You are here: >  olden  >  dialect

The Old Language

When I first started this page and grandiosely entitled it The Old Language I was being more accurate than I knew.
From my researches I have since discovered that Cumbrian was more than a dialect, it was a complete language with an extensive vocabulary and a grammar more perfectly analytical note1  than English. And it was an old and relatively unchanged language.

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.
Similarly the participal termination -an or -en is not a corruption of the English -ing but derives from the Old Norse -ande or the Old English -ende.

This was revealed to me when I discovered the Cumbrian Dictionary and Grammar compiled by Dickinson, Prevost  and Dickson-Brown a century and more ago. ref 1.  This tome runs to 383 pages and the supplement published by Prevost some years later to more than 200 pages, which rather puts my modest glossary to shame.

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.

Cumbrian Dialect

This 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 again.
The vocabulary may also have been different in other parts of the county.

The Borrowdale valley, seven miles away, allegedly had its own pronunciation and vocabulary. There are very few written records of the Cumbrian dialect. Those that exist are mostly transcriptions of traditional stories and ballads.


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 is and always was 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 Pronunciation

An 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 Cumbrian are 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.
e.g. bath is pronounced as bath with a short a in contrast to the southern  'baarth' *

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',
'y' is also inserted in words with a long 'a' (words that end in e) eg  tale, bake, cake, spade are pronunced 'tyal', 'byak', 'cyak', 'spyad'
In words with a long 'o', a 'w' sound is inserted e.g. pole, hole, coal are pronounced 'pwohl', 'Wohl', 'cwohl'.
Some words don't follow any particular rule eg calf is pronounced 'cwohf', gate is 'yat', ewe is 'yow', oak is 'yak', ash is 'esh', hot is 'hyet'.

Some of these pronunciations are so different from standard northern English that it is debatable
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' - Torpenhowe
'Grey seun' - Greysouthern
'Carrel' - Carlisle
'Wuk it'n' - Workington
'Sea wait' - Seathwaite (in Borrowdale).
We never had cause to refer to the other Seathwaites, such as the one near Ambleside or the one in the Duddon valley west of Coniston, so I can't say whether they would be pronounced in the more usual way as 'Sea thət'


References and Footnotes

Note 1   Dickson-Brownref1 remarks:-

"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."

Dickinson ref1  gives two meanings of Brazzle: 1  V. To press into a crowd,  2  V. To scorch
Brazzled Pez  N  Scorched Peas scrambled for by boys -
A sly urchin steals a sheaf of peas. The sheaf is soon ablaze, and this subsided, down go the boys on hands and knees amongst the still hot ashes, seeking for the hidden treasure. The peas, some still green, some only scorched, others charred to a cinder, are all excellent to the joyous juveniles, who rise from the scramble with hands and faces black as sweeps.

Cart Tracks

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

After 8 years my question about horseshoes in snow has been answered by Brian who has lived in Norway for many years and enjoys trail-riding in the Mountains - 
Horses do indeed have the problem. If the snow is wet, but not directly slushy, it builds up under the hoof and makes walking awkward. Here in the west of Norway this occurs every winter. To remove the lump of snow/ice a sharp blow with a small hammer on the side of the shoe works wonders. That doesn't worry the horse who is only too glad to have the hindrance removed. It should work for clogs as well.    Brian F.

Haycocks often feature in old prints or in nursery rhymes which might lead one to believe that cocking was an essential part of making good hay. This is not the case - hay is at its best if dried quickly without the need for cocking. The point of cocking is to save the half-dry hay from a passing shower. After the rain had passed the cocks would be skaled out again to finish drying. It the rain lasted too long - as it often did - the damp hay in the cock would go mouldy but perhaps not quite as rotten as if it had been left out in the open.

Loavin days!

This 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
Keswick (Christian) Convention, still held every July.

Nick  -  Grandfather's improbable perjorative  "Nick't at t'heid" may be related to Prevost's ref2 equally bizarre entry for nick -
Nick - To destroy the hydatid in the brain of a sheep suffering from sturdy by puncturing  it with a knife.   The effect of sturdy is that the animal appears 'bewildered' and 'stupified'Ref9  so the whole is in complete agreement with grandfather's meaning of  'not right in the head'.

