise. 'Cush, man'.
Cyak - N Cake, or fruit pie. In Cumbria a pie would normally contain meat. The pastry for apple cyak etc is traditionally made with lard. Made with butter or vegetable fats the taste and texture are just wrong.
Dinnae, Divvent - V Don't. From Scots and Geordie respectively
Deek - V To Look, to peek.
Dyke - N usually a hedge, Sometimes a wall, never a
Fair, Fairly - Adv Very
Gae, Gaily - Adv Very
Fash V. Bother, 'Dinnae fash thisel'
Fillum - N A film (a movie) as shown at The Pictures (picture house)
Flartch - V To ingratiate oneself , to Flatter. N a
Flay, Flayte - V Frighten, Adv Frightened
Flaysome - Adj. Frightening
Fogg - N The second growth of grass after the hay has been cropped.
Form - N A backless wooden bench
Fratch - V To argue, to bicker
Gaj, Gadgie - N A man. Masculine third-person singular personal pronoun (disparaging). (from Romany)
Gah-bee, Gah-by N A guide or indicator (from English go-by.) Mostly used in the negative 'neah gah-bee' = not a reliable indicator.
Gay, Gaily - see Fair. Fairly
Gormless - Adj. deficient in
Greet - Adj Gurt, great, big
Gripe - N A fork for loading or skaling muck (fym). Usually short handled with four or five slender tines. The tines are like the two tines of a pitchfork, more slender than those of a garden fork. Gripes are used for mucking-out the hulls where the muck is mixed with straw or other bedding, In the byres shovels are used because the bedding mostly remains separate from the muck which is therefore in a more liquid state)
A variant of the gripe is a special tool called a
muck-drag which has its tines bent at 90 degrees and has a
long handle. This was use in muck spreading to drag dollops
of muck from the cart as the horse pulled it across
the field. See Skale.
Guiversome - Adj. I
remember mother using this word, in about 1963, about a visiting
salesman, but I was
hazy about its meaning even at the time. I defer to Dickinson ref 1 :- Gyversom:
Gully - N A kitchen knife 6 to 8 inches long, pointed, about 2 inches deep at the heel.
Gutter - N A Stream esp. at the edge of a field. Usually the position of the gutter defines ownership of the boundary.. 'thoo gaas ower a dyke till a gutter'. i.e. if there is a gutter at the edge of your field maintenance of both the gutter and the dyke are your neighbours responsibility.
Gurn - V To pull a face, to complain.
Gurt - Adj. Greet, big, great. Greet was always preferred at Low Nest. Gurt was considered rather broad and uncouth; typically used by those rough types down Thirlmere.
Hankle - V To entangle. Also used figuratively - Hankled-up with a married woman.
Hap up - V To wrap
Helm wind - N An easterly that produces a distinctive Helm cloud along the top of the Helvellyn range which can persist for days. Cross Fell has a similar Helm cloud.
Hirple - V To limp. (from Scots)
Hocker - V To fumble, or struggle, to have difficulty with an inanimate object. 'Ah hed sek a hocker parkin t' car'
Hod! - Imp. Hold-on! warning to passengers when setting a vehicle in motion
Hog, hogg - N A castrated male sheep
Hogest - N Hog-house, a barn, usually remote from the farmstead, to shelter hogs or other livestock in winter, usually with fodder storage on the upper floor. The stock are not usually fastened in since the hogest usually has no water.
Hogwohl - N A hole in a stone wall big enough for sheep to pass through but too low for a calf.
Howk - V To poke, retrieve or extract an object esp.
using a hook or other implement.(similar to hoik in English slang)
Hull, Hool - N A loosebox. Calf-hool, bull-hull
Intik, Hintik - N Intake, an enclosed area of fellside, a large high-lying field typically above 700 or 800 feet, often covered in bracken.
Jinny howelt - N Owl
Jisle - V to squirm, jitter, jiggle - typically used of
Kess, Kessin - V The restless behaviour of a ewe about to lamb. The ewe typically gets up, walks a few paces, turns around, lies down again.
Kevel, Kyevel - V To trample. Particularly the action of a frightened cow, or by extension, any ungainly or carelessly destructive footwork
Keav, Kiav V. To wade through - e.g. deep snow
or mud, a standing crop, with a suggestion of either effort or
carelessness and thus similar to
Kist - N A chest, usually of oak, for bedding etc)
Kittle - Adj. (of an inanimate object) Skittish, unstable
Kizzened - Adj. overcooked, e.g. a sausage or roast potato left too long in the oven. Frizzled to a frazzle. see Brazzle.
Kysty, kaisty - Adj Overly
discerning about ones food.
Kytel, kitle - N A grey working jacket (from Norse kyrtill = tunic?)
Laal - Adj Sma' small, little
Laik - V To Play.
Lait - V To fetch, to procure, to seek out.
