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Adventures with English Dialects – The Lancashire Dialect

Updated on May 12, 2012

One of the entertaining things about having lived in various counties around England has been coming across words or usages of words which are new to me, because they are specific to that region or sometimes even one small village or town.

Occasionally dialect usage has left me confused or with something I didn't quite expect, but that is all part of the adventure!

Burnley in East Lancashire is where I live now. Lancashire is in the North West of England with a coastline on the Irish Sea and a particularly notable border with Yorkshire as these counties were pitted against each other in the Wars of the Roses between 1455 and 1487. The counties maintain a friendly rivalry to this day. Burnley and many other Lancashire towns were once renowned for their cotton mills - I understand that cotton is easier to weave and work with in a damp climate. A lot of dialect which was very specific to that trade is no longer used, but has been recorded in ‘Sounds Gradely’ by the Northwest Sounds Archive and in a handwritten notebook by KG Spencer available for reference use from Burnley library. I used these and my own experience of six years living in Burnley, hearing the Burnley dialect and dialect heard when visiting other parts of Lancashire, to bring you the following:

View of Pendle Hill from Red Lees

East Lancashire is a beautiful part of the country, but will you understand the Lancashire dialect when you come and visit?
East Lancashire is a beautiful part of the country, but will you understand the Lancashire dialect when you come and visit? | Source

Very Common Words

These are the most helpful words for you to know if you do visit Burnley. These are all words which I’ve heard pretty much every day.

Alreet - meaning hello. Alreet is a very common greeting amongst Lancashire folk. However often I hear it I want to answer as though it was the question "Are you alright?" My brain can't quite get to grips with replying with "alreet."

Pants – meaning trousers. This won’t come as a surprise to American readers because I believe pants is commonly used as a noun meaning trousers in America. But for those of us who come from other areas in England, it is rather startling to hear people discussing with each other what pants they are going to wear the next day. This is because for most English people outside of Lancashire, pants mean underpants or knickers.

Teacake – meaning plain bread roll. In most of England asking for a teacake will get you a delicious slightly sweet roll with raisins in, much favoured when toasted, hot and buttered. I love teacakes. I was therefore sorely disappointed during my first week in Burnley when I treated myself to two teacakes, opened the paper bag and found I had two plain bread rolls. If you want a ‘proper’ teacake in Lancashire you must ask for a currant teacake. It is very disconcerting to hear requests for ‘bacon teacakes, which out of Lancashire would get you a strange look (Bacon in a sweet roll anyone?). In Lancashire it gets you bacon in a plain roll. I would call that a bacon butty or a bacon cob.


In Lancashire, if you want the item on the right ask for a currant teacake. If you ask for a teacake, you'll get the item on the left
In Lancashire, if you want the item on the right ask for a currant teacake. If you ask for a teacake, you'll get the item on the left | Source
a shared ginnel or gynnel - a passageway between terraced houses
a shared ginnel or gynnel - a passageway between terraced houses | Source

Oin – meaning annoy; as in “stop oining me, John.” It is pronounced like coin without the C. This word doesn’t crop up in either of the books I used as reference, but is in frequent use and I haven’t heard it outside of Burnley. It’s a word I’ve adopted because it’s quite useful!

Mither – also meaning annoy, but used throughout Lancashire.

Ginnel or Gynnel – meaning outside passageway, usually between two houses in which case it’s a shared ginnal if both households can use it. It is pronounced with a hard G. This is one of the first Lancashire words I learnt, because I was told that my house had a shared ginnel.


Ult – meaning anything; as in “Do you want ult else?”

Clough – meaning stream, pronounced to rhyme with fluff. Again not mentioned in the books I read but in daily usage on maps and signs. It is one of my favourite Lancashire words.

Sweet Clough - a stream running through Burnley
Sweet Clough - a stream running through Burnley | Source

Sough – meaning drains, culvert or a hole, pronounced to rhyme with fluff. Like clough it is in use through place names. East of Burnley is a village called Sough – sounds pretty to the outsider, but not really a flattering name for a village in Lancashire!