OS iniquities
The Ordnance Survey (originally map-maker for the British army, and which, since 1841, has been based in Southampton, a small township on the remote south coast of England) has a tendency to ride roughshod over local names in the northern counties.
For example the Ordnance Survey consistently and mistakenly 'corrects' the name Hollas to Hollows..
e.g. the 1841 and 1851 census for Matterdale includes Hollas (grid reference NY391227) which the OS wrongly corrects to Hollows.
e.g. the 1841 and 1911 census for Threlkeld includes the dwellings Lowhollas and Highhollas. The Ordance Survey  wrongly corrects these to Low Hollows (NY333261) and High Hollows (NY356249)
e.g. the 1881 and 1911 census for Borrowdale includes the dwelling Hollas. The Ordance Survey  wrongly corrects this to  Hollows Farm (NY247171)

The O.S. have corrupted the local name Teufet Tarn to Tewet Tarn (NY304235) thereby losing the meaning of the name. (see Teufet in the glossary).

The O.S. have ignored the local  (and historical) name Druid Circle and replaced it with the anodyne descriptor 'Castlerigg Stone Circle' (NY291236).

Ref 2 gives this as Popple, Figuratively -  of a man idling and staggering backwards and forwards, that he is popplin' aboot.
Prevost also gives the, unfortunately rather agricultural, derivation of this word

Wordsworth's accident and the coachman's remark is a piece of oral history passed down me by mother. It turns out to be broadly correct. I had the place slightly wrong, it did not happen at the bottom of Nest Brow as I thought but two miles away at Rough How bridge over Naddle Beck. But the accident really did happen and was reported in the Cumberland Pacquet.
Wordsworth was on his way home from a visit to West Cumberland and had just crossed the old* Rough How bridge near Shoulthwaite when he met the stage coach  heading north to Keswick. One of the lead horses was misbehaving  with the bit between his teeth  so the coachman was unable to control his team. Apparantly the collision threw Wordworth's trap and everone in it clean over the wall but fortunately there were no serious injuries.
Regretably I don't remember some important details such as the date. I found the transcript on a website that has since been deleted. But the original report should still exist in the archives of the Cumberland Pacquet.

* The old stone arched Rough How bridge still stands but was superseded by a new bridge 30 yards upstream in the early 20th century. This second bridge was in turn superseded by a third bridge in another bout of road-straightening about 1970.

Quarter Days
In the olden days every farm would have one or more maids and farm hands and they would all be hired or rehired on Quarter days or sometimes Cross-quarter days. Consequently these days were part of everyday speech.

Quarter day      Cross Quarter day          

Lady Day                                25 March
                       Whitsunday      15 May  (legally fixed)
Midsummers Day                    24 June
                       Lammas            1 August
Michaelmas                             29 September
                       Martinmas        11 November
Christmas                                25 December
                       Candlemas        2 February

Q    There is an aversion in the dialect  to pronouncing the letter Q.
 It is noted that grandfather pronounced quiet as whiet.. Prevost Ref2 gives more examples -
quite  =  white
quaker  =  whaker
quart  =  whart
quill  =  twill
quilt  =  twilt
quoits  =  coyds
squirrel  =  swirrel
However other Q words retain the normal 'kw' pronnciation.
E.g.  Queer, Queen  are pronounced normally
Quey seems to be pronounced both 'kw' and 'wh' at different times.

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 (1891).  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.
On the 1864 OS map the dwelling is labelled 'Parsonage' since the vicar of Wythburn is living there while the new Vicarage is being built.  
1787 Map of Wythburn

* actually, on closer inspection, the site of Quey Fold remains above (and to the south of) the lake but all traces of the house have vanished. The same is true of most of the lost dwellings; only May Green and City  are actually submerged.

Sough -
This is not a mistake for slough - or if it was it is now long established in the Cumbrian lexicon. These two references use it with the same meaning as given in this glossary: -

1 THE KESWICK GUARDIAN    Saturday 10th September 1892
...the burning mow could only be got at through the loft. A plentiful supply of water was in the large sough, but as it was 135 yards from the building which stands at a considerable elevation above...

2   Out Ottering  ( Published 1902 )
....Such marigolds, too, gleamed in the soughs! such cuckoo-flowers freckled the grass! such blackthorn blossom whitened the hedge-rows!....
....splashing through the wet ground, leaping the soughs full of rich golden light from the thousand mary-buds that had inlaid them....

There is a mystery about the sump - where did the contents  go?  There was a considerable volume of liquid - not only the slurry and urine from the cows but also the water used to hose the byre down every day and the water that flowed through the milk cooler. I don't recall the sump ever being emptied. Also, although all the byres and calf hulls had drains they did not all have a sump to drain into.


