The Leeds dialect is a curious thing. Words that are used only a few miles up the road have no meaning whatsoever to a Loiner’s ear. For example, I had a friend from Bradford who told me, while we were walking back to her house after a night out, that we’d have to go down the ‘snicket’. I had no idea what she meant until I realised she was referring to the ‘ginnel’, which to those who speak Proper English, would have been the alleyway.
But here’s the thing: the very idea of a Leeds dialect is a ‘complete nonsense’. It’s just a mix of different Yorkshire dialects, according to Clive Upton, Professor of English Language at the University of Leeds.
‘Essentially, it’s an Anglian dialect handed down by the Angles, who settled in the north and north east,’ says the professor, who specialises in dialectology and sociolinguistics. ‘Dialects are all linked as people have become geographically mobile. Long gone are the days when people lived and died within 15 miles of where they were born.’
That strange syntactical tic of using ‘while’ to mean ‘until’, (for example, six while seven), you always thought belonged to Leeds? You would have heard it as far south as Deptford until the middle of the 20th century, says the prof.
Melvyn Bragg’s book The Adventure of English mentions Leeds and its dialectical connections to Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales, rather than to South Yorkshire, where, as anyone who’s been to Barnsley will know, they speak a foreign language anyway.
So, here, in no particular order, is a by-no-means exhaustive list of words and phrases - unique or not - that you might hear when you're out and about in Leeds.
Definition: To play – apparently this is only heard in South Leeds.
Definition: To go into, as in ‘bob into the pub’.
Definition: To hit something or, you know, someone.
Definition: A half and given how much beer Leeds drinks, it's probably only ever used when ordering a half-pint.
Definition: To collect firewood; it can also be used as a fond term for an idiot or fool.
Definition: A tongue-tying way of saying 'mind you'.
Definition: Those lovely loose bits of batter in your fish and chips.
Definition: To kid or trick someone.
Definition: This is pronounced as ‘tuffet’ and means stool or footstool.
Definition: Sweets. Heard any youngsters using this lately?
Definition: A face full of (way too much) make-up, as in ‘she’s all clarted’.
Definition: Knackered and usually preceded with 'fair'.
Definition: Tired or broken – you might hear this used by a glum-looking physio at Elland Road when Antenucci comes a cropper.
Know any other essential Leeds dialect to add to our list?
Read about Leeds' peculiar pub names on Time Out Leeds.