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!”