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Wuthering Heights' Joseph is, in my opinion, one of the more annoying characters in the book, because of a) his temperament, and b) the opaque transcriptions of his thick Yorkshire accent and vocabulary. However, with the help of footnotes, re-reads, and squints, his speech is ultimately manageable.

In the midst of a paragraph full of confetti-like apostrophes and a scattering of double-u's, we meet this uncharacteristically understandable piece of dialogue:

'Ony books that yah leave, I shall tak' into th' hahse,' said Joseph, 'and it'll be mitch if yah find 'em agean; soa, yah may plase yerseln!'
[Volume 2, Chapter 18]

This comes to:

'Any books that you leave, I'll take into the house,' said Joseph, 'and it'll be [mitch] if you find them again; so, you may please yourself!'

Other than the word mitch, this is fairly easy to figure out on the spot. Per this article that interprets Joseph's speech, mitch, here, means 'unlikely.' And in my version of the book, a footnote explains that it's a dialectal word that means 'lucky'.

Both interpretations make sense: 'it'll be lucky if you find them' has essentially the same meaning of 'it'll be unlikely if you find them', though the first version sounds more natural to my ear.

I can't find any citation of mitch meaning lucky in any lexicon, though I was able to find it listed in the sense of 'unlikely'. In an 1866 dictionary, A Glossary of Words Used in the County of Chester, it says that mitch can be an adjective that means:

unlikely, strange, extraordinary
"It's mitch if he comes now"

So:

  • what exactly does the word mitch mean here?
  • what is its origin?
  • where is it used?
  • are there any other instances where it's used in this sense?
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  • 1
    I'm guessing it's derived from "much" somehow.
    – alphabet
    Jun 19, 2023 at 23:18
  • 1
    Per @alphabet, it'll be mitch if mitch were much. Clever catch. Jun 19, 2023 at 23:27
  • I'm guessing it means something like "a big deal."
    – alphabet
    Jun 19, 2023 at 23:43
  • It is a local, dialectal pronunciation of much.
    – user 66974
    Jun 20, 2023 at 7:40
  • He's saying "it would be a very unlikely thing for you to ever see them again". Much is meaning "big" in the sense of notable or remarkable ("big day", "big deal", etc).
    – Stuart F
    Jun 20, 2023 at 15:22

2 Answers 2

2

The substantive much is glossed in volume IV [M-Q] of The English Dialect Dictionary edited by Joseph Wright (Oxford, 1905). (Link to screenshot of relevant portion)

much:
A strange thing, a marvel, wonder
[used esp. in phr, it is much or it is much if.] [Also used advb.]

  • [Cumberland] It's much if he gangs at o' now.
  • [W. Yorkshire] It's much if he sees ower it (i.e., His recovery is very improbable) (S.K.C.)
  • It's much to me if he issent converted.
  • It's much if he catelies his train, Sheild Ann. (1854)
  • [W. Yorkshire, Cheshire] It's mitch they dannot come
  • It's mitch if he comes now;
  • Is much if such a thing were to happen. It s mach iv ey duz uz ey sez (i.e., it's much if he does as he says)
  • [Derbyshire, Northamptonshire] It's much if it happens. - A sceptical expression.
  • [Wiltshire] It's much if he don't, most likely he will.
  • [Wiltshire, Somerset] (E.11.G.) 'Tis much you boys can't let alone they there ducks.
  • 'Twas much he had'n a been a killed.

Mitch is just a variant spelling that reflects regional pronunciation and orthographic conventions; the spelling is reflective of the character Joseph's Yorkshire dialect pronunciation.

0
-1

The full OED has nothing relevant under any of their three entries for mitch, but a search for mich reveals it's a historical / dialectal form of auxiliary may (a version of might?).

That specific form appears to be tied to OED definition 5...

Expressