Lexical variation

happen she were wearing a mask

The use of happen here meaning ‘perhaps’ or ‘maybe’ is an example of lexical variation — differences in vocabulary. It probably locates the speaker somewhere in an area centred on the Pennines: Yorkshire or Lancashire or adjacent areas of the East Midlands. The popular image of dialect speech tends to focus almost exclusively on dialect vocabulary and although there was at one time greater regional variation in vocabulary across the UK, there remains a great deal of lexical diversity. This is demonstrated, for instance, by the variety of words used for bread roll in different parts of the country. If you live in Lancashire you might buy a barm cake, whilst people from Leeds would ask for a bread cake. At a baker’s in Derby you might be offered a cob and on a visit to Coventry you might eat a batch, although each of these words refers pretty much to the same thing.

The Word Map

Observing Lexical Variation

All languages change over time and vary according to place and social setting. We can observe lexical variation - differences in words and phrases - by comparing the way English is spoken in different places and among different social groups. Despite the belief that dialect words are no longer very widely used, there remains a great deal of lexical diversity in the UK. This is demonstrated, for instance, by the variety of words used for 'bread roll' in different parts of the country. If you live in Lancashire you might buy a barm cake, whilst people over The Pennines in Leeds would probably ask for a bread cake. At a baker’s in Derby you might be offered a cob and on a visit to Coventry you might eat a batch, although each of these words refers pretty much to the same item.

Listen to these extracts of speakers using regionally specific vocabulary:

meak, didle & crome:

another skill, uh, when we used to clean the dykes out all by hand with the old meak and the old didle and crome — that‘s all lugging

Listen to meak, didle, chrome audio clip Listen To meak Audio clip

Agriculture and traditional industry, such as mining, once provided the English language with a rich stock of dialect vocabulary. Farming, for instance, is by its nature dictated by the local landscape and agricultural practice differs accordingly across the country. Until relatively recently, local breeds of livestock and traditional farm practices spawned their own localised vocabulary, while hand-held implements for manual labour were generally locally made and thus given different names in different parts of the country. Due to the widespread mechanisation of farms and automation of heavy industry, many of these words are now no longer as widely used, as either the objects to which they refer have become obsolete or the practice has become an anachronism. Like the implements themselves, the words have become collectors' items or museum pieces, but there remains a small number of people working in traditional industries or in rural communities, for whom these words remain part of daily vocabulary.

OED entry:

meak: Eng. regional (chiefly E. Anglian) implement with a long handle and crooked iron or blade used to pull up or cut down peas, bracken, reeds, etc. Also noted in SED fieldwork in Garboldisham, Norfolk.

didle: (local) sharp triangular spade, used for clearing out ditches. EDD cites usage in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex and also noted in SED fieldwork in Gooderstone, Norfolk.

crome: (local) hook or crook; esp. a stick with a hook at the end of it to draw weeds out of ditches. EDD cites usage in Norfolk and Essex and noted in SED fieldwork in several sites across East Anglia.

Listen to the following recordings featured on this site for other examples of agricultural dialect vocabulary: Wearhead, Read, Kniveton, Hilton, Warmington, North Elmham, Portesham, Peter Tavy, East Harting, Stannington, Melksham, Bleanish Island, Stonehaven and Dalmellington. Visit the Collect Britain site for further examples in recordings from across England.


but what, what do you remember playing as a child – as a child – hmm – eh, skipping ropes - oh yes – eh, peevers.

Listen to Peevers audio clip Listen To peevers Audio Clip

Traditional children‘s games and songs are a rich source of lexical variety, as the playground is full of young speakers who spend a great deal of time together and therefore develop a common vocabulary. These groups often perpetuate the names and phrases used in games passed down several generations. Even the simplest game of chase has a number of different names according to where you are in the UK – it, tig, tag or tiggy. ‘Truce terms’ – the practice of saying a word or phrase while crossing your fingers to indicate you are briefly withdrawing from a game – also have a number of regional alternatives including barley, scribs, fainites, pax, skinchies, cross keys and full stop.

