Having been born in North Yorkshire but now living ‘over the border in Lancashire’ it has been interesting to compare the dialects of these two Northern counties. Particularly near the border some Yorkshire words are shared with Lancashire, but there are plenty of differences too. It’s worth noting that the Yorkshire dialect has regional variations too and several counties come under the Yorkshire umbrella making it an especially diverse area.
The Yorkshire dialect has links to Norse and Anglo-Saxon and dialect words often retain an older meaning then the one currently used in Standard English. For example, in Anglo-Saxon ‘steorfan’ from which starved is derived, means suffering greatly. It’s fair to say that you can suffer just as greatly from cold (the Yorkshire meaning) as from hunger (the Standard English meaning).
Sheep rearing and the processing of the resulting wool were the traditional mainstays of the Yorkshire economy so it’s not surprising that some dialect words relating to those trades are now rarely heard, but it’s safe to say that in general the Yorkshire dialect doesn’t look likely to die out and is regarded fondly even by foreigners (in this context anyone who wasn’t born in Yorkshire!). This might be aided by the fact that the long running soap opera 'Emmerdale' is set in Yorkshire.
Bastow Wood, North Yorkshire
Accent and pronunciation play a part in dialect, such as the Yorkshire habit of dropping H’s, which transforms happen into ‘appen, for example. Characteristics of a Yorkshire accent include;
1) a short ‘a’ sound in words like bath and laugh. They are pronounced like the math of mathematics.
2) The ‘u’ sound in words like but and shut is pronounced like the Standard English ‘u’ sound in put.
3) The glottal stop whereby ‘the’ is reduced to an un-writable sound produced by the glottis in your windpipe. It’s often written as t’ e.g. “He’s down t’ pub.” But it shouldn’t be pronounced as a ‘t’.
A Foss or Force
Included here are Yorkshire dialect words which I have come across being used regularly.
Allus – always
Aye – yes
Badly – ill as in “he’s been taken badly.” Meaning he’s gone down sick.
Beck – stream. In Gigglewick, the village where I was born you were said to be a true Giggleswickian only if you’d fallen in the Gigglewick Beck. I’m happy to say I did just that when I was four.
Brass – money.
By - this is quite common as a mild expletive on it's own due to the Yorkshire habit of prefacing curses with by e.g "By 'eck!"
Cake-'ooal - mouth i.e. your cake hole!
Clemmed – parched or starving. You have to take a guess from the context of this one as to whether the speaker is very hungry or very thirsty. You don’t want to disappoint a clemmed Yorkshireman by offering him a sandwich when he really wants a beer!
Dowly – ill but can also mean gloomy
Fair – completely or totally as in “I’m fair clemmed” – “I’m really hungry.”
Foss or force – waterfall, this is in plentiful use in conversation and on maps and the two words seem to be interchangeable for example I have heard Scaleber Foss pictured also called Scaleber Force.
Gimmer – young female sheep which is older than a lamb but usually not lambed yet herself. There are still plenty of sheep in Yorkshire, so the word is often used.
Grand - widely used and means good.
Happen (‘appen) – perhaps or maybe, as in “Are you coming to the pictures?” “Happen I will.”
Hummer or 'ummer - a mild curse
Middlin’ – average or ok, for use see below.
Nobbut - only, as in “he’s nobbut a littl’un” – he’s only small.
Nowt – nothing as in ‘there’s nowt on telly!”
Owt – anything, but commonly used as part of a greeting as in “Owt up?”
Parky – cold weather as in “It’s a bit parky out.”
Pop – any type of cordial or squash drink. As in “Do you fancy some pop?” This has always confused me because in most of the country pop would refer to a carbonated drink like cola and that does seem logical given the popping noises of a fizzy drink.
Sile - to pour with rain.
Snicket or snickleway – a path or passageway especially a short cut. This is a lovely word to listen out for if you’re being given directions in Yorkshire.
Spanish - liquorice. There is also liquorice lozenge known as a Pontefract Cake after the area in Yorkshire where liquorice grew particularly well.
Spice - sweets or candy.
Starved – confusingly this means very cold but applied to a person rather than the weather, so you would never say “the weather’s starved.” But you would say “she looked starved.” If you thought a person looked very cold.
