The Derbyshire Dialect - Some Common Words and Phrases

Compiled by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 2011-12

“Lord Denman thinks ‘people in the cold North pronounce their words rapidly and frequently leave out the article and shorten every word. They scarcely open their mouths lest the cold air should enter’”.
[Quote from ‘Derbyshire Dialect’, in Thomas Cowen's A History of the Village of Stoney Middleton (1910)]


What did our ancestors talk about? Would we understand the words they used today? Our first thoughts would be "of course we would", as they spoke English as we do, but think again! I was born in Derbyshire, and to my big surprise when I moved elsewhere, discovered that a small number of words I'd grown up with, and taken for granted, were simply not understood. In fact when my husband first went with me to visit my mother back home, I frequently had to provide ‘translations’!

The same applied to me of course, and I too had to acquire words from other vocabularies. So for instance in Edinburgh, I learnt the meanings of “wabbit” and “snell”, and I was expected to say that I was “away to ma' bed” in an evening, rather than “going to bed”.

I find it a fascinating subject, and have wondered how these regional variations arose. It could be the subject of a thesis in its own right, but at its simplest, I believe it relates to the original basis of the language, so for instance the Scots dialect has been inspired by gaelic, whereas in Derbyshire, and the north of England, language developed from a combination of Old Danish of the Viking invaders in the north, and interactions with Old English of the Anglo Saxons from the south.

Today, when we are much more mobile, and exposed daily to the ‘bland’ nature of TV presenters, such regional variations are rapidly disappearing. This web page is therefore an attempt to record a few from ‘Old Derbyshire’, before they are lost.

Please note these are my interpretation of the words and phrases listed - yours may differ.

‘Let's Parlez Durbyshuh’

baumed up sticky, gummed up, covered in a glutinous mass.
bleb small blister - in the skin, or other surface.
bolting eating fast - gobbling, in hope, perhaps, when there's a clean plate, there will be some more to follow.
braunge to brag, lounge about, and/or show off.
brazen cheeky, insolent. Not limited to Derbyshire of course!
brussen uncomfortably replete.
chavelled worn into shreds (of cloth).
chavelled to mean not so much worn to shreds, as hacked at unevenly, as used by my mother to describe my first attempts as a young teenager to cut out my first dress pattern. My attempts to cut the material by following the paper pattern round the edges were somewhat less than smooth - “a chavelly mess” she called it!
cherrup complain, harangue someone at great length, ‘answer back’.
chinning chin-wag - a verbose conversationalist.
chunter grumble, complain.
churr noise made by a vehicle when driver is trying unsuccessfully to escape from a muddy patch on the road (unmade) outside my mother's house. More graphic than “churning” up the surface, as this covers the sound as well as the effect - “making a churr”.
clam (clammed) ‘fairly clammed’ - feeling hungry, or a lack of food.
clacking similar to “chinning” but faster - speaking with hardly a pause for breath.
clarty sticky, as in clay.
coggle walking with uneven, or uncertain steps - for instance, tottering on high heels.
collyfobble (or coggle) to fix, fiddle, make something out of nothing (‘coggle it up’).
crozzled scorched, as when cooking - overdone: some people prefer it like that.
firk (firkin', firking) scratching - as for instance a bird, searching for food.
flit move house, or premises. In common use, so not specific to Derbyshire.
flummoxed flustered, confused.
gadizened dressed up, dolled up in finery (‘gadizened with pearls’).
gerraway (wi' yer) ‘get away’ (with you) - an expression of surprise or disbelief.
gi o'er ‘give over’ - stop, but often said in a jocular fashion.
goo on (wi' yer) same as ‘gerraway’ - an expression of surprise or disbelief.
gone-out similar to “gormless”: he looked at me “gone-out”.
gormless slow on the uptake, dim-witted, or stupid. Compare the Scottish ‘glaikit’.
goster loud raucousness: “gostering and laughing”.
gowl ‘sleepy dust’ - after-sleep eye juice.
gronch crunch, pulverize, as with a mincer (a ‘gronching machine’).
he's rose 'er ‘he won’ - literally ‘he raced her’ - this had to be heard to be believed! It was an expression my father used, which my mother, Derbyshire born and bred herself had to ask him to translate, as she'd thought he was saying “here's Rosa” - Rosa who?
hoo ‘she’ - hoo being the Middle English feminine equivalent of ‘he’, now superseeded by ‘she’, of Scandinavian origin. ‘Her’ was also in common use as a feminine subject pronoun, as in ‘her only cost thirty bob’, though this also illustrates assigning a gender to an inanimate object. This is not unknown elsewhere, as for instance in Gloucestershire where it's more likely ‘natives’ will refer to “she” as only being worth thirty bob, and he will not be referring to "Her Indoors"!
in 'is eye'oiles “in his eye holes” - sounds pretty awful, but it describes someone enjoying himself, a cow in clover.
jacked up not the car - finishing work, often used when giving up a job, to move on elsewhere.
jimp similar to “chavel”, but a “jimped” edge is one which is deliberately scalloped or trimmed.
keen sharp, careful with money.
kerfuffled muddled, mixed up.
launder a name for guttering - something which carries the water away. In Scotland the word is ‘roan’ and apparently in Wales it would be called ‘troughing’. Guttering at the time in question would often have been made of wood.
lolloping about lounging around, chilling out.
magging (talking) a voluble conversationalist.
manking messing about, wasting time.
mardy miserable, or deemed as overly sensitive - a ‘wuss’.
marlucks mess: “you've made a marlucks of that”.
maunging feeling full of self pity or woe.
midered (or mithered)    worried, bothered, flustered.
monkey on the back
(having a)
a person is in a bad temper, annoyed, or sulking
nar then ‘now then’ - a form of greeting. Or ‘now then, let's be havin thee’, to mean “come along, then”
nesh feeling the cold easily.
ode on a tick ‘hold on a second’ - wait a minute.
owt un nowt anything or nothing, which may be pronounced ‘ote’ and ‘note’ or ‘out’ and '(s)nout'.
pumps (daps) gym shoes, plymsols, what our American cousins would call ‘sneakers’, so NOT Jimmie Choo ‘pumps’, which in American English are high-heeled, dressy, definitely formal shoes.
puther a rising dust, dense smoke from a chimney.
rammell rubbish, junk.
ravel (tangle) describes (for instance) a ball of wool, after a cat has finished playing with it.
reasty applies particularly to fat saved from a joint of beef for cooking, which has gone ‘reasty’ (past its ‘sell-by’), but more generally to any food which has ‘gone off’ - gone mouldy, or rotten.
rorting singing though not necessarily in tune! Possibly when inebriated.
rost to pull impatiently at something which is proving intractable: it usually breaks!
rucked up crumpled up, or pushed out of place unnaturally - “that carpet has rucked up by the doorway”.
rugged up well wrapped up, with a warm coat, scarf, muffler, &c in winter.
samming up gathering up, as in collecting one's work tools when finishing for the day.
scrawm scramble, or low crawl.
shippun barn, or animal shelter. In my experience it was more often used in the area around Tideswell than in the Eyam area.
sile heavy downpour of rain e.g. “it's siling it down”.
sithee ‘see thee’ (you) - or meaning “look at that”, or “do you understand”? Can also mean a farewell, “see you (again)”; or in the case of parting after arranging another meeting “see you next Tues”.
skutch up kick up, noise made by doing so.
slive stealthily make off with something, as when the dog steals one's dinner: presumably “take a sliver.”.
slops the contents of the chamber pot.
snap snack, or more usually, a packed lunch.
snided with full of, blocked (as with a cold in the nose), covered with - or having too much of something to be comfortable about it.
sprottle sprawling, or spread out, usually accompanied with having trouble rising, or in moving anywhere at all - an attempt to get a grip.
surry (surrey, surrie) is, or used to be a term of greeting amongst family members, friends or close acquaintances. Equivalents elsewhere may be “duck”, “mate”, or in Scotland, “son”, or “hen”. Interestingly, according to North Staffordshire Dialect - Questions and Answers both “surry” and “duck” evolved from terms of respect - “sir (sirrah)”, and “duke” respectively.
tu'thry literally ‘two or three’ - intended to indicate “a few”.
thrutched up uncomfortably “rugged up”.
wittle worry: “she wittles herself to death”.
wom or a'wom - at home.
wots up wi' thee ‘what's up with you’ - asking if anything is wrong/amiss when a person looks troubled or in a down mood, or not talkative.


Finally, I am reminded of a story told to me by an office colleague who was born in Wales. He married a lass from Halifax, and they went to stay with her relations from time to time, as we all must. One Saturday, they went shopping to Huddersfield Market, and he bought a raincoat. He went back to the family home, well pleased with his “find”, and wanting to show it off to the family; however, he was somewhat perplexed when one of his wife's relations asked “does it turn the rain?” (meaning “is your coat waterproof?”). I couldn't understand his confusion at first, but he explained that he hadn't heard the expression before and understood it literally: “does it turn the rain?” - ‘turn’ the rain - what into?

See also John Palmer's webpage on Derbyshire Dialect on his Wirksworth website.

[Account by Rosemary Lockie, April 2011, with additions suggested by Janet Kirk]
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