I would like to examine the proposition that the Yorkshire and north country term warm ‘un may derive from the word varmint.

I was brought up in south Yorkshire and often heard children referred to as a warm ‘un. The phrase usually applied to lively, mischievous or otherwise exceptionally active children who entertained or irritated adults. “Ee – ee’s a warm ‘un!

Un is not difficult:

Yorkshire Express
Un – one

Warm poses more interest. In my childlike naivety I assumed it meant “A warm one”, drawing some sort of parallel with a hot and active fire (of which there were many in a coalfield area).

Later I thought it to relate to the adult use of hot, referring to a sexually active and attractive person:

sexually attractive, or feeling sexually excited:
She's really hot!
I'm hot for you, baby.
I've got a hot date tonight.

Being slang, there are only limited quotations available. We have:

Milly Johnson
Warm un:
bit of a slapper (female).
Elsie down the road is a warm un.

Yorkshire Post
He’s a warm (rhymes with harm) un” (has a bob or two, nicely off)

Amt Tyke (a contributor to the BBC):
Anyone know this one: “tha's a warm un”? {= “You are a warm one”}

while over the border in Lancashire is:

Lancashire Songs; Edwin Waugh
A needle would keep th' body wake, An' th' soul met still be dozin'; But this receipt would set it reet, Iv th' mixture wur a warm un — Yo'm get some stingin' gospel-snuff, An' put it into th' sarmon."

In summary, warm seems to be associated with childhood precocity and naughtiness, spiciness, wealth, sexual attraction and – more generally – with types of egregiousness.

However, more recently I have had the suspicion that some of these uses derive from a simple spoken corruption of Varmint

Merriam Webster
a contemptible person : rascal broadly : person, fellow

an annoying child:
The little varmints stole my wallet!

I add the aural aspect of this question: the pronunciation I knew - and it is exemplified by the Yorkshire Post quotation - was Warm rhyming with Arm.

Add to this the sort of sound shifts we see between Scando-German "warm" (initial "V" sound in German, Swedish and others), the Scandinavian-Viking influence in northern England, all contrasting with the usual English "warm" (initial "w" sound), and you may see the reasons for my notion.

Do you agree with this suspicion?

  • I don't see how you get from warm' un to varmint. The sounds are completely different....
    – Lambie
    Jan 14 at 16:44
  • 2
    And varmint is vermin. Jan 14 at 16:44
  • @Lambie A good point when coming from the perspective of, say, southern England, so I have edited my question to cover it.
    – Anton
    Jan 14 at 16:53
  • @YosefBaskin Indeed yes, but that meaning is not directly relevant to my question.
    – Anton
    Jan 14 at 16:53
  • 1
    @TinfoilHat the question unambiguously asks the origin of warm ‘un, and not about the origin of vermin, which is well known and accessible to etymological research.
    – Anton
    Jan 15 at 8:06

warm’un reminds me of wane/we’an/wean widely used in Ulster/Scotland.

Derived from wee, meaning little, and ane meaning one, wean is a word most commonly used in the West of Scotland to refer to a young child, and is sometimes also spoken as wee yin or ‘little one’.
The Scotsman

I think OP’s original idea re. warm one is a very promising avenue, and to my ears, it simply implies an alive/lively/living/warm-blooded one as opposed to a dead/cold/cold-hearted one.

  • 1
    I agree with your implied point about wean (wain, as I know it), = wee 'un", = wee one = little one. It illustrates well the use of one or 'un that I refer to. In passing I note scope for another question that I will not ask yet - if at all: might wean derive from the verb wean?
    – Anton
    Jan 15 at 11:16
  • @Anton where I live everyone knows the word wean/wain and use it in speech, but most (including me) are hazy on how to spell it 😄
    – k1eran
    Jan 15 at 11:20

Based on the following entry, it seems warm ’un has nothing to do with varmints.

Under warm, in Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present — A Dictionary, Historical and Comparative, of the Heterodox Speech of All Classes of Society for More Than Three Hundred Years. With Synonyms in English, French, German, Italian, Etc · Volume 7 (1890) we find:

WARM (= wanton) DESIRE: a WARM (= lecherous) MEMBER (or WARM-’UN): a harlot or whoremonger : cf. HOT-UN, SCHORCHER (q.v.);

And this quote:

c. 1889. Music Hall Song, ‘Salvation Sarah.’ They call me Salvation Sarah, a warm-’un I have been; but now I am converted, I’ll never go wrong again.

You can find there other meanings for warm (albeit without ’un) more suitable for children.

Here are some definitions of warm from the OED:

warm, adj. and n.2

10. b. Of the passions or disposition in general: Prone to excitement, ardent, impulsive; apt to disregard the voice of cool reason.

11. Hot-tempered, angry.

13. Characterized by, of the nature of, prone to, sexual desire; amorous.

14. b. Of imaginative composition: Indelicate in its appeal to sexual emotion.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (login required)

However you want to spin it, there’s no need to get varmints involved.

  • Well argued as to the meaning of warm, and elaborating nicely on my brief recognition of the sexually active overtones of the word, albeit not actually refuting that the varmint proposition may still lead to the same construction. Let us see what others have to say..
    – Anton
    Jan 15 at 22:17

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