Larn - V To teach 'that'll larn thoo'. O.E. Læran = to teach.
Leed, Lead - V To cart. 'Leedin hay', 'muck leedin'
Lish - Adj. Supple, sprightly, fit.
Lock - N A great amount or number. "a gay lock o' poddish"
Lonnin - N A lane.
Lowp - V To jump. ' t'yow lowpt ower t'yat' (the ewe jumped over the gate)
Matey, Matey-Boy - N a Gadgie, a Man. Masculine third-person singular personal pronoun (disparaging)
Mass - V To Brew (tea). (equivalent to Mash in other Northern dialects)
Marra - N Mate, Friend, Workmate, the other half of a pair.
Mawk-flee, Moke - N Bluebottle, Blowfly
Mew, haymew, mewsteed -
Moss - N A flat low-lying area, usually
often with birch trees or alder. 'Shoulthwaite Moss', (NY305200).
Moider - V To bother, to pester. Similar to 'Mither' in other northern dialects but without the sense of 'to complain'. Moider always requires an object - 'stop moidering me', whereas mither is usually intransitive - 'quit mithering'
Mowdy - N Mole. From the old English Mouldywarp
Myrtle - V To flake off. Of mud spatters - 'Let it dry and myrtle off'
Neb - N Beak or Nose. 'lang-nebbed words'
Neudled - V befuddled, either innately or by drink
Neudlin - N drunkard
Nick't at t'heid - Adj phrase, of a person -
not right in the head. A phrase often emplyed by grandfather in
response to any prank he found unamusing.
Pike - N, V a round stack of loose dry hay, shaped so that the rain runs off, like a haycock but bigger - about 8 to 10 feet high. If the hay is not completely dry it can sweat and moulder or even catch fire. A pike is intrinsically thatched and can be left out in the rain for weeks without taking much harm on the inside.
Pike bogie - N a cart designed for transporting pikes whole. The bogie tilted down to the ground and had a winch so the pike could be winched onboard. The process could be reversed with pike being tethered and the bogie driven out from under it. The other essential feature of a pike bogie, apart from the tilting mechanism and winch, is that the floor curves up at the back so that, when tilted, the floor meets the ground at a shallow angle. To further facilitate the sliding-on of the pike the floorboards are chamfered to a thin section where they meet the ground and protected and reinforced by a metal strip.
Poddish - N Porridge made from oats
Poyt - N Poet. 'Ah'v vanya kilt t'poyt' - allegedly said by the coachman who collided with a pony and trap carrying Wordsworth.
Q There is an aversion in the
dialect to pronouncing the letter Q.
Ratch - V to Ransack, to rummage (particularly
of children or dogs).
Rowk - N Mist or fine smoke esp. that which lies in the cold still air of early morning
Rudd - N. an alternative word for smit.
Rush - V To collapse. Applicable to a drystone wall, a haystack or any pile of loose material
Sackless - Adj. ??? Only heard in the litany of
- 'feckless, gormless, sackless'. Whereas gormless and feckless are
used separately and their meaning is clear, sackless was only heard in
that phase and its meaning could only be guessed at. My guess at the
time was that it implied lack of sagacity.
Sarra - V To serve. 'It sarras thoo reet'.
Sconce - N A stone shelf, Usually a slate flag mounted on brick pillars or sometimes cantilevered from a wall.
Scop - V To throw. 'Scop it ower t'dyke'. From Norse Skopa = to skip?
Scraffle - V To climb with difficulty, to scramble
Scrunt - N. The stalk of a cauliflower.
Seg - N One of several iron studs nailed to the bottom of hobnail boots
Seives - N Rushes (Juncus spp.)
Shaff! - Ejac. An expression of annoyance. Alternatives used were Ding! or Dang! which are moderated forms of Damn!
Shelvins - N. A wooden frame that raises the sides of a cart for the purpose of leading hay, straw etc.
Sile, Syle - N A filter for milk. A 'sile pad' (paper filter) was sandwiched between two removable perforated plates in the bottom
Sister!, Seester! - Excl.
Look! (from see'est thee)
Skale - V To scatter. especially new mown hay or muck. Muck was dumped in piles in a field and then skaled with a gripe..
Muck Skaler - N muck spreader. (muck from the byres and calf hools is not to be confused with (artificial) manure which comes in plastic sacks from the factory)
Side-up - V To tidy. 'Come and side-up this skrow'
Skrow - N A mess, extreme disorder.
Skrower, skaler - N A hay tedding machine. Each of its two large cast iron wheels drove a horizontal half-axle via a gearbox. Around the half-axle were mounted six banks of tines 7" or 8" long and the same distance apart. For transport the gearboxes were disengaged and the tines were folded.
