I have recently moved deep into the county of Somerset, UK. Owing to some atmospheric disturbance caused by a hurricane, the weather was particularly dark and forbidding.

One person said that the weather was dimpsy, a word I have not heard before. Later I checked in with another person who said that it was not dimpsy, but dumpsy.

What do these words mean, and which one (if either) is more correct usage?

  • 1
    Having been brought up in Scotland I am aware of a Gaelic word dreech (never seen it written down) which describes not only a grey, drizzly day of cloudy skies and dismal atmosphere, it also describes a person whose demeanour is reminiscent of such a day.
    – Nigel J
    Oct 19, 2017 at 13:36
  • Hello, E.D. Have you not been able to find anything on the internet? ELU expects a modicum of reasonable research to accompany questions. Oct 19, 2017 at 14:04

3 Answers 3


Coverage of 'dimpsy' and 'dumpsy' and related terms in early reference works

Joseph Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary, volume 1 (1898) has entries for the nouns dimps and dumps, together with references to variously spelled noun and adjective forms ending in -y:

DIMPS, sb. Irel. Som. Dev. Cor. Written dimpse Som. Dev. Also in form demps dempse Dev. {dimps.} Twilight, dusk. Cf. dumps. [Examples:] She were coming home last Friday, just in the dimpes, O'NEILL Idyls (1892) 19; Just as the dempse was coming on, Reports Provinc. (1885) 91; Monthly Mag. (1810) 1. 435; Dev.3 I was out fishing in the dimps this morning. n.Dev. I glimpsed Jan slinge to tha rebeck i' the dimpse, ROCK Jim an' Nell (1867) st. 121. nwDev.1 Twaz gettin' dimps avore us stairted.

Hence Dimpsy, (1) sb. twilight, dusk; (2) adj. dark, dim; (3) phr. dimpsy brown, dull brown, mouse-coloured. [Examples:] (1) Som. You should see them in the dimpsies; that's the time for them (L.K.L.). w.Som.1 Dev. On a night when the dimpsy comed down grey, PHILPOTTS Dartmoor (1895) 41, ed. 1896; 'Tweel be dimpsy avor yu be ready ti go. HEWETT Peas. Sp. (1892). n.Dev. There be pixies in the dimpsey here, CHANTER Witch (1896) xii. s.Dev. (F.W.C.) Cor. I mind the time one evenin' just about the dimpsy, PASMORE Stories (1893) 4. (2)Som. I got home just as it was gitting dimpsey (L.K.L.). Dev. Yu can lef work now, vur tez gitting dimpsy, HEWETT Peas. Sp. (1892). n.Dev. The passage was long and dimpsey, CHANTER Witch (1896) 72. (2) N.I.>1


DUMPS, sb. Dor. Som. Dev. Also written dumpse. Twilight, dusk. See Dimps. [Examples:] w.Dor. ROBERTS Hist. Lyme Regis (1834). Som. Dumps of the yavening, W. & J. Gl. (1873); Under a growing moon, just at the dumps o' night, RAYMOND Sam and Sabina (1894) 151. w.Som.1 Twuz jis lau'ng een dhu duum's luyk {it was just along in the twilight}. Dev. Monthly Mag. (1810) 1. 435.

Hence (1) Dumpsky (or Dumsky), (2) Dumpsy, adj. dark, dusky, gloomy; also used advb. [Examples:] (1) Som. Very common (W.F.R.). (2) Som. I can't see my prayer-book, Sir, in the Church, now it gets so dumpsy (ib.); Shart dumpsy days an' longful nights, PULMAN Sketches (1842) 57. w.Som.1 Not used for early dawn. Jis ce'ns twuz git'een duum'see luyk {just as it was getting towards night}. Ter'ble dumpsy, I zim, can't hardly zee. nw.Dev.1 s.v. Dimps.

