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The Lancashire Dialect


There are those who regard
dialect as simply ‘bad pronunciation’, the language of uneducated country
yokels or of people who couldn’t speak ‘properly’. Nothing could be
further from the truth. Dialects have often, regrettably, been associated
with people who were illiterate – the assumption was that if you could
read and write then you could use standard English ‘properly’. Yet,
dialects still show the richness and variety of English regional history.
They identify the user as belonging to the place and as part of the
culture.
You have to be born in a region to have its dialect.
Even so, mass media (newspapers, radio, film and then television) have
tended to narrow the range and produce a more standardised ‘flatness’
to the language, or to promote an Americanised form. Certainly, improved
education and general literacy has tended to detract from oral traditions.
This may explain why Lancashire produced a good number of dialect poets
and writers in the 19th century – men like William
Harrison Ainsworth
, Samuel Bamford,
Samuel Laycock and Ben
Brierley
all wrote in the Lancashire dialect at about the same time
that books and news periodicals were being mass produced.

Lancashire is very rich in dialects. There are
many variations of it – areas of Cumbria and the Lake
District
still use a dialect that is audibly ‘Lancashire’. Manchester
may now no longer be in the county of Lancashire, but its dialects are,
to the rest of the world at least, plainly ‘Lancashire’. Bolton,
Oldham and Wigan
have decidely individual and unique versions of Lancashire dialects.

Old performers like George
Formby
spoke a distinct Wigan dialect and Gracie
Fields
was plainly from Rochdale
by her speech – yet they are all variations on the same dialect.

Dialects conventially seem to take three forms:

  1. Regional Pronunciation
    They may take the form of a local or regional pronunciation variation
    of a proper existing word;

  2. Newly Invented Words
    They may be a completely new, original and localised word or phrase
    invented in or used within the region;

  3. New Usage of Existing Words
    An existing standard or proper word may be used in a different or
    alternative way or with a different meaning to that generally accepted
    in standard ‘Queen’s English’.

Bearing in mind these definitions,
what follows is a sample of dialect words and phrases that may be found
throughout the county, despite the gradual decline in their usage. There
are, of course, far too many to include here, so these are merely a
small sample.

We are indebted to Dr
Alan Crosby’s book “The Lancashire Dictionary” (ISBN 1 85825
122 2) for many of the following extracts:

  • ah’m afeart =
    I’m afraid.
  • bally ann =
    a meal put together from whatever was available, as in “It’s
    a bally ann meal today”.
  • b’art or beawt
    = without. The former is also in common usage in Yorkshire, as in
    the song ” Ilkley Moor b’art ‘at”.
  • bellin’ =
    to cry out or make a great deal of noise (presumably a contracted
    form of ‘bellyaching’).
  • bidding =
    an invitation to a funeral.
  • blather, blether or blether-yed
    = someone with nothing between the ears. A head full of air. Hence,
    to blether meant to say a great deal about nothing.
  • bobber and
    bobbing
    = a man who woke up workers before clocks were common possessions;
    a so-called ‘knocker up’; sometimes the man who also woke up those
    who fell asleep during church sermons. Bobbers often carried long
    poles, with which to tap roundly on bedroom windows or lightly on
    the head of a sleeper in chapel.
  • boggart =
    a ghost or spirit (as in Boggart Hole Clough in Manchester)
  • broo , brow
    or
    brew
    = a slight hill, bank or slope.
  • brew = also
    can mean a cup of tea as in “…dust want brew?” (Do you
    want a cup of tea?).
  • champion =
    grand, excellent, first class, superlative.
  • chitty = young
    girl or lass.
  • chunner =
    to mutter.
  • claggy = sticky
    as in dough that is too wet. Sultry or humid weather can also be described
    as claggy.
  • clough = steep
    sided valley or tributary to another valley.
  • cow slavver
    = cow dung. “Slavver” also means to slobber or dribble.
  • cratchy =
    irritable, bad tempered.
  • delph = quarry
    or excavation.(As in the district of Delph in Oldham).
  • dip = sauce
    or syrup – sometimes fat from the frying pan after cooking.
  • eawl-leet
    = twilight or dusk (from ‘owl light’).
  • faggot = derogatory
    term for a woman, as in “th’owd faggot” (the old woman).
  • fair = entirely
    or completely, as in “Ah’m fair worn out”.
  • fettle = to
    repair or mend. Sometimes used to indicate a good state of repair
    or excellent condition as in “It were in fine fettle”.
  • fleck and
    flecky
    = a flea, flea-bitten.
  • gill = a specific
    old Imperial unit of liquid measure, but locally it could mean any
    small measure of drink, as in “Wil’t ‘ave a gill wi’ me?”
    (Will you have a drink with me?).
  • hippins = baby’s
    nappies or diapers.
  • jessy = a cissy,
    or a mollycoddle, hence “Yer big jessy!”
  • keck-handed
    or
    cack-handed
    = left-handed or sometimes ham-fisted.
  • keks = trousers.
  • likely = handsome
    or comely, as in “a likely lad”.
  • lurry = lorry
    or waggon, often written as well as spoken.
  • mash = weaving
    term for bad work or a messy job.
  • mawkin = dirty,
    slovenly or shabby.
  • motty = a
    small sum of money.
  • mun = must
    do, as in ‘Yer mun do it” (You must do it). The negative form
    is munna , as in “Yer munna do it” (You mustn’t do it).
  • nesh = feeble,
    weak or soft as in “Eeh lass, th’art nesh”, surviving from
    a commonly used Old English word.
  • nobbut = no
    more than, nothing but, as in “Th’art nobbut a slip of a lass”
    (You are no more than a little girl).
  • nowt = nought
    or nothing.
  • nowty = naughty,
    bad-tempered, irritable.
  • owt = aught
    or anything.
  • perish = freeze.
  • petty = outdoor
    toilet.
  • piss-a-bed
    = dandelion, supposedly caused children to wet the bed, sometimes
    expressed more genteely as pee-a-bed .
  • pop his clogs
    = to die.
  • pop shop =
    pawnbroker, as in the folk song “Pop goes the Weazel”
  • put wood i’ th’ oil
    = close the door (literally “put the wood in the hole”).
  • reasty or resty
    = rancid, rotten, putrid – usually of food.
  • seg = a callous
    or a corn, usually hard skin on the hand.
  • sen = self,
    as in “tha-sen” (thyself or yourself) and “mi-sen”
    (myself).
  • sennit = a
    week (seven nights), also “fortnit” for a fortnight (two
    weeks).
  • sithee = see
    you, or, I’ll be seeing you.
  • skrike = to
    cry out, to weep or shriek.
  • starved =
    frozen with cold.
  • strap = credit,
    hence “on the strap” (bought on credit).
  • tater ‘ash
    = potato hash, a local dish of corned beef and mashed potato – still
    a local delicacy.
  • tosspot =
    drunk or rowdy – a word now used commonly throughout England though
    originating in Lancashire.
  • wark = ache,
    as in “belly-wark” (stomache ache), also as in “tooth-wark”
    (toothache).
  • welly = well
    nigh, almost, nearly.
  • woven mi’ piece
    = reached the end, come to the end of life (I am ready to die).
  • yammer = to
    yearn, lament or long for.

Books on Bolton Dialects

  • “A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton
    Area. Part I”.

    By Graham Shorrocks
    Introduction, Phonology. Bamberger Beiträge zur Englischen Sprachwissenschaft
    (University of Bamberg Studies in English Linguistics) 41. Frankfurt
    am Main, Berlin, Bern, New York, Paris, Vienna: Peter Lang, Europäischer
    Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1998. ISSN 0721–281X; ISBN 3–631–33066–9;
    US-ISBN 0–8204–3565–1.

  • “A Grammar of the Dialect of the Bolton
    Area. Part II”.

    Graham Shorrocks.
    Morphology and Syntax. Bamberger Beiträge zur Englischen Sprachwissenschaft
    (University of Bamberg Studies in English Linguistics) 42. Frankfurt
    am Main, Berlin, Bern, New York, Paris, Vienna: Peter Lang, Europäischer
    Verlag der Wissenschaften, 1999. ISSN 0721–281X; ISBN 3–631–34661–1;
    US-ISBN 0–8204–4323–9

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© John Moss, Papillon Graphics AD 2013 Manchester, United Kingdom – all rights reserved.
This page last updated 3 Mar 09.