Tarn – lake such as Malham Tarn
Tyke – sometimes used to describe a Yorkshireman, but also used to describe a dog of indeterminate parentage. This is quite distinct from a Yorkshire Terrier - a breed of dog that originated in Yorkshire which has impeccable parentage!
Arse pocket – the back pocket of your trousers – a beautifully descriptive phrase!
“How do?” or "Nah then?" – standard Yorkshire greetings to which common replies would be “middlin’.” In other words “so so” or "Grand!" i.e. in good health.
“That’s champion!” – well done or that’s excellent.
“An’ all” – as well.
“Blether on” – talk rubbish as in “she was blethering on all night”.
“By gum!” – a very mild expletive. A small phrase which is often used by foreigners (i.e. those born out of county) poking fun at the Yorkshire accent, but you might still hear it spoken for real.
"Frame thissen!" This is a handy phrase when you need a dawdling child to get a move on or you need someone to pull themselves together and get organised. It doesn't translate precisely into Standard English.
Yorkshire Pudding - Get yer Cake-'ooal Round This
Ingredients: 4 tablespoons of plain flour, 1 or 2 eggs, 1/2 a pint of milk, a pinch of salt, knob of lard.
Method: Add beaten egg and 1/4 pint of milk to the sifted flour and salt. Mix to a smooth paste and beat thoroughly. Add remaining milk and beat again. It should be the consistency of thick cream. If necessary add cold water to thin the mix. Pop the batter in the fridge for an hour.
Cooking: Heat the lard in an 8" tin at Gas Mark 6. When hot pour in the batter straight from the fridge. Bake for 30 minutes at the top of the oven.
It's not surprising that in an area the size of Yorkshire that there are some much loved regional foods including:
Cobble Stew - A fish stew named after a flat bottomed type of fishing boat that was common to the East Yorkshire coast.
Curd Tart - this is a pastry tart filled with a sweet egg custard and raisins.
Parkin - this is a tasty gingerbread.
Wakefield Pudding - a variant of summer pudding, but with stewed apples as filling.
Yorkshire Pudding - this is a savory batter baked to make an individual portion or family sized 'pudding'. In hard times this was traditionally served with gravy before the main course. The aim being to fill the family up so they didn't want as much meat.
Practice Your Skills
Now you’ve learnt the words see how you do with translating the following:
“Owt up Lad?”
“There’s a gimmer in t’ beck.”
“It’ll be starved!”
“Aye, it’s ‘appen badly an’ all”
“By Gum, we’d best get it out!”
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 17, 2020:
Me again. Giggles wick Grammar's where Russell Harty went to boarding school. Was he a Lanky? In other words you were West Riding. These civil servants mashed everything up with their boundary changes (added to my workload as well)!
How do you cope in Lanky territory? I suppose it's a bit like me 'i' Smoke'. Has to adjust the way I talk, but I don't make too many concessions. "Ah dooan't give owt away as Ah've addled fer".
robert on October 16, 2020:
Has anyone come across the phrase "Is it ummer!!"" It was used at my Bradford school in my childhood but I am having difficulty in finding where it comes from!!
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on November 10, 2017:
There's some things as dooant' change fra Ridin' t' Ridin'. Gimmer's one on 'em. Were it a 'og? (Translation for our cousins across the Pond, and non-Tyke English folk: Some things don't change between Ridings, one being 'Gimmer', it's a dialect word for a young sheep, and a 'Gimmer hog' is a virgin ewe. Yorkshire's got more sheep per acre than people). Best get thi collie on't an' run 'er 'ooam, only dooant run t' meyt off 'er.
There's a Broad Yorkshire for each Riding (orig. Danish 'Thrijungar', 'Three things' or parliaments), with North and East that show similarities, and between East and West but less so between North and West. If that makes sense to you'se readers you're halfway there.
Nice piece of writing, Nettlemere (summat to do wi' a pond?)
*Oh I know Lancaster's a funny name for a Yorkshireman, had all that at school!
GreenMind Guides from USA on December 25, 2016:
LOVE this hub -- so well done!
