February 10, 2017

Snicket - or is it?

Compass Passage, Shrewsbury
Back when I was a young Anorak there was a short cut from our street to the centre of my village. It was a paved gap between two sets of houses and we always referred to it as "the snicket". I grew up in North Yorkshire, close to the east coast, but the word was my mother's, and she came from West Yorkshire; altogether closer to the spine of England. According to my recent research, snicket is actually a north western word, originating from the Lake District.

My part of the world is apparently more likely to call such an alleyway a ginnel*, although it's not a word I heard until I moved to South Yorkshire. A friend who now lives in Sheffield (South Yorkshire) but is originally from Derbyshire, calls them jennels, which is clearly from the same source.
* Pronounced like give, not like gin.

I currently live in the East Midlands where, I'm reliably informed by the OED, that the term for a passage between houses is a twitchel. Its earliest recorded use was from the 15th century in Nottingham, and it's believed to be a variant of the Old English word twichen, which was used in Anglo Saxon charters for a place where two roads met.

Back up north in Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne they call them chares, and evidence comes from a 13th century map of Gateshead that included the street Potter's Chare. However, if you head south to Oxfordshire you'll find the obviously related words tchure, chure and chewer. They're all probably corruptions of the Old English cierr, meaning turning.

And that brings us to Scotland, where they spoke a completely different language for many years and still sound as if they do in some parts of the country. Way up there alleyways are called wynds - pronounced like whined - and the origin might be similar to that of the word wind (as in to twist). Incidentally, narrow boat people talk about 'winding' when they turn a boat around. It's pronounced like the North Wind (doth blow, and we shall have snow, etc) and it takes a bit of getting used to when you first hear it regularly. But that's yet another glory of the English language!

Research from: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2014/10/regional-words-alleyway/

This has been a Five on Friday post.


  1. I love our language and all it's deviations. Thank you for the snicket tour, all the names are great. B x

  2. I'm a southerner and had only heard of Ginnel (courtesy of Coronation St.) and Wynd. Thanks for enlightening us.

  3. Great post, I love all the regional variations. I was brought up in N E Derbyshire. The passages between the terraced houses where my grandma and aunts lived were always called Jennels:)

  4. So many interesting different words! I had known no one of them before...(but I like to learn news)

  5. Ginned is the word I'm most familiar with, so neat to read all the other names. I'm visiting from Five on Friday

  6. Well I've learned five or more new words here today. I don't know if I like to say snicket more or twitchel. Thanks for your research.

  7. I cast my vote for snicket. I love that word. I'm going to tell my friends we're going out to look for a snicket. We don't really have those where I live, but I'll at least get their attention.

  8. As always an interesting post. The only one I've heard of is snicket.

  9. Of all of these words, twitchel is my favourite. What a great sound it has. And I wonder if walking through this small passageway could be called twitching or maybe twitcheling. Word play is so much fun!

  10. Great post. I think there are some twittens in Hastings though I'm not 100% exactly what they are. 😊

  11. The origin of these words is fascinating and how they have developed in different parts of the country. Thanks for introducing me to two new ones, Chare and Wynd.

  12. I know that you will all know of it, but I just love to see the name written of one of York's little streets :- Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate.


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