It thus appears that the two primary words (dimps and dumps) were essentially interchangeable in meaning but the range of each differed slightly, with dimps recorded in Ireland, Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset, and dumps recorded in Devon, Somerset, and Dorset.

An entry for dimpsy brown appears in William Patterson, A Glossary of Words in Use in the Counties of Antrim and Down (1880):

Dimpsy brown, adj. 'Dimpsy brown, the colour of a mouse's waistcoat,' an undecided colour.

Frederic Elsworthy, The West Somerset Wordbook: A Glossary of Dialectal and Archaic Words and Phrases Used in the West of Somerset and East Devon (1886) seems to treat the two words as variants, although it treats dumpsy as the primary entry:



DUMPSY, adv. 1. Towards night; not used for early dawn. [Example omitted.] 2. adj. Dark, gloomy, cloudy. [Examples omitted.]

Interestingly, Elsworthy lists the corresponding noun forms as dimmet ("Dusk, evening twilight; when the light has become dim") and dumps ("Twilight; same as DIMMET"), with no mention of dimps. Remarking on the derivation of dimmet, Elsworthy writes as follows:

Evidently this is a verbal noun from the old dimmen, to become dim—like dringet, from dringen.

And whenne he drow to þe dore ; þanne dymmed hus eyen / He thrumbled at þe þreshesold: and þrew to þe earthe. Piers Plow[man] VII. 407.

in the Desk o' that Yeaveling, just in tha Dimmet.—Ex. Scold. 1, 166.

Richard Chope, The Dialect of Hartland, Devonshire (1891) supplies an entry for dimps in a glossary that "contains all the provincial words I can think of which do not appear in the West Somerset Word Book, or are given with strikingly different meaning or pronunciation":

DIMPS. Dusk, evening, twilight. "Twaz gitin' dimps avore us stairted." Cf. Dimpsy, Dumpsy.

W. Pengelly, "Verbal Provincialisms of South-Western Devonshire," read at Torrington, July 1875, in Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, volume 7 (1875) records in considerable detail the range of terms that different localities in Devon and Somerset used to signify twilight:

"66. DIMMET" is used about Ashburton ; and "DIMPSE" about Torquay.

[Dr.] Lake ["Notes on the Dialect of Teignmouth"]—"DIMPSE. Twilight.

[Henry] Baird ["Nathan Hogg," "A Witch Story]—"In tha dimpse a nite." i. 58.

[John] Bowring ["Language with Special Reference to the Devonian Dialects" (1866)]—"DIMMET." Trans. Devon Assoc., 1866, p. 29.

[Mrs.] Palmer [Devonshire Courtship]—"DIMMET. Twilight."

[William] Rock [Jim and Nell: A Dramatic Poem in the Dialect of {Barnstaple} North Devon (1867)]—"DIMMETT, DIMPSE. Dimlight; twilight."

"'Tis dimmit all ta me. / I dinnaw wher I'm gwain." p. 10.

"To the rebeck in the dimpse." p. 34.{= To the barn in the Twilight. W.P.}

[Peter] Lock ["An Exmoor Scolding" (1727)]—"DIMMET. The dusk of the evening."

[George] Pulman ["Rustic Sketches" (1871)]—"DUMPSY. Inclined to twilight."

[Wadham] Williams ["Glossary of Provincial Words and Phrases in Use in Somerset" (1873)]—"DUMPS. The twilight. 'Dumps of the yavening.' DUMPSY. Towards twilight.

{"DIMPSE" is used about Looe, where "between the two lights" (daylight nd candle-light) is also applied to the time of evening twilight. W.P.}

[George] Cooke [Vocabulary Containing ... such Provincial Words as are Current among the Common People of Devonshire"]—"DIMMET. The dusk of the evening." "DUMPS. Dimmet or twilight."

As the citation to Peter Lock's "Exmoor Scolding" suggests, forms of the provincialism dimmet seems to have appeared in print significantly earlier than any of the dimps or dumps variants. The word is used in An Exmoor Scolding, ninth edition (1727/1782) in the speech of one of two sisters engaged in a fractious conversation as they sit at their spinning wheels:

Wilmot. How, Hussey! ya confounded Trash! Dist remember whan tha wenst out in tha Vuzzy-Park, in tha Desk o' tha Yeaveling, just in tha Dimmet, wi' tha young Humphry Hosegood,—and how he mullad and soulad about tha? Ha bed tha zet down;—and tha zedst tha wudst net, nif ha dedent blow tha doen. Zo ha blow'd, and down tha valst. Who shud be hard by (vor 'twas in tha Dimmet) bet tha Square's Bealy,—and vorewey ha cry'd out that oll Windvalls belongad to's Measter. Wi' tha zame tha splettest away—down the Pennet—hilter skilyet—as if tha Dowl had ha' be' in the Heels o' tha.

The associated "Vocabulary or Glossary, Explaining the most difficult Words in the foregoing Dialogues" has this entry:

The Dimmet, the Dusk of the Evening.

The glossary may have been a later addition to the "Scolding." It appears (with the same entry for dimmet) in "An Exmoor Vocabulary" in The Gentleman's Magazine (August 1746).

Thirteen years before publication of Elsworthy's West Somerset Wordbook, Wadham Williams & William Jones, A Glossary of Provincial Words & Phrases in Use in Somersetshire (1873) has this entry for Dumps:

Dumps s. the twilight, ex. Dumps of the yavening ; Dumpsy towards twilight

This glossary doesn't mention dimmet, dimps, or dimpsy at all.

On the other hand, James Halliwell-Phillipps, A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases, Proverbs, and Ancient Customs (1847) has entries for both dimpse and dumps, as used in Somerset:

DIMPSE, s. Twilight. Somerset.


DUMPS, s. Twilight. Somerset.

And the significantly older "A provincial Vocabulary; containing for the most Part, such Words as are current amongst the common People of Devonshire and Cornwall," in The Monthly Magazine or British Register (June 1, 1810) has this relevant entry:

Dumps, dimpse, dampse, dimmet, twilight. D[evonshire]

Richard Polwhele, A Cornish-English Vocabulary: A Vocabulary of Local Names, Chiefly Saxon; and a Provincial Glossary (1836), which covers words used in Cornwall and Devon has much the same entry (with dumpse in place of dumps), although he doesn't indicate whether the usage is current in Devon, Cornwall, or both:


Margaret Courtney, Glossary of Words in Use in Cornwall: West Cornwall (1880) has an entry for the variants dimmet and dummet:

Dimmet, Dummet, twilight.

And Thomas Couch, Glossary of Words in Use in Cornwall: East Cornwall (by 1880) has an entry for dummet:

Dummet, the dusk.

Another primary source for Joseph Wright, along with Elsworthy, is Sarah Hewett,The Peasant Speech of Devon: With Other Matters Connected Therewith, second edition (1892):

Dimmits, Dimpsy = twilight. [Examples:] (1) 'Ess sure I'll be 'ome avore tha dimmits. (2) Dawntee bide out late, come in 'ouze avore 'tez dimpsy.

Hewett doesn't mention dumpsy as a variant of dimpsy.

Early instances of 'dimpsy' and 'dumpsy' (and variants) in the wild

A Google Books search for early instances of dimps/dimpse/dimpsy/dimpsey and dumps/dumpse/dumpsy/dumpsey turns up a number of relevant examples from as early as 1842.

From George Pulman, "Winter," in Rustic Sketches: Being Poems on Angling, Humourous and Descriptive, in the Dialect of East Devon, with a Glossary and Notes (1842):

Cringcrankum ice th' winders trace, / An' clinkerbells hangs ev'ry place: / Chaps hurnin' dru th' vallin snow / Da be-at the'r hans an 'vingers blow. / Shart dumpsy days an' longful nights, / But moon an' stars an' no'tnern lights / Da dreyve away th' seys'n'n gloom, / Ver midnight's most za light as noon.

Pulman's glossary spells the word dumpsey and offers this definition:

Dumpsey, inclined to be dark, dreary, &c.

From Nathan Hogg, "A Witch Story: The Old Humman Way the Urd Cloke, ur Tha Evil Eye, in the Devonshire Dialect" (1858):

Wul varmer Plant I've yerd'n zay, / Wis gally'd zo, ta urn away / Ha cud'n; an as ta jump a yurdle, / Ha cud'n do et vur tha wurdle: / Bit zshortly, in tha dimpse a nite, / Ha zeed tha vigger zit uprite, / Wen aul ta wance ha voun es veet, / An then no race-hoss was za vleet;—

Oddly, the glossary attached to the Hogg's "Witch Story" has an entry for dimmet ("dimmet, dusk"), although that word does not appear anywhere in the poem, and no entry for dimpse, which does.

From Anne Marsh, Chronicles of Dartmoor, Volume 1 (1866):

"What have you there? Somthing moving amongst the bushes?"

"The 'dimpse' (twilight) deceives you," said the parson, "no one will venture to intrude into my grounds."

From Elias Tozer, "Laying of Ghosts," in Devonshire & Other Original Poems: With Some Account of Ancient Customs, Superstitions, and Traditions (1873):

For example, the [wicked] dead have been committed to the performance of interesting tasks, such as binding bundles of sand and making ropes of the same! I remember, when a lad, being always in great terror to pass a certain spot by the river side where a man, popularly known as "Tom Triniman" was supposed to appear every night to labour at this work. Passing this spot one Summer evening in the "dimpse," I clearly saw "poor Tom," in his "red cap," working away at his impossible task.

From Katharine Cornish, A Far-Away Cousin: A Story for Children (1887):

By the time this [shopping for presents] was accomplished it was beginning to grow 'dumpsy,' as they say in the West Country, and the gas was already lighted in a few of the shops. It was time to think about finding Nurse. Eden Philpotts uses the word dimpsy (or dimpsey) several times in different stories published in the late 1890s, all set in Dartmoor in Devon. From Eden Philpotts, "The Tower of the Wild Hunter," in The Windsor Magazine (July 1895):

But us o' Bucklan' knawed what we knawed ; and 'twas differ'nt gwaine theer twenty strong in brakes an' waggonettes of a bright summer afternoon, tu bein' around them paarts alone in the winter dimpsey or later. Besides which, the 'orn weern't hoften 'eard blawin' in summer.

From Eden Philpotts, Down Dartmoor Way (1896):

"I mind the fust meetin', for the parties was knawed to me. Milly chanced agin 'im away in the 'eart o' the woods on a night when the dimpsy ["Twilight or gloaming"] comed down grey hover a primrose sky in hearly Springtime. She were dawdlin' 'ome—along wi' a 'andfull o' daffadowndillies as grows wild in these paarts; an' 'e—shame unto 'un—weer poachin' trouts wi' a worrum. ...

From "A Devon Courting," in Eden Philpotts, Children of the Mist (1898):

Birds gived awver singin', / Flittermice was wingin', / Mist lay on the meadows— / A purty sight to see. ? Down-long in the dimpsy, the dimpsy, the dimpsy, / Down-long in the dimpsy / Theer went a maid wi' me.

Later in the same book, which takes place on Dartmoor, the passage appears:

It happened that beside a gate which closed the moorland precincts to prevent cattle from wandering, a horseman stood, and as the pedestrian passed him in the gathering gloaming, he dropped his hunting-stock while making an effort to open the gate without dismounting.

"Bide wheer ye be!" said Will; "I'll pick 'un up an' ope the gate for 'e."

He did so and handed the whip back to its owner. Then each recognized the other, and there was a moment of silence.

"'Tis you, Jan Grimbal, is it?" asked the younger. "I did n't knaw 'e in the dimpsy light."

Gratiana Chanter, The Witch of Withyford: A Story of Exmoor (1896) uses dimpsey eleven times, sometimes as a noun and sometimes as an adjective. Here are the first five instances:

The old fox was a sharp one, for they lost him after all, and it came on dimpsey afore they knew how late 'twas. and it weren't no good to try any more.


She sat telling with the old Jane a good two hours, for 'twas getting dimpsey when she started up hill to Grange, and that she took easy as she was getting a bit stoutish, and it made her bad to hurry.


All the way up the Combe the stream showed sharp as bits of steel, for the light a-shining on it, and the candle in Nance's window peeped like a red star out of the dimpsey.


Then Nance she made another stroke with her stick and the light went out on the wall, and the room was dimpsey as before.


"It's nought to me what Joan or your father do," her'd say quick and proud, "you and your's are nothing to me and I don't want to hear ought about them. But I do know this, and I've told 'ee afore, that the less you come to the Combe Lane in the dimpsey the better I'll be pleased, and the sooner you moves out of it to-night the sooner I'll thank you," and her'd speak haughty, and her eyes would give little flashes.

From Walter Raymond, Two Men O' Mendip, serialized in Longman's Magazine (December 1898):

This was his moment, whilst light enough to see, yet so dumpsy, a man could scarce read another's face across a road. But after the turn o' the year, days close in very fast ; and when he came into the hollow of the gloomy cliffs it was already almost dark.

And from Robert Pritchett, Pen and Pencil Sketches of Shipping and Craft All Round the World (1899):

When the fleet [at Brixham], numbering some 200 vessels , goes out in the "dumpsey" of the day ("dumpsey" being a Devonshire term for twilight) the crowd of dark-coloured tanned sails produces a very grand effect, the intense depth of tone in the hulls being relieved by the flicker of the fisherman's sidelights, whilst the rich colour of the last crimson of the setting sun catches the upper cirri, the wavelets in the foreground sharing its glory, and throwing the dark mass of the fleet into deeper shade than ever.


Both dimpse and dumps in the relevant sense appeared in print in 1810, and the variant forms dimpsy (by 1886) and dumpsy (by 1842) followed. It may seem that dumpsy has the advantage over dimpsy by several decades, but I suspect that the 1810 occurrence of dimpse and dumps together offers a more useful as a gauge of the variants' historical existence as provincialisms. Significantly older than either of these forms in print is dimmet, which dates to at least 1727.

The geographical range of usage of the dimps and dumps families of variants is perhaps less precise than Joseph Wright's 1898 treatment might suggest, but in any case he finds considerable overlap of the two in Dorset and Somerset. The available evidence offers little basis for claiming that either dimpsy or dumpsy was the original and more correct form.


Dimpsy is a term used in SW England meaning dusky:

  • This lovely word is used in the south-west of England as a noun to refer to twilight and as an adjective with the sense ‘dusky, dim’.

  • The origin of ‘dimpsy’ is not certain. One theory is that it may be derived from ‘dim’ (which can be used as a noun to mean ‘dusk’), and ‘dim’ certainly seems to be the origin of ‘dimmit’, another word from the south-west of England meaning ‘dusk’.


Dumpsey appears to be:

  • a Dorset slang for dusk.


As you can see, the two regions (Somerset and Dorset)are close to each other and that may have an influence on the usage of some dialectal terms.

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  • 2
    For those unfamiliar with the geography involved Somerset and Dorset are neighbours and depending on where E.D. lives there may be some mixing of the dialect terms used by different people.
    – Sarriesfan
    Oct 21, 2017 at 9:06
  • @Sarriesfan Yes - I am based on Bridgwater, which is a large Somerset town with many incomers. Therefore it makes sense that we should find diverse use of language within the community. Oct 21, 2017 at 11:00

Having been born and raised in Somerset we always referred to the dismal weather as dumpsy! I too had never heard the word dimpsy till just recently.

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