Peter from England, UK on January 29, 2016:
'Owt for nowt'! From Yorkshire myself and I've really enjoyed reading this. Keep up the great work! I'm gunna link to this Hub from one of my own. Will likely do a similar Hub about Yorkshire sayings in the near future, such a great idea :)
Tara Carbery from Cheshire, UK on September 02, 2012:
So glad I caught this! I love the Yorkshire accent. Just listening to Sean Bean (and looking at him!) makes me swoon! I've just got back from camping in Aysgarth falls and it was beautiful. Sadly, rather windy too but that's British Weather for you!
Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on May 22, 2012:
What a neat hub about language. I am in Canada and I am sure that I would sound to you like I have an accent (and vice versa). My family is from England and we do make Yorkshire Puddings. They are yummy! I vote up.
Nettlemere (author) from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on May 16, 2012:
Thank you Summerberrie - the James Herriot books are a favorite of mine too.
Melovy, I'm interested to hear of some shared words with Shetland dialect and agree that it could be the Norse influence. Is the word wick used in place names in Shetland at all?
Wayseeker - thank you for your comments and I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Joanveronica, thank you for reading and commenting. Your mother did very well to wean your father off his liverpool accent - Scousers are known for being very proud of their accents!
Thank you JKenny, I agree the accent difference is quite subtle. I think the Lancashire accent is a bit more nasal (although that's not a very flattering way to put it!)
Molmin - Thank you for spotting that I'm a proud Yorkshire lass at heart in spite of living out of county.
Nishlaverz - I'd be interested to know more about the Durham dialect as it's not one I'm familiar with at all. Thank you for reading and commenting.
summerberrie on May 16, 2012:
This was such a fun read. I read the James Harriot books and would come across some interesting words. Liked the Yorkshire pudding recipe. Thanks for the great read.
Yvonne Spence from UK on May 14, 2012:
This is really interesting. Gimmer is also used in Shetland with exactly the same meaning, and starved is also used in the same way. Possibly the Norse influence?
But there are also a lot of phrases here I didn’t know the meaning of, like Beck for instance. Is it used quite often in place names?
Joan Veronica Robertson from Concepcion, Chile on May 12, 2012:
Excellent Hub! Reminded me of my father, who came from Liverpool. I have heard some of these expressions before, but did not attribute them specifically to Yorkshire. I have only visited Liverpool once, for about three months, and did not visit any other place except London, and some parts of Wales. No experience with Yorkshire, so this was very interesting to me. My father supposedly had an accent and used dialect when he came to Chile, but my mother worked on it and in the end he spoke Sandard English.
James Kenny from Birmingham, England on May 12, 2012:
Great hub, Nettlemere. I come from the Midlands, and a lot of people down here often think that people of Yorkshire/Lancashire speak the same accent. But I work with a guy from Wigan and the differences are not immediately obvious, but you can tell. The Lancashire accent seems softer than the Yorkshire one. Thanks for this. Voted up and shared.
wayseeker from Colorado on May 12, 2012:
What a wonderful and unique hub! As it turns out, when I made my "How to read books so children will love to read" hub, I found myself wondering about the local dialects of other countries. Here in the U.S. I'm fairly familiar with the changes in word usage and emphasis, etc. but my only real knowledge of U.K. English comes from films and television, which I suspect is very limited an sometimes inaccurate.
This is great just for curiosity's sake for that reason. It was fun to imagine how they would sound. I can see, however, how this could be used in lots of ways: as an actor trying to learn the local dialect, as a traveler hoping to understand folks from the local area, and my mind went straight to fiction writing where it could be used to create a character with an authentic written dialect in his or her voice.
Great hub with lots of potential!
molmin on May 11, 2012:
This really made me smile - and I don't mean that disrespectfully to the people of Yorkshire! I have lived here for over 20 years (having moved from the not so glorious south - in my opinion) and it is an absolute delight to hear the wonderful history and character of a region expressed in its own "language". This is very well written with fact, humour and insight - just like the people of Yorkshire. You may have moved "over the border Nettlemere, but I am delghted to see that you have maintained your roots. Voted up and awesome. Thank you.
nishlaverz from N.E England on May 11, 2012:
I come from just north of the border in Darlington. I was brought up with Pit slang but also picked up a lot of Yorkshire words and so my speech is often mixed with words from both dialects. Even though there are differences there are also a lot of similarities like the use of Aye for yes.
As I literally live on the border I cross it regularly and love to spend time in the moors.