OED entry

peever: (Scotland) stone, piece of pottery, etc., used in the game of hopscotch; also the game of hopscotch itself (freq. in pl., with sing. concord). EDD cites usage throughout Scotland and research by Peter and Iona Opie in the 1950s and 1960s unearthed an enormous range of regional names for hopscotch, including peevers, pallie, beds, beddy, hoppy-beds, hecky, hitchy-bay, hitchy-dabber and hitchy-pot. Listen to the recordings featured on this site in Leeds and Dalmellington for other examples of children‘s games.

Visit the Collect Britain site for further examples in the recordings from Thornhill, Great Dalby and Worsthorne.


I remember my nain – when I was about four – she couldn‘t speak a worl, word of English, always Welsh, Welsh, Welsh

Listen to nain audio clip

Kinship terms and words of endearment for members of the family still show a good deal of regional variation within the UK. The words we use when addressing our parents and grandparents vary both regionally and socially, as demonstrated by the use of mam for mother in Wales and northern England, mom in the Midlands and mum in the south, with mother often used by members of the upper middle classes everywhere. Interestingly the word nanny is used by most of us to indicate a female grandparent, but in upper middle class circles it might refer to a live-in child carer.

OED entry

nain: (Welsh English - north) grandmother. SED fieldwork noted variants including ganny, grammer, grammy, gran, grandma, grandmam, grandmayer, grandmom, grandmum, granny, nan, nana and nanny.

Listen to the following recordings featured on this site for other examples of regional terms for members of the family: Elmham, Byker, Stannington, Leeds, Nottingham, Danesford and Maerdy.

Visit the Collect Britain site for further examples of local words for ‘grandmother’ in the recordings from Sunderland, Hartlepool, Carlisle, Sale, Leeds, Cudworth, Stoke-on-Trent, Birmingham and Great Malvern


and we‘d to get up and go down in – in wintertime – go down into the mistall we called it

Listen to mistall audio clip Listen To mistall audio clip

Agriculture and traditional industry, such as mining, once provided the English language with a rich stock of dialect vocabulary. Until relatively recently farm buildings were made of local construction materials and designed to suit local farm practice. They were thus given different names in different parts of the country. Due to the widespread adoption of modern farming methods, many of these buildings are now obsolete and have been replaced by more standard constructions, although in rural communities many of the original words are still applied to their modern counterparts.

mistall: stable or shed for cattle. EDD cites usage in Cumberland, Yorkshire and Lancashire and SED fieldwork noted variants across England including beast-house, byre, cattle-shed, cow-house, cow-hovel, cow-pen, cowshed, cow-stable, cow-stall, lathe, mistall, neat-house, shippon, shuppen and skeeling.

Listen to the longer recording featured on this site in Stannington for other examples of local words for ‘cowshed’.

Visit the Collect Britain site for further examples in the recordings from Haltwhistle, Allendale, Brigham, Great Strickland, Heptonstall, Marshside, Farndon, Kilkhampton, Walsden, Fulstone, Waterfoot and Barrow-in-Furness.


Holy Island

they were originally two farms, I think - one, ours, is St Coombes farm, the other one's Beblow Farm, but my granda had both of them