Ref 1   A Glossary of the Words and Phrases Pertaining to the Dialect of Cumberland by W. Dickinson F.L.S. 1879.
Rearranged, Illustrated and Augmented by Quotations by E.W.Prevost Ph.D., F.R.S.E. 1899
with a Short Digest of the Phonology and Grammar of the Dialect by S. Dickson Brown, B.A.(hons.) Lond.
Pub. Bemrose & Sons, London; Thurnam and Son, Carlisle

Ref 2  Supplement to Ref 1 by E.W.Prevost  1905

Ref 3   The Folk-Speech of Cumberland and some districts adjacent;: being short stories and rhymes in the dialects of the west border counties
By  Alexander Craig Gibson, F.S.A.  Pub. G. & T. Coward. Carlisle 1873

Ref 4. Cummerland Talk by John Richardson  Pub Geo. Coward. Carlisle 1871

Ref 5  Teesdale Lexicon
Frederick T. Dinsdale's A Glossary of Provincial Words used in Teesdale in the County of Durham (London, 1849)

Ref 6  Lakeland Words 
A collection of words and phrases as used in Cumberland and Westmorland with illustrative sentences in the North Westmorland dialect.   by B Kirby
pub. T Wilson, Kendal 1898

Ref 7  North Country Words 
A Glossary of North Country Words, in Use.
by  John Trotter Brockett F.S.A.
pub. Emerson Charnley, Bigg-market; Newcastle upon Tyne
and Baldwin and Cradock; London   1829

Ref 8   Anglo-Norman Dictionary 

Ref 9  The Farmers Guide to Scientific and Practical Agriculture   Vol II..
by  Henry Stephens,  John Pitkin Norton.
pub.Leonard Scott & co.  January 1, 1851

Words, not neccessarily Cumbrian, favoured by different people at Low Nest
I associate different words and expressions with different members of the family. In the table below words in bold are Cumbrian and appear in the glossary on the right. Notes on other words are given in  links below.

Fillum, Nick't at t'heid,  Kytel, Stee

"Fine lad, thoo desarves to git on."
Blue pencil!
super-cynical sod


Divarshun = Diversion (entertainment)
What a catastrophe that wad be  (said sarcastically)
If you do that I'll be vext
Loavin days, Scrunt, "Feckless, Gormless, Sackless",  'Slattery Ike'


Guiversome, Flartch, Flaysome, Gadgie, Hocker, Kittle, Shaff!

Lang Nebbed words
Steg on stilts


Fratch, Fair Brossen,  Gyavlik, Hard as Brazzle,
Kizzened, Neudlin,
Jisle, Kevel, Kiav, Myrtle
If thoo's kysty Thoo'l hev wemmel for dinner
Well, I'll go to puzzamuckle = I'll go to Timbuktu
Queer as Dick's hatband

Blue pencil  was the nearest grandfather came to swearing - he censored himself.  A blue pencil was what a censor would use to edit out disllowed words.

Jujube.  A sweet or candy.  Not a Cumbrian word but a word current in Britain and North America during grandfather's childhood - around 1900.
Jujube: A chewy gelatinous lozenge made of or in imitation of, or
flavored with, the jujube fruit. - Websters 1913
The jujube fruit comes from zizyphus jujuba a small mediterranean tree . A related species is  zizyphus lotus which in ancient times  provided the fruit for the famous lotus-eaters of Libya - probably.

Super-cynical sod
.  Grandfather's mis-hearing of  Supersonic Sid,
Supersonic Sid was the AA man who patrolled up and down the road on his motor bike and sidecar fixing a select few of the broken down cars that littered the verges.
About 1960 the sonic booms of  supersonic jet fighters  were a daily treat which sadly  are never heard nowadays. On the plus side, cars today break down less often.

Casper   A name Carl typically used, not entirely sympatheticlly, to address a lamb or calf that was failing to thrive.
Casper is a figure in German folklore and puppetry equivalent to Mr Punch in the English "Punch and Judy"

Puzzamuckle  Well, I'll go to Puzzamuckle - an expression of surprise Carl used interchangaby with "Well, I'll go to Timbuktu"
Puzzamuckle pronounced with a soft Z as in fuzzy.
Unlike Carl's other words which we assumed were German dialect, but  turned out to be pure Cumbrian, this one really is from German.
Pusemuckel is a byword in German for a sleepy, backward hamlet with inordinately proud inhabitants. It seems the original is a tiny village lost in the flat immensity of the North German plain whose sole claim to fame is that, in the year 1639, a bishop stopped there for a piss (eine pinkelpause in German) and commented that the people seemed 'nice'. In commemoration of this astounding event the village adopted the sobriquet 'Bishopstown
Unfortunately the twin villages of  Klein Posemuckel and Gross Posemuckel (Podmokle Male und Podmokle Wielkie in Polish) really do exist, in present day Poland, and still object to being thus unkindly stereotyped.
It is not entirely clear why changing their names and relocating to a different country with a different language has not alleviated their embarrassment.

Queer as Dick's hatband. - Phrase.  Kirby's North Westmorland dictionary of 100 years ago was unable to say who Dick was so we shall probably never know - however Kirby does intimate that the queer thing about Dick's hatband was that it went seven times round his hat.
Apparently this saying is not peculiar to Cumbrian - it has been in use in many parts of Britain and the USA for 200 years. The number of circuits of the hat varies from two to nineteen.

Purity of the Glossary

Without 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.
It seems my father's Cumbrian was better than mine - evidently he was deeply immersed in the old language during his years working on local farms as a POW.

** 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?'


Personal Pronouns

Ah , me, thoo - I, me, you
Ah's,Ah'm; Ah'd; Ah'l - I am; I would; I will
Thoo's; Thoo'd; Thoo'l - You are; You would, You will
See the Table of Cumbrian Personal Pronouns

A', Aw   N.  All
              N.  A large amount or consideration.
Mainly heard in the negative 'Nut a greet Aw'  =   'of no great import'

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..
* (a billy-can or bottle would serve in the old days)

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.
Kirby ref 6 has   Blocker -. a butcher's pole-axe.

Body -  N  A person;  innocent, inoffensive, usually a woman.
Body can also be reflexive referring to oneself  'whats a body to deuh'?
Dickinson Ref1 gives body as the singular of the plural word 'folk'
Thus - Menfolk, Man-body;   Womenfolk, Woman-body.

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 kizzened.

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 this trouble?
They do!

Cleg - N A horsefly.  (Haematopota pluvialis) Clegs are a particular nuisance at hay time.

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 'Away!'
 see - sheepdog terminology.

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
Bull Coppy - N  a small field near the farmstead where the bull was kept, with good solid stone walls all round.

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'.
              A term of  reassurance to a cow. 'Cush-a-body'

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 ditch.
Dyke - V to lay a hedge.
Dykin mitts  - N Very thick leather gauntlets, proof against blackthorn, used for dyking.

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 Flatterer.
  Dickinson ref1 has this as Flaitch.

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

Gear - N  a substance of very inferior quality.
Most commonly heard in the phrase "Gay Gear stuff" and generally referring to unpalatable food or feedstuff such as rotten hay

Gormless -  Adj.  deficient in understanding.
Brockett Ref 7 has Gaum - to comprehend, to consider.
From Middle Gothic  Gaumgan = to understand

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.
A muck-drag is also handy for digging potatoes.

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: Eager, greedy
Dickson-Brown ref2 notes this as an example of an Old English word (O.E. gifre = greedy) preserved in Cumbrian but entirely lost to modern English.

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.

Gyavlik - N Gavelock, Crowbar  (from Icelandic?)
               Richardson ref4 has this as geàvleck
               The Teesdale lexicon ref5 has it as g'yavlik

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)
             V To clear the throat inelegantly

Hull, Hool - N A loosebox. Calf-hool, bull-hull
                   N A wooden poultry shed, Often on cast iron wheels. Hen hull, Duck 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 a child.
Kirby has Jyselin but refers it to an awkward adolescent.

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 kevel.
Kirby - They kiav'd doon t'middle o' ther bit - that is they wasted the middle an' warrent ower nice wi' t' sides.
Dickinson has it as keavv and relates it to the task of removing straw from a heap of corn using ones feet and a rake.

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.
              Adj  Generally awkward and uncooperative ?

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.

Loavin days - Excl.   'Ah've nivver seen sek a thing in all me loaven days'. See footnote
Gibson ref3 gives this as a corruption of the pious oath "Loving Jesus!"

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
Mawked - Adj  Afflicted by blowfly strike. 

Mew, haymew, mewsteed -
              N  A mow of hay in a barn- usually delineated by the rafters or, in a dutch barn, by the spacing of the uprights.

Mew - V  (with a pitchfork) to arrange the loose hay in a mew so that the whole is tidy, stable and not prone to cowp owwer or rush.  (with small rectangular bales, in a mewsteed or on a trailer) to arrange the bales so that they overlap and bind together in a stable structure.

Moss - N  A flat low-lying area, usually waterlogged, often with birch trees or alder. 'Shoulthwaite Moss', (NY305200).
Moss can also signify a flat, boggy area on the fell tops - e.g. 'Paper Moss'  on High Rigg (NY306216) is mentioned in Manorial documents as a source of peat.

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
Dickinson ref1 has these as Newdel't and Newdlin.

Nick't at t'heid - Adj phrase, of a person -  foolish, 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.

Pople, Poap- V To move slowly and aimlessly like an old hen.
Dickinson Ref1 has Poap, Poapen - to move as in the dark
 see footnote

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. News report

Q    There is an aversion in the dialect to pronouncing the letter Q.
For example grandfather used 'whyet' for quiet. This has some assonance with the related imperative 'whisht!'
Another example is in Richardson's Ref4  use of Swirt for Squirt.
Prevost Ref 2 gives several more examples.

Ratch - V  to Ransack, to rummage (particularly of children or dogs).
            V  to Ramble with the intent of discovery.

Rive - V to delicately cleave slates from the native rock.
        V to tear assunder forcefully e.g.  splitting oak logs with wedges.
The occupation 'River' or 'Slate River' occurs frequently in the censuses.
Rive exists in English: 'riven with dissent' but is much more common in Cumbrian.

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  a persons shortcomings - '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.
Dickinson Ref 1 gives the meaning as  Weak-minded, simple, inoffensive.

Sarra - V To serve. 'It sarras thoo reet'.
            V To feed and water animals. 'Ahs gaan t' sarra t' beest'

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.
Dickinson has Skrunt - the stalk of a cabbage.

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)
Often used in the sense  'I said that would happen'.

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.
(We loosely followed the southern English naming system where the small white ones are always turnips and the big purple ones with orange flesh are usually called swedes but sometimes turnips. Apparently the opposite naming system is used in Scotland, NE England and other areas.)

Snowk - V To snort, to clear the nostrils inelegantly
               V To sneak about, to pry furtively.  
                    ( From Swedish  snoka = to ferret about. ?)

Soft - Adj  Simple (soft in the head)

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 .
Horses often had to be rescued from soughs

Spell or Spelk - N A Splinter

Spraflin - Adj   A perjorative term. ' thoo gurt spraflin gowk'
I didn't know the meaning until I found the the word in the N Westmorland dictionary - A quite, easy person (usually a husband) who is rather soft and ineffectual.

Spyan - V to wean, to separate (esp. lambs) from their mothers

Stark - Adj  Strong

Starvation - N  Bitter cold     M.E. sterven, O.E. steorfan = to die
Starved - V   frozen half to death.
 'It was starvation itsel in that damned, bleak, windswept spot'.
The auction mart high up on Troutbeck Moor springs to mind.

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'

Tip, Tipp - N  Ram, an intact adult male sheep.
'We amerce ffrancis Bowe of Castrigg for keeping his Tipps upon the Common tenn dayse after Michaelmas 3/4d.' - Manorial court rolls 1685

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
Wick't - Adj.  Mawked, being eaten alive by maggots..
(Grandfather, on hearing  the villain on the wireless declaring "I'm wicked" before committing suicide - ' t'poor bugger was wick't, neeah wonder he did away wid hissel')

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)
Yance - Adj  Once. Yance ower = once upon a time.
The Scots 'twa' for two was less often used and then only in jocular allusion to the Twa Dogs pub in Keswick.
Yan, tan, tethera ...for sheep counting was known of but never used; it is quicker to count sheep in twos or fours and speed is of the essence since they  tend to move about.

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.


Hollas  -  Hall House   Only found as a place name.
Hall House denotes the Manor House of a small Manor. Ref 1

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 Ref4.


Yerdfasts  - N  large stones fast in the earth and near the surface.  Dickinson ref 1
These stones are the boulders that give their name to the glacial boulder clay that makes up much of the surface geology of lowland Cumbria


© copyright 2009-2015 ©  Low Nest Farm