Can’t tell a bummerskite from a jannock? Rachel Ringstead gets tongue-twisted as she goes local in an effort to translate and master the art of Yorkshire dialect.
In the wake of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and the war on bad grammar, it is hardly in vogue to encourage the use of parochial slang these days. Yet for those seeking a cultural backlash, or simply the average community-sensitive student who is eager to foster harmonious town-gown relations, it can seem not only friendly and public-spirited but also shrewd to get to grips with the regional lingo. After all, the wisdom of HSBC’s maxim rings true: “never underestimate the power of local knowledge”.
Indeed, while “Yorkshire English” remains one of the most famous and widely parodied of English dialects (who doesn’t get sick of relatives poorly mimicking, “Eh up! Yer ahf’ t’Yorksher?”), there is much scope for misinterpretation in this hazy semantic fog. However, browsing through the Yorkshire English Dictionary can help to alleviate confusion and provide an insight into the knack of being a true flibbity-gibbit (or Yorkshire chatterbox in standard BBC English speak).
Not only can a knowledge of local idiom help the flow of conversation with the locals, it can also prove particularly useful for evading situations of conflict, or, if the mood takes you, provoking and inciting them. Here are some tips: if you are referred to as a “bummerskite”, you are being called lazy (or alternatively a harmless writer of almanacs, apparently), if you are called a “gob slotch” you are charged with being greedy, while a “barmpot” means you are an idiot. Enlightened by this new knowledge, you can now judge whether to challenge such defamers of character to a duel (if you are from Surrey), or run.
If your neighbour hammers on your door and yells “Bawson! Stop this chelping and goating”, they are requesting that you be quiet and cease distracting them. If you decide to retort “friggen ‘ell!”, this may well be interpreted as a common Yorkshire supplication to the Norse mother goddess of fertility and good fortune. In all probability it is more likely to make your neighbour more “dander” (angry), think you are a “nazzard” (horrid person) and want to throw you in a “delf” (quarry).
In addition, when frequenting proper local establishments such as The Phoenix or The Beeswing it is important to try to integrate into the Yorkshire drinking culture. Thus, being familiar with a few key phrases can be really useful. For instance, you may come across certain accusations, such as that you haven’t handed over any “moola” (money). Money is also referred to in Yorkshire as “brass”, or sometimes as “gelt”, “penker” or ‘“ackers”.
Other potential communication problems on nights out could involve accusations that you have stolen other people’s drinks. “Ey Nimrod ‘ats my beer tha’s suppin”, roughly translates to ‘excuse me, but I think you are drinking from my glass”. To defuse the situation you should offer the accuser your glass and say “tak ‘od and sup” (cheers). Alternatively, you may choose to stand your ground and suggest that the antagonist is in the wrong, at which point you may be asked if you are “a reet clogger” (a hard man, fighter) who wishes “to pop one’s clogs” (die) in “a reet ding-dong” (big argument).
In situations such as these it is important not to “ugger mugger” or panic and perhaps suggest that your assailant “Don’t lost your shirt i’Skipton”, i.e. don’t get angry over nothing. However, it is important to pitch your tone sensitively for this as it may antagonise them more. If you really are sick of living then consider implying you are of Lancastrian origin and hint that your Yorkshire rival has no “Yorksher grit”, which is defined by the Yorkshire dictionary as “infamous regional never-say-die spirit, whether in business, sport, crisis or war’.
Yet, for the most part, Yorkshire folk are a friendly sort, thus it is equally, if not more, important to be able to decipher compliments as well as discern criticism.
If you are called a “champion jannock”, this is really positive praise, and if you are termed “as sharp as Sheffield”, this means you are demonstrably quick witted, while “bony” corresponds with pretty. Indeed, similar expressions of veneration are inevitably found in “courtin” (dating) situations, when the Yorkshire language of love is often called upon.
If a woman is approached with the line, “By gum lass ahm’ lambasted by t’beauty of yer een n kist”, this means “Oh lord, woman I am struck with force by the beauty of your eyes and chest”. The approached may then opt to reply in a number of ways: “sorry I’m jiggered, muck lathered and mawngy” (I’m afraid I’m too tired, sweaty and bad tempered), or “aye I’ll cum fer jock wi’ yer” (yes I’ll have lunch with you).
In some cases, further information may be required in order to settle on a decision, such as “ows t’e addle ‘is brass” i.e. what does he do for a living? Incidentally, if the occupation is stated to be that of a “knockerup”, this should not be taken to imply a vocation, or a penchant, for fathering children but instead a job which involves ensuring shift workers are aware of the time.
While this weird and delicious world of Yorkshire slang can seem rather daunting and overwhelming at first, the key to becoming a flibbity-gibbit seems to be a refusal to be “boggled” (frightened) by it all. If you get it really wrong and are greeted by a sea of blank faces, you could pretend you are simply using post-modern irony, or alternatively a really traditional colloquialism. After all, some of the words listed in the Yorkshire dialect dictionary were probably last used at the height of the textile industry boom and aren’t exactly common lingual currency anymore. At the end of the day as long as you remember that the difference between a nazzard and a jannock is as great as the distinction between Leeds and Manchester, you can’t go far wrong.
‘Yorkshire English’ by Edward Johnson is published by Abson Books and is available from all good book stores priced approximately £2.00.
Useful lingo for young Yorkshire lads and lasses
Put your best bib and tucker on for clogs’ll spark toneet.
Get ready as it’s going to be a fantastic night out this evening.
We’ve supped sum stuff toneet.
We have certainly drunk a lot tonight.
I’m lost wi’yersel and powfagged.
I’m bored and really tired.
E’s not sa green as cabbage lookin’, e’s an arrant rapscallion.
He may look naïve but isn’t, he is a no good and troublesome individual.
Yon lass is fair cumly and bony.
That young woman there is beautiful.
‘is face is like a clog soil.
He is not very handsome.