Northside - Andrew Martin translates Yorkshire phrases

"Frame yourself" and other Yorkshire phrases my father taught me

Those small moments revealing regional differences stand out ever more starkly as our society becomes increasingly homogenised. If I'm in a shop in Scotland, for instance, and get given a Scottish fiver in my change, I smile but blanche slightly, thinking: how am I going to get rid of this funny money back home? In fact, I always manage to offload the money first go in England, although any shopkeeper I give it to blanches slightly in turn.

This week I experienced another cross-cultural epiphany while lunching at a West End Garfunkel's. These restaurants, which offer any number of trips to the buffet for the fascinating sum of £3.85, attract a lot of tourists, and as I sat down to eat, I found myself next to a Yorkshire couple who were just preparing to leave. The man already had his coat on, and the woman was saying: "You won't feel the benefit, you know." When I was growing up in Yorkshire, I was always fiercely condemned by my mother if I put my coat on slightly prior to walking out of the door, because I wouldn't "feel the benefit" of wearing it when I got out into the cold weather. I have never heard this sentiment, or this phrase, expressed from southern lips.

When my dad comes down south, he sometimes gives me a jolt by saying to my sons - and indeed sometimes to me - "Frame yourself!", meaning "Get your act together!". As a child I was always being told to "frame myself", or sometimes, in moments of extreme parental exasperation: "Frame!" It's an entirely northern usage. My dad will also say, if the children have been running about, "You're jiggered, aren't you?" - a useful, northern alternative to the slightly risque "knackered".

My grandfather used to say "over yonder", meaning "over there". Or "yonder tree", for instance. I love "yonder", a wistful, dreaming word, but I don't hear it much these days in York. I did, however, hear somebody in York a few months ago say: "I can't thoil it", meaning, "I can't deal with it". That struck me as really hard-core Yorkshire, in that you could never work out what it meant if you came from north London.

It's all pretty thin fare really, though, and nothing compared to what I once heard in a pub in Whitby: a fisherman talking about football in a Yorkshire accent so thick that I, a Yorkshireman, could not understand it. In fact I only knew he was talking about football because of the words "Bryan Robson" - I think he must have been a Middlesbrough supporter - followed by something else that I caught but, I'm afraid, can't print. When I went back to that pub recently, the speaker's picture was on the wall (he was a very distinctive, grizzled bloke), but there was no sign of the man himself. I hope this does not mean he has gone the same way as the dialect he spoke.

This article first appeared in the 12 May 2003 issue of the New Statesman, The British neoconservatives