A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Sheffield/Books written


I am only aware of the existence of one book—there are a few unimportant pamphlets—written in the Dialect. A copy of Abel Bywater's Sheffield Dialect, 3rd ed., 1877, is before me. This contains a short 'Memoir' by Mr. Albert Middleton. In it Mr. Middleton tells us that Bywater was born in 1795, that he was 'apprenticed to an awl-blade maker,' that he afterwards became a chemist and druggist, and that he died in 1873 at the age of 78. This work has been read for the glossary, and numerous quotations will be found from it. Prefixed to it is a brief 'glossary' and a few 'local terms and sentences.' The book has been a favourite amongst the people of Sheffield. It is full of touches of broad humour, but one fails to see in it any true picture of the manners and customs of the old people of Hallamshire. There is a flavour of grimy streets, of smoke and squalor, and of the unlovely lives of knife-grinders and cutlers all through the book. One misses, as it were, the scent of new-mown hay, and the voice of the neighbouring yeoman or of the village peasant is not heard. The talk is always the talk of the grinding 'wheel' and of the street. But By water was right in portraying the manners and the speech of the men whom he knew best. His tiny glossary of two pages, and the comparatively few rare or obsolete words to be found in his work, show that his mind was not set upon unearthing or recording the curiosities of language, if indeed he possessed the power of doing so. The Sheffield Dialect is, nevertheless, the best if not the only written example we possess of the folk-speech of the district, and in years to come it will be valued as a very curious record.

In the same 'Memoir' Mr. Middleton tells us that about the year 1859 Bywater was honoured with a visit from Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte, who desired him 'to translate the Songs (sic) of Solomon into the Sheffield dialect for him. This he did, and was favoured with a dozen copies from the Prince. He, however, when he saw them, regretted having reduced them to such a ridiculous appearance.' His Imperial Highness kindly sent me a copy of this little work, with permission to reprint it either wholly or partially. After due consideration, however, I decided, for several reasons, not to republish it.

Two specimens, the one in prose and the other in verse, are here extracted from Bywater's Sheffield Dialect. The first is taken from a dialogue describing the life of the Sheffield apprentice of a past generation. It may be called—

The Apprentice.

OUD SAMMA SQUAREJOINT : O say, Jerra, heah's different toimes for prentis lads nah, thrubbe wot they wor when thee an me wor prentis, isn't ther, oud lad?

JERRA FLATBACK : Hah, they'n better toimes on't nah, booath e heitin and clooas ; we'n had menni a mess a nettle porridge an brawls on a Sunda mo'nin, for us brekfast ; an it wor nobbut a sup a hot watter tern uppa sum wotcake, we a bit a fat in, at made hear a star, an thear a star : an as for clooas, us coit cloth wor awlis as cooarse as if it had been wovven throo a noin barr'd gate ; an us britches made a lether, butten'd rahnd us hips, an raich'd dahn tot cap on us knees : an for all meit wor so cheeap, we varra seldom tasted off a Sundiz yo mut a bowt it at tuppence- hopena a pahnd, an if yo'd twenta pahnd at wonce, they'd a geen ya a sheep heead in. Samma, dusta remember hah menni names we had for sahwer wotcake?

OUD SAMMA SQUAREJOINT: O kno'nt lad; bur o think we'd foive or six. Let's see: Slammak wer won, an Flat-dick wer anuther; an't tuther wor a dear, mo memra fails ma Flannel an Jonta ; an-an-an-an bless me, wot a thing it is tubbe oud, mo memra gers war for ware, bur o kno heah's anuther ; o'st think on enah. O, it wer Tooa Clate. A, Jerra, heah's menni a thahsand dogs nah days, at's better dun too nor we wor then; an them were t' golden days a Hallamshoir, they sen. An they happen wor, for't mesters. Hofe at prentis lads e them days wor lether'd whoile ther skin wor skoi blue, an clam'd whoile ther booans wer bare, an work'd whoile they wor as knock-kneed as oud Nobbletistocks. Thah nivver sees nooa knock-kneed cutlers nah ; nou, not sooa ; they'n better mesters nah, an they'n better sooat a wark anole. They dooant mezher em we a stick, as oud Natta Hall did. But for all that, we'd none a yer wirligig polishin; nor Tom Dockin scales, wit bousters cumin off; nor yer sham stag, nor sham revvits, an sich loik. T' noives wor better made then, Jerra.

JERRA FLATBACK: Hah, they wor better made; they made t' noives for yuse then, but they mayn em to sell nah.—Bywater, p. 32.

