English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Planning a trip to Huddersfield the other day, I happened across the nearby villages of Linthwaite (pronounced lin-fit) and Slaithwaite (pronounced slow-it, or slaw-it depending who you ask). Thinking this strange I looked into the matter and turned up Seathwaite (pronounced sea-wait), and also Bassenthwaite and Hawthornthwaite, pronounced as you would expect. I have been unable to turn up any guide as to how Haverthwaite, Hampsthwaite or Thornthwaite are pronounced.

I realise that the pronunication of place names surpasseth all understanding, but my question is, are the three odd pronounciations the remains of an older form? If so, how came their names to be spelt that way? And if not, is there any reason those particular names are corrupted and not others?

I suspect it isn't just a matter of local accent as Seathwaite is quite a way from Slaithwaite and Linthwaite (which are quite close together). Is there perhaps an isogloss for this?

share|improve this question
Are questions about Yorkshire on-topic in English Language & Usage? – TimLymington Aug 31 '12 at 13:24
I spent my teenage years and 20s in Dewsbury and Wakefield, just down the road from Huddersfield. As I understand it, the -it pronunciation is Yorkshire, and the -wait pronunciation is Lancashire/Cumbria. I admit though, I haven't done any academic research into it. – Roaring Fish Aug 31 '12 at 13:36
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The OED says that thwaite is from

Old Norse þveit, þveiti a piece of land, a paddock.

According to this article on the pronunciation of Old Norse, þveit would have been pronounced [θvεɪt]. The change from [θv] to [θw] is a natural articulatory simplification, and it looks as if the Great Vowel Shift would have changed [εɪ] to [eɪ].

Another pronunciation of —thwaite is [θεt]. William Dickinson's 1829 A glossary of the words and phrases of Cumberland, page viii, says:

Seathwaite in Borrowdale is pronounced as Sea-thwaite or -whate, while Seathwaite on the Duddon is Seäthet—the e and a in sea being distinct. Calthwaite near Penrith, and Scothwaite near Ireby, are both pronounced as o long—Cothet and Scothet.

I think this makes it very implausible that there was an older pronunciation shared by Cumbria and Yorkshire other than [θwεɪt] or [θweɪt] (what else could it have been, given that we need to explain the variety of modern forms?), but I suppose it's possible that the Yorkshire group of pronunciations ending in [ɪt] indicate the former existence of a local pronunciation like [θwɪt]. But this is just a guess. The question doesn't seem to have been studied.

share|improve this answer

Just to add to Gareth's answer my dad knows the Borrowdale locals very well since the 50's. I even had a pronunciation lesson off one of them in the back bar at Rosthwaite, forgotten his name but he set up charges in quarries and had lots of pet snakes! These are the ones I remember.

  • Seä-thet
  • Sty-an-thet or Styn-thet
  • Ros-thet


  • Sawfell not Scarfell
share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.