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I saw this in an article about which British accents sound more intelligent, apparently Yorkshire was once deemed as a place with "trouble at pit".

It probably has an origin related to auto racing, but I would like to know the exact meaning and how to use the phrase.

  • It's probably something to do with coal mining, as Yorkshire is known for its collieries: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Ronan Aug 7 '14 at 16:40
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    When a' wert lad it was a common phrase to use to ask someone if something was wrong (not just in Yorkshire). I'm not sure but I think the phrase was 'overpopularised' by 60/70's UK TV serialised drama which I can't remember the name of where a young boy would run in to his house and proclaim Mam, Da, come quick, there's trouble at pit. The pit does indeed mean a shaft coal mine and the trouble was either an accident or a union/worker/boss based problem. It's use now is idiomatic to mean 'a problem'. If I can remember the TV show I'll add another comment. – Frank Aug 7 '14 at 16:55
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    I think trouble at mill was an even earlier version of the same thing, this time relating to the cotton mills of 19th Century (Northern) England. – Frank Aug 7 '14 at 16:59
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    @frank - such as when the cross-beam goes out of skew on the treddle ? – mgb Aug 7 '14 at 17:04
  • @mgb Sort of ... but I didn't expect a Spanish Inquisition! – Frank Aug 7 '14 at 17:05
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Collected comments to avoid the possibility of deletion and if anyone can remember the TV show feel free to edit it in.

When a' wert lad it was a common phrase to use to ask someone if something was wrong (not just in Yorkshire).

I'm not sure but I think the phrase was 'overpopularised' by a 60/70's UK TV serialised drama (which I can't remember the name of) where a young boy would run in to his house and proclaim Mam, Da, come quick, there's trouble at pit.

The pit does indeed mean a shaft coal mine and the trouble was either an accident or a union/worker/boss based problem. It's use now is idiomatic to mean 'a problem'.

Trouble at mill was an even earlier version of the same thing, this time relating to the cotton mills of 19th Century (Northern) England.

There is no shortage of Americans on this site, so perhaps one or two might chime in with their feelings. It is along similar lines to the Lassie phrase Trouble at the old mill. I'm not sure if it's still in use in the UK amongst the younger generation, but I'm confident trouble at mill will still be widely known as it's the older of the two, trouble at pit might have slipped a bit due to the demise of the coal mining industry.

The only TV series I can think of is the 60's drama Inheritance but that was about cotton mills. I keep thinking of Norman Wisdom but that would not have been a series.

ETA :

Further investigation shows that Inheritance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inheritance_(TV_series) is the TV show that made trouble at mill a 'catchphrase' which could be what prompted Monty Python to parody it a few years later.

I'm now thinking that possibly When the boat comes in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_the_Boat_Comes_In popularised trouble at pit.

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    It's probably worth saying that "at mill" and "at pit" have a very strong glottal stop on "at" in order to include "the" and might even be written with an apostrophe to indicate the omission. (Compare int' mill -- the t is a glottal there too, not a /t/.) – Andrew Leach Aug 7 '14 at 17:42
  • Ah thought 'twere Monty Python tha' popularised this usage. – High Performance Mark Aug 7 '14 at 18:16
  • I have always understood the phrases to be spelled trouble at t'pit /t'mill, but that's quite hard to pronounce. – Tim Lymington Sep 18 '14 at 13:48

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