Skelp - V To slap or hit. 'Ah'll skelp thee backside'
Slape - Adj Slippery
Slatter - V To Spill (esp. children playing with water 'Slattery Ike' )
Slavver - V To slobber or drool (usually of an animal)
Smit - N a paste dye used for marking sheep. V to apply smit.
Snag, Snagging - V Snagging turnips (or more often swedes) involved pulling the turnips from the ground and topping and tailing them with a bill hook. One of the less pleasant jobs since it was done in November and the turnips were usually wet and often frozen.
Soft - Adj Simple (soft in the head)
Spyan - V to wean, to separate (esp. lambs) from their mothers
Spout - N The horizontal part of a gutter at the edge of a roof. The corresponding vertical part is the Down-spout. Gutter itself is a stream
Sough - N A broad, deep, stagnant gutter, usually choked
with seives, intended to lower the water table in a Moss. (Sough of
despond?) - Dickinson has it as
Sowe and notes that the naturally occuring equivalent of a man-made sough is termed a Pow. See footnote
Snowk - V To snort, to clear the nostrils inelegantly
Spell or Spelk - N A Splinter
Spraflin - Adj A perjorative term. '
thoo gurt spraflin gowk'
Stark - Adj Strong
Stee - N Ladder. (From Danish stige?.)
Stap - N Rung of a stee or a stave of a barrel.
Steg - N Gander. 'stalking aboot like a steg on stilts'
Stowp - V To stoop
Stoop, Yat stoop - N Gate post, particularly one fashioned from a single piece of stone as opposed to a wooden post. (Post, of course, in all its meanings, has a short 'o' as in cost, lost)
Stoor, Stour - N airborne dust, particularly that produced by haymaking or harvesting operations or sweeping a barn floor
Sump - N a cess pit used to receive the liquid effluent from byres and calf hools. (see footnote)
Swinways - Adv. Diagonally, at an angle
Tatie-pot, Tattie-pot - N A traditional dish with potatoes, mutton and black pudding.
Teufet - N. The Lapwing or Peewit. We used this word, correctly, without knowing its meaning, in pronouncing the name of Tewet Tarn. When referring to the bird we used Peewit.
Thrang - Adj Busy, 'thrang wi t' clippin'
Toitle owwer - V. to Topple. see Cowp.
Twine - V To complain, to whine
Twined - Adj Twisted
Twitch - N Couch grass
Vanya, Vanneer - Adv. Very nearly!
Whee! - Imp. Whoa! Stop!
Wemmel - N Nothing at all to eat. 'If thoo's kysty Thoo'l hev wemmel for dinner' (c.f. whemmle in the Teesdale lexicon - to overturn a dish)
Whamp - N Wasp
Wick - N Maggot of the blowfly. see Mawk
Wicket - N A small yat, intended for people rather than for livestock and therefore only found adjacent to the farmstead.
Yak - N Oak, the tree or the wood..
Yakker - N Acre
Yam - N Home. 'Ah's gaan yam!'
Yammer - V to speak quickly, unintelligibly
Yan, yah, ane - N One (from Scots) ' yan o them things',
'thoo'l kill theesel yah day'. 'She's tyan yan agyan' (she has taken
one again i.e. a funny turn i.e. thrown a fit)
Yat - N Gate
Yow N Ewe
Yowlet - N Owl also Jinny howelt
Words not specifically used at Low Nest but endangered, interesting or otherwise worth mentioning.
- Hall House Only
found as a place name.
This meaning of Hollas, and indeed the word itself, is in danger of being obliterated by the Ordnance Survey which consistently and mistakenly 'corrects' Hollas to Hollows. Iniquity of OS.
------Hezzle Mowd - N Hazel mould - the fine powdery soil found about the roots of the hazel.
Sick cattle are fond of this soil when recovering. Ref 1
------Heater field - Name for a small triangular field.
"Heater bit is the triagular piece of ground, generally grass-grown, at the junction of three roads; so called because of resemblance to the iron heater in a box-iron." Dickinson Ref 1 p 379 addenda
Prevost's supplement: Ref 2 adds :-
Heater point, p 379. Commonly applied to a field, or part of a field, of this [triangular] shape.
The schedule of the 1840 tithe map for the parish of St Johns Castlerigg and Wythburn names field number 384 as "Heater Field". This 1.3 acre field adjacent to Naddle Beck at NY29442251 is indeed wedge shaped.
------Quey, Quy, Why - N Heifer.
This word is found in the name of the dwelling Quey Fold or Whyfold, now lost beneath Thirlmere.
Prevost Ref2 has Queygate - N Old common road by which cattle were driven.
N.B. Quey is not specifically Cumbrian, it was in common usage in English two centuries ago. e.g. quey is used interchangeably with heifer in Ref 9 (for example.on page 174)
------Swirt - N 'Squirt', some kind of small water pump.
Yerdfasts - N large stones fast in
the earth and near the surface. Dickinson ref 1
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