The other is a song, of uncertain authorship, which may be called—

The Cutler's Song.
Cum all yo cutlin heroes, where'ersome'er yo be,
All yo wot works at flat-backs, cum lissen unto me ;
A baskitful for a shillin,
To mak em we are willin,
Or swap em for red herrins, ahr bellies tubbe fillin,
Or swap em for red herrins, ahr bellies tubbe fillin.
A baskitful o flat-backs o'm shooar we'll mak, or mooar,
To ger reit intot gallara, whear we can rant an rooar ;
Thro flat-backs, stooans, an sticks ;
Red herrins, booans, an bricks.
If they dooant play Nansa's fansa, or onna tune we fix,
We'll do the best at e'er we can to braik sum ore ther necks.
Hey, Jont, lad, is that thee, lad, where art ta waddlie[1] to ?
Dusta work at flat-backs yit, as thah's been used to do?
Hah, cum, and thah's gooa wimma.
An a sample o will gi'tha;
It's won at o've just fooaged uppa Jeffra's bran new stidda;
Look at it well, it duz excel all t' flat-backs e ahr smitha.
Let's send for a pitcher a ale, lad, for o'm gerrin varra droi;
O'm ommast chooakt we smitha-sleck, the wind it is so hoi.
Ge Rafe and Jer a drop,
They sen they cannot stop,
They're e sich a moita hurra to get tot penny hop.
They're e sich a moita hurra to get tot penny hop.
Here's Steeam at lives at Heela, he'll soon be here, o kno;
He's larnt a new Makkarona step, the best yo ivver saw;
He has it sooa compleat,
He troies up ivvera street,
An ommast braiks all t' pavors we swattin dahn his feet,
An Anak troies to beat him whenivver they dun meet.
We'll raise a tail[2] be Sunda, Steeam ; o kno whoa's one to sell;
We'll tee a hammer heead at end, to mak it balance well:
It's a reit new Lunnon tail;
We'll ware it kail for kail;
Ahr Anak browt it we him, that neet he cum bit mail.
We'll drink success unto it hey ! Jont, lad, teem aht t' ale.
Bywater, p. 40.

A 'nominy' or little story may also be inserted here as illus- trating the dialect.

The Old Woman and Her Pig.

An owd woman went to t' market to boi a pig, an' when shoo'd got it shoo couldn't mak it goo o'er t' brig. 'Wot shall a dew,' shoo said, 'for a can't get hooam to get moi owd man his supper to-neet.' Shoo met a dog, and said to him, ' Prethee, dog, boite t' pig, t' pig waint goo o'er t' brig, an' a can't get hooam to-neet.' Shoo went further, and met a stick, an' said to't stick, ' Prethee, stick, pay t' dog, t' dog waint boite t' pig, t' pig waint goo o'er t' brig.' [Repeat as before.] Shoo went a bit further, and met wi' a hatchet, and said, 'Prethee, hatchet, chop t' stick.' [Repeat as before.] Then shoo met a foire, and said, ' Prethee, foire, burn t' hatchet.' [Repeat as before.] Then shoo met wi' watter, and said, 'Prethee, watter, sleek t' foire.' [As before.] Then shoo met wi' a ox, an' said, 'Prethee, ox, drink t' watter.' [As before.] Then shoo met a butcher, and said to him, Prethee, butcher, kill t' ox.' [As before.] Then shoo met wi' a rope, an' said to t' rope, ' Prethee, rope, hang t' butcher.' [As before.] T' butcher thowt that instead o' bein' hanged he'd kill t' ox, and t' ox thowt that instead o' bein' killed he'd drink t' watter. [And so on.] And so t' owd woman got hooam that neet.

A more modern and somewhat different version of this story will be found in Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes of England, ed. 1886, p. 292. The story itself is taken from an ancient hymn in Sepher Haggadah, fol. 23, a translation of which is given by Mr. Halliwell on p. 288. 'The original' says Mr. Halliwell, ' is in the Chaldee language, and it may be mentioned that a very fine Hebrew manuscript of the fable, with illuminations, is in the possession of George Otter, Esq., of Hackney.' Mr. Halliwell gives the interpretation of the story on p. 291.

I could wish that the two first specimens of dialect had been more elegant, or had presented a more pleasing picture of English life and manners. They are, however, as good and characteristic as anything I could find in Bywater's book. If people in Sheffield had been free from the idea that acquaintance with a provincial dialect is a thing to be ashamed of, better specimens might have been available, and more attention would have been given to most interesting remains of early language. How strongly marked the dialect must have been less than fifty years ago may be learnt from a statement made by an old cutler to a friend of mine. The cutler came, when a boy, from a village in Mid-Derbyshire to live at Crookes in the parish of Sheffield. He says that he lived there many months before he could converse with people whose dialect differed so essentially from his own.

The absence of p or th in the definite article is remarkable in the Sheffield dialect. Thus people say 'he went intot house' for 'he went into the house,' the t affixed to the word 'into' exactly representing the sound of the article. The most remarkable feature in the dialect is the predominance which the vowel a holds over the other vowels. Thus people say verra for 'very,' Tomma for 'Tommy,' ma for 'me,' the a being short as in the Latin penna. Again we have thah for 'thou,' hahse for 'house,' thahsand for 'thousand,' &c.


  1. An error, or misprint for waddling.
  2. A ' pig-tail,' or queue for a wig.