A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Sheffield/Dialectal Work

A glossary of words used in the neighbourhood of Sheffield by Sidney Addy

The Geographical or Ethnological Position of Sheffield as regards Dialect


The Rev. Joseph Hunter, F.S.A., well known as the author of a history of the parish and district of Sheffield generally known as Hunter's Hallamshire, and of a topographical history of the parishes comprised in the Deanery of Doncaster, published in 1829 The Hallamshire Glossary. Of this work he says in the preface (p. xxi):—'The present collection, gathered in the district called Hallamshire, on the southern boundary of that great county, was originally intended for insertion in a volume of topography.' By this he means his history of Hallamshire before referred to.[1] This distinguished antiquary was born in Sheffield in 1783. His Hallamshire was published in 1819, the preface being dated from Bath. He had left the Sheffield district long before the publication of his glossary.[2] He projected a second edition of his glossary, but this he never published. The manuscript, however, has been used for the purpose of compiling this work, and it will be referred to more particularly hereafter.

It appears that Hunter had intended to publish a glossary in 1821, for Add. MS. 24539 in the British Museum has the following title page written by him : 'An Alphabetical Catalogue of uncommon words and forms of expression found in the vernacular language of Hallamshire, most of which are relics of the old language of Britain, 1821.' In this manuscript he makes the following remarks:—

  • 'I believe there is not a word in the following list I have not myself heard within the limits of Hallamshire between 1790 and 1810.
  • 'Mr. Wilson of Broomhead made a catalogue of words used in his neighbourhood, much less numerous than this.
  • 'I have also made use of three catalogues of Northern words to assist in recalling what I have heard, viz.:—
  • 'The list of Halifax words in Watson's History of that town.
  • 'The list of words used in the mountainous parts of Yorkshire, near Westmorland, communicated by Dr. Willson to the Society of Antiquaries, and published by them in the 17th volume of the Archæologia.
  • 'The Glossary to Collier's View of the Dialect of Lancashire.
  • 'I have reason to think that there are few words or phrases omitted that demanded insertion in such a catalogue.[3] I have noted the time when these words were in use.
  • 'The Madras and Lancasterian schools will make mighty havock among the relics of our primitive tongue.
  • 'It is to be observed that few, if any, are peculiar to this district; and many are not even peculiar to the North of England. There are a few which are mere vulgarisms. Ray's List of North Country words I have not seen while compiling this catalogue, but I have Thoresby's Supplement to this list. (Ray's Philosophical Letters, p. 321.) If this list be compared with Thoresby's, it will show what a change in Dialect a century has produced.
  • 'In considering such a list as this, attention should be paid to the classes of words of which it consists, that we may see to what objects or actions or qualities the old words have adhered.
  • 'In preparing such a list care must be taken to distinguish the true archaism from what is a mere vulgarism, but care must also be taken not to dismiss as a vulgarism what in truth is an archaism. See the word Coyle.
  • 'The difference between an archaism and a vulgarism may be illustrated from the word overplush, which is clearly a corruption made by Ignorance and Vulgarity.
  • 'Some are omitted because they are common elsewhere, but many are inserted which can by no means be considered as peculiar.
  • 'I think we have only one word which is a decided Celtic word and that, pudoris causa, I omit.'

This statement, which does not appear in the printed glossary, is interesting as showing a part, at least, of the method of compilation which Hunter pursued, and as showing the materials which he used. The Mr. Wilson who 'made a catalogue of words used in his neighbourhood much less numerous than' Hunter's own glossary was John Wilson, Esq., of Broomhead Hall, in Bradfield. He was born in 1719 and he died in 1783, the year of Hunter's birth. He made, says Hunter, 'considerable proficiency in classical studies,' and though he published little he was a most diligent collector of books and of manuscript evidence relating to his own district. Bradfield is, above all the villages or hamlets comprised within this glossary, the place where old words, traditions, and customs yet linger, and it is matter for regret that Mr. Wilson did not make his ' catalogue of words' larger. This uplandish village would be the last place in the world to be invaded by those 'Madras and Lancasterian schools,' which Hunter, with an evident vein of humour, feared would make such 'mighty havoc among the relics of our primitive tongue.'[4]

In his unpublished second edition, after defining the word seeley, Hunter says:—'This I have seen in a small list of Hallamshire words made a century ago.' And elsewhere he speaks of a small list of Hallamshire words made about 1750. In his printed work he nowhere mentions Wilson's list, and it is doubtful whether the 'small list of Hallamshire words' is the same document as Mr. Wilson's 'catalogue of words.'

Some years ago I began to make notes of dialectal or obsolete words found in the neighbourhood of Sheffield. It was far from my intention to 'make a book,' for, as Hunter had explored the field, I did not imagine that so many words of interest remained to be recorded. All that was done was to enter in a small memorandum book any curious word which came under my notice. Insensibly the collection began to grow large, and in the end it was written in three thick quarto volumes containing altogether 1,350 pages, one word, and sometimes two or three, being written on each page. The collection was afterwards from time to time increased by writing in other archaic and dialectal words. At this stage I found on examining the reports of the English Dialect Society that Mr. R. E. Leader, B.A., of Sheffield, had engaged to publish for the Society a glossary of the dialect of this district. When I found that such was the case, I consulted him on the subject, and also wrote to Mr. Nodal, the secretary of the Society. It appeared that Mr. Leader had made some collections for a glossary, but that, owing to the exigencies of professional work, he had abandoned his scheme. The work to be done was, indeed, much larger than I expected to find it. I found my collection increasing month by month, so that at length my manuscript began to resemble the old play—

Scriptus et in tergo nee dum finitus Orestes.

The work, however, was neither arduous nor unpleasant. It has been a source of amusement on winter evenings to me and to members of my family. When he heard of the progress which had been made, Mr. Leader generously and at once placed at my disposal the collection which he had got together. He had procured from the British Museum a transcript of the manuscript of Hunter's intended second edition, and using this, as well as Hunter's printed glossary, for a basis, he began, in 1874, to publish a preliminary attempt in the Local Notes and Queries, which were then printed once a week in the columns of the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent It was hoped that by this means others would be induced to contribute words. But this hope can hardly be said to have been realized, for it is evident that the words added in this way were very few. It was not until I had got together the three volumes above mentioned that I began to incorporate the work of others who have gone before me, and my method of doing so was as follows. The unpublished collection left by Hunter was first consulted. It was found to contain a considerable number of words or illustrative matter which had not appeared in the printed edition. Both the published and the unpublished collection contain matter which was not suitable to a work of this kind. On comparing the word-lists with two of the smaller dictionaries of standard English, it was found that many of the words, as might be easily perceived, were in general use and well known in literature. Such words, it is needless to say, have not been retained here, but I am sensible that, notwithstanding all my care, a few of the words here included may be objected to on that score. Moreover, it was Hunter's practice, whenever he found a word which pleased him, to write a pretty little sermon about it, adorning the page with profuse extracts from Shakespeare, Milton, Horace, &c. It was obviously undesirable, as Mr. Leader, as well as Mr. Nodal, perceived, to reprint Hunter's little work, either with or without his manuscript additions, in toto, and it would have been equally undesirable to make that work in any way the ground-plan of the present glossary. But there are some words recorded by Hunter which I could not ascertain by inquiry to be now in use in the defined district. These have all been incorporated into this work, those which are taken from the printed glossary being distinguished by the letter * H,' and those taken from the unpublished manuscript by the mark 'Hunter's MS.' The etymology which Hunter gave to his words has not been retained, but I have been very careful not to omit bits of 'local information,' and extracts from old wills and documents with which the historian of Hallamshire was peculiarly conversant. If these are not, in every case, of direct use to the philologist, I feel that this work would have been less complete and satisfactory than it is had I omitted them. In brief, what has been done with Hunter's work has been to incorporate such dialectal or obsolete words as were not contained in my own collection, or could not be ascertained by me to be now in use. The same treatment, mutatis mutandis, has been applied to Mr. Leader's collection. Obviously my own collection contained words and phrases which had been recorded by Mr. Leader as well as by Hunter, but where that was not the case words and sentences borrowed from Mr. Leader's collection have been distinguished by the letter 'L.' A few of the words marked 'L' are, however, the contributions of a gentleman, now well known as a scholar and philologist, who wrote in the Local Notes and Queries above-named by the assumed name of 'Leofric.' These words are all valuable, and I only wish that there had been more of them. I hope that I do not divulge a secret when I mention the name of Mr. Henry Bradley as the writer who bore this assumed name. The Rev. William Doig, formerly a master in the Sheffield Grammar School, projected, whilst living in Sheffield, a glossary of words used in this district, and his manuscript has been put into my hands. He had, however, made but little progress with his work when he left the district. About half a dozen words have been obtained from this source. Mr. Doig had done little more than make a summary of Hunter's glossary, with the intention doubtless of afterwards adding other words.

It will be seen, however, that this glossary owes little to the collections of any previous worker in the same field. It is essentially the fruit of my own observation and research.

As the work progressed fresh words were constantly being found, and my own knowledge of the subject increasing. Hence it will be seen that some of the best words are thrown into the Addenda, and that I have there modified, enlarged, or corrected some of the opinions and statements given in the glossary. Work of this kind is necessarily progressive, and before judgment is passed upon any of the statements or opinions expressed herein, the Addenda should be consulted.


  1. *At p. xxv he tells us that 'Ray names only six words of which he says that they may be heard at Sheffield and in its neighbourhood. Not one of them now remains. The words are these: Carsick, the kennel; chaundler, a candlestick; free-lege, privilege, immunities; insense, to inform; napkin, pocket-handkerchief; neck-a-bout, any woman's neck-linen. Perhaps insense may sometimes be heard.'
  2. In the progress of the present work it became evident to me that Hunter's collection of words was largely written by him from memory whilst living at Bath, or at all events at a distance from Sheffield.
  3. A glance at the pages of the present work, or a comparison of it with Hunter's glossary, will show how erroneous this opinion was.
  4. In a paper on the West Somerset dialect, read before the Philological Society, Mr. F. T. Elworthy is reported to have said that 'the Board Schools had not tended to destroy the dialect, but to develope it!' (Athenceum, March 10th, 1888, p. 312.) In Sheffield the 'primitive tongue' is in little danger from this source.