Agate – this is a complicated word. In most of Lancashire it means making a start on something; as in “he’s agate painting the house”. In Burnley it often means said. So you might hear a conversation reported to you thus; “he’s agate ‘what are you doing?’ and I’m agate ‘mind your own business!” However agate can also be used to replace other verbs such as to go e.g. “I’m agate home.”

Lancashire Words Which I’ve Heard Infrequently

These are all words I’ve heard once or more, but not on a regular basis.

Bait – a packed snack lunch.

Fettler – friend

Clatter – meaning hit as in “I’ll clatter him if he comes near me.”

Back-end - the period which is the end of summer beginning of autumn. Quite useful really since it is much shorter then that phrase!

Degged – meaning wet through

Bog-eyed – meaning sleepy

bogg-eyed (sleepy) dogs
bogg-eyed (sleepy) dogs | Source

Mary-Ann – behaving like an old woman. I overheard two women conversing and one said to the other “stop being a Mary-Ann”. I had no idea what she meant at that point, but ‘Sounds Gradley’ enlightened me.

Boggart – a mischievous figure, imp or spirit. These have been made slightly famous by an childrens’ animation series based around the legend of the treacle mines in Sabden – a village near Pendle hill, North of Burnley.

Dandelion flowers are known as piss-a-beds in parts of Lancashire
Dandelion flowers are known as piss-a-beds in parts of Lancashire | Source

A Few Lancashire words I’d Like to hear, but haven’t

These are words recorded in ‘Sounds Gradely’, but I haven't heard them used.

Pobs – a meal of bread and milk. This really harks back to harsher times when families were large and cotton workers wages didn't stretch far enough.

Piss-a-bed – dandelion flowers

Sermon-suit – best cloths/suit

Sken – a quick look at something.

Gradely – good or favourable

The Lancashire Accent

Lancashire dialect is complimented by the Lancashire accent. In the clip members of Pendle Borderline Theatre Company, who are Lancashire natives, rehearse a scene from Devilish Practices by Richard MacSween.

Lancashire Accents

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      Joanne 4 weeks ago

      I was looking for oin because it's a really common word where I come from and here is one of the only places I've seen it written down! Have you heard coits? Pronounced like coins but with a t in place of the n. It means the roof of a backyard toilet or coal shed. We got told off for playing ont' coits but I've never heard the word used anywhere else.

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      Gordon 7 months ago

      I was born in Burnley in 1940 to a mother who was a weaver in the mills there and a father who was a miner. As a child I heard the word 'oined' quite often but only referring to children who were deemed to be treated with less than the normal amount of kindness by their parents or siblings. I cannot recall it being used to describe annoyance.

    • bac2basics profile image

      Anne 16 months ago from Spain

      Hi Nettlemere.

      I´m back dipping a toe into Hubpages water and catching up with old friends. Still in Spain but catching up with Lancashire speak for my return. I´m agate or she/he´s agate is used in Preston too, but very rarely. A dear friend of mine used it once and explained the significance to me, it´s not something used in my native Yorkshire.

      Hope you and your doggies are all keeping well :-)

    • profile image

      beebee 2 years ago

      I'm from Burnley and we always called them pobbies. Me mam would make them when we were poorly or feeling down. they are lovely! Also we always used bog eyed for someone who skens or something that's wonky (not straight). I love my accent and I'm proud to be from Burnley even though a lot of people aren't.

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      Boo 2 years ago

      What you've spelt 'agate' is actually 'agait', literally meaning 'going'.

      It's used in Rossendale too, in the same senses of 'saying' or 'doing' .

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      seenjet 2 years ago

      I really enjoyed this article learning culture of country within its ethnicity.

      Very interesting to read and I think these type of dialects are common in Asian Countries..