Northumberland so down below it, you know, as you're ganning up the bank - gan over the little bridge, the church is on the right - there's a house stands there, or is it two houses, is that two cottages
grew up in Farringdon, ehm, had a canny good life in Farringdon
Cockfield, Durham
and I lived in a small place called Cockfield Station, which was right on the fell between two village, sort of a mile between two large villages
Gilsland, Cumbria
I, uh, I did used to like to see these nice, little, black-faced ewe lambs - they were bonny bit things
I'll be all right, you know - to pop with them
when I was younger, my mam always done the cooking, I think
then you were too bloody tired to walk home, crying and girning, mother and dad quite happy
uhm, uh, yes, I don't think we, I don't remember that we ever had it cut right thin to be honest
Boosbeck, Redcar & Cleveland
I mean, I had eight bairns -I just, a hundred pounds was a lot of money then
Malton, North Yorkshire
we were working round there not so long since
Bedale, North Yorkshire
yeah, I think it was just somewhat that came to me at the time and there's no way I'd've made a career out of it
Appleton Roebuck, North Yorkshire
and, uh, we used to go down to the beck in dry weather and, uh, cart the beck in a p, uh, the water from the beck in a peggy-tub
I wouldn't like to be the Queen or aught, cause you can't breathe without it being written in the newspapers
Walsden, West Yorkshire
and we'd to get up and go down in, in wintertime, go down into the mistall we called it - they call it shippon, but we called it the mistall
South Elmsall, West Yorkshire
they were stockpiling up all over the place, you could see what were going on - still, happen it were an ego thing, I think, like
Featherstone, West Yorkshire
at the end of the day, you, you, not just you suff, you're not just putting yoursen through a bit of a torture, you're putting everybody that's connected with you through it, really
working class lass, whose parents, really, were trying to get me into a middle calss lifestyle
as I put it, 'early lates' which is 7am while 8pm and you get an hour's lunch, and then there's what they call, uhm, 'late shift', which is 9.15am while 10.15pm - 22.15
Fleetwood, Lancashire
they had a, a big sweater on top of those, uh, the gansey, what they call the fisherman's gansey - they were, they, they were really think and heavy
Colne, Lancashire
they realised that they'd done wrong, so they give o'er doing it wrong, don't they
there's all your bills before you even start, before you can get your shopping, because otherwise you'll have naught on to cook it in or any light to sit in
Accrington, Lancashire
no, well, we just had, generally we had the same every week, you know - Monday it were cold meat, you know, everybody has cold meat at Monday haven't they, but, uh, you know, we, we weren't clammed or aught like that
it was, uh, a quasi-semi, uhm, with what they used to call a ginnel that divides the houses - that you can go through from the front to the back
St Helens
at half past ten and the bell would ring, and that was snap time, so you got your snap and at twe, at five to eleven you were back again till half past two
so I was made up going back into the staff room, something that I'd, that I re, really, eh, hallowed ground when I was a kid - never ever went inside the staff room - so it was a great feeling
Sale, Greater Manchester
my nana and grandad live in Wythenshawe, ehm, and we're really close to them, so we used to go and visit them a lot Warrington and, uh, a local farmer had this key, you see, so any road they did get it and they went into it and they, they got this, uhm, smallholding
you know, my nan was a typical 'handbag woman'
Grayingham, Lincolnshire
the garth-man used to suckle the calves before breakfast and we used to get our breakfast and then go out onto the A15 side and take about twenty, twenty-five cows and tent those and letting them eat, eat on the roadside
Lusby, Lincolnshire
and I didn't like flitting, because sometimes we had to sleep on the floor till they got the beds all put together
New Houghton, Derbyshire
they've killed all the wildlife in the fields round here - there's no pewits, there's no skylarks, the thrushes has nearly all gone now
Coplow Dale, Derbyshire
quarter of an hour out of one load and pinched quarter of an hour out of the other and made usselves some bread and jam sandwiches and had us tea
Kimberley, Nottinghamshire
Monday morning we had to start work at half past seven, because that was the busiest day - folks wanted the money
and then you used to get Bulwell Wakes, which was a marvellous - uh, everything was driven by steam then
Swadlincote, Derbyshire
and my dad used to have to take that and line the saggars with it and put the ware on it and carry it into the kill and then the kill was sealed up and fired
Stanton upon Hine Heath, Shropshire
he had to hold it as he could see where he was clenching the nails and that, you know Cleehill, Shropshire cause mother made a lot of home, uh, made jam - not, not like this boughten tack - proper home-made jam, ah, it was lovely
Wolverhampton more up-to-date
put it that way, but give me the old 'hampton any time, ah
so I got this drum providing I did our kid's, uh, coal round, but I had to do my own coal round as well, so I was going four times a month
Redditch, Worcestershire
the four of us - my mom, my dad, myself and my brother
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire
when you come down in the morning in the winter there was still a bit of fire there - if you, if you tiddled it a little bit and, and put the morning wood in, you'd soon get it going again
Winchcombe, Gloucestershire
uh, the mop came the first Saturday before the tenth of October and the Saturday after the tenth of October
and when the apples were in season we used to go there scrogging at these apples
Winstone, Gloucestershire
and the carter'd have three more horses ready to go on, he would take them of; then he'd take them home, take their collars off, take all their harness off and, uh, put them in the stable and brush their sh, shoulders and put the collars on the s, tallet steps to dry
Framilode, Gloucestershire
and I noticed on the television the other day there was a chap on there - down at, I think, he was on The Somerset Levels - he was bobbing and patting, but I, to be honest I think he was a bit of a buller, I don't know
people was hurt, people was took to hospital and I got whackered there
Selworthy, Somerset
and my grandfer, he worked on the farm at, uh, just up there at Lynch
Rosudgeon, Cornwall
I can see my father now, he and the workmen, having, well we called them evils, but they're forks, digging them up and throwing them out in ranks as they call it and then, we children had to come along with baskets and, uh, pick them up, sort them out and put them in bags
Lyng, Norfolk
I walk down here with my dog - over Christmas you see the odd cruiser on the staithe, with all the trimmings up - so it's, it's nice, and I think, uh, people in general respect The Broads
Mulbarton, Norfolk
he used to go round, doing all the cutting in the woods, making hurdles and broaches and pea-sticks - all that sort of thing Bacton, Suffolk Mondays was wash-day and, uhm, dad had to bring the faggots up to heat the copper, because we had a big, brick copper with a wooden lid
Great Bradley, Suffolk
chaps, you know, they just travelled round the village from one farm to the other, uhm, haps they'd have two or three years at one and something upset them and, uh, they'd go to the next farmer and get a job and, uh, they'd travel all round the district, haps the next village as well
Soham, Cambridgeshire
that was never sandwiches, that was never lunchtime, it was always docky time
Houghton Regis, Bedfordshire
my father was, uh, the local snob at the village - boot-maker, see
uh, the way markets are regulated you can only pass your, uhm, license on to your next of kin, so being a governor on a stall is very much like being a member of The Royal Family
normally I just go s, either stay around my area, go to my aunt, nans, or go swimming or bowling or cinema or something like that
Harrow School
it was quite difficult, because tosh means 'bath' and, and flicks is 'lights out' and, and the only one that I can actually think of off the top of my head is bluer, which is our blue blazer that we wear
uh, and we work early morning shifts and late shifts, uh, that end carrying cargo of cars, passengers, lorries, motorbikes, uh, anything that comes acrost, you know
Murston, Kent
the fires used to have, uh, coke and you'd get the clinkers and there was different things in that rubbish that, when it came to Murston, that was sieved out to use to, some ways towards brick-making
and, uh, he was the first one I've seen make a wilk-pot
Newport, Isle of Wight
where the rest of the summer was spent chopping them up into little firewood sticks, lighting sticks, uh, always known as nicky wood - nicky wood because they were tied up into nickies - a nicky was a little bundle like that


I remember my nain - when I was about four, she couldn't speak a worl, word of English
it's very, very Welsh, very nutritious and on a cold winter's morning, or cold winter's day, or cold winter's night, the cawl, I mean, oh, it was wonderful
uh, most of my uncles worked there, my grandfer'd worked there and it seemed a logical thing to do
my father was 'Daddy Lawes' but my mother was 'Bopa Lawes' and that's how they were known until the day they died


and when I was peerie, before I was, eh, allowed to go out, then we stood in the windows, because folk had torches, they'd blinkies
it's great just to be able to have a blether and a drink with team-mates and opponents after, after the game
just anything, you did anything - worked the horse if you was required or p, p, pulled neeps
no I couldnae wait to hear a bell at the end of the day tae get hame again
just go intae the shops, look around, make sure naebody's watching
he says you see him away there with his big dog, the fishing basket o'er the shoulder and twa fishing rods so he's going tae hae a good twenty-four hours
New Cumnock
it didnae look like peat or smell like peat; it just, just kind of sludge, ken, it wasnae flapping about like semi-liquid; it was stationary - the, this'd mebbe be an hour or two mebbe after the initial inrush so everything was stationary
eh, some people called it peevers but these things, these things had a, what would I say, kind of season
it was a, a gradual process of assimilation really, because, uh, yin farmer would get a tractor and then the next yin would get a wee bit bigger tractor

Northern Ireland

I never had been in Belfast, I'm sure mebbe half-a-dozen times in my life at that that stage
he was sitting beside me, he was holding a kind of a candle, a makeshift lantern, course that was for a backlight for the, in case the peelers come
yes, sure, they would've given me a s, a skelp and a smack, but at the same time, you know, I was allowed to, you know, have a bit of freedom, so I was
wee silly things that people take for granted I would need assistance with
Bleanish Island
and rice I remember - plenty of rice - then we had some potatoes and vegetables, which was good, and one, uh, didn't appreciate them that time, for, for forbye the old things we're buying now

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