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago

      I'll trust to your knowledge of the use of "clough" in Burnley, but wider in the North of England it refers to a small (usually steep-sided) valley made by a stream. For example, "Shiny Brook Clough" contains "Shiny Brook".

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      Becca 3 years ago

      Im from Burnley and we always say pobbies for bread warm milk and sugar... yum!

    • travmaj profile image

      travmaj 4 years ago from australia

      I'm still a Lancashire lass and enjoyed this very much - many memories from the dialect - pobs or bread pobs consisted of small hunks of bread with hot milk poured over, usually at breakfast or supper. Sken - what you skenning at? I'd forgotten that one. I'm most intrigued by the Lancashire witches also. Thank so much -

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 4 years ago from Fife, Scotland

      Fabulous hub and the words and dialects are fascinating. The only one that is close to a word in Scotland is 'piss-a-bed' for dandelion, here (in Fife at least), they are called 'pee-the-beds'.

      I could browse through refrence books like you describe for hours looking up all the old and dialect words. I think though as with Lancashire, here in Scotland, many of the old words are disappearing as our elderly folks pass on. So I think reference books such as 'Sounds Gradely' will become even more treasured in the years to come.

      Fascinating and very enjoyable hub!!

    • christin53 profile image

      Ann-Christin 4 years ago from UK

      This was a very interesting read. I grew up in Yorkshire and recognised some of the words. I live in Norfolk now and they have their own way of speaking.

    • Francescad profile image

      Francescad 4 years ago from London

      Made me smile; voted up. My mum's family is from Derbyshire, where a cob is definitely a roll :-). The Derbyshire dialect is quite an interesting one.

      "Ey up mi duck!"

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/insideout/eastmidlands/series...

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      Y Battle-Felton 5 years ago

      This is a helpful, fun read; I can start working on my accent before I move, smiles.

    • wayseeker profile image

      wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado

      Another great one! I missed this while I was sucked down into my work and producing my own hubs, but my comments on your "Yorkshire Dialect" apply just as much here. I will most definitely be returning to these in the future.

      Thanks for the great work!

      wayseeker

    • Horatio Plot profile image

      Horatio Plot 5 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

      This was fun! Thanks NM, this also explains a lot about the north!

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you Melovy - regional differences are great aren't they! I'm intrigued by the Aberdeen morning rolls.

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 5 years ago from UK

      I laughed a few times through this, thanks! Your disappointment at the teacake reminded me of when I used to live in Aberdeen. There if you ask for a morning roll you get something that is a cross between a very fatty croissant and - actually I can’t think what else it’s like!

      Their name for dandelions is interesting too…

    • Nettlemere profile image
      Author

      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you AliciaC, glad you liked it - the dogs love to be centre of everyone's attention!

    • Nettlemere profile image
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      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thank you Mmargie, glad you liked the dogs too.

    • Nettlemere profile image
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      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      That's absolutely my plan Molmin, I'll also be tackling the Nottinghamshire dialect at some point too, less well known but I had some adventures with it whilst living there.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an enjoyable and interesting hub, Nettlemere. I love all the different accents and dialects in Britain. Thanks for the information and for sharing the photos too - especially the one of the dogs!

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      molmin 5 years ago

      Perhaps you could do a hub about the Yorkshire dialect?! I would find it very helpful being a southerner living in Yorkshire!

    • Nettlemere profile image
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      Nettlemere 5 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      Thanks Molmin, and well done for trying the accent! with Burnley being quite close to the border with Yorkshire some of the words are found in both places, but I was brought up near Settle in N Yorks only 19 miles away from Burnley and many dialect words used there are quite distinct.

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      molmin 5 years ago

      I was trying to read the words with a Lancashire accent and failed miserably! Great fun read. I also heard "bait" recently in Yorkshire and the woman looked aghast that I didn't know what she was talking about! Voted up and interesting.

    • Mmargie1966 profile image

      Mmargie1966 5 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      That was quite a fun read, Nettlemere. (Your bog-eyed dogs are adorable!)

      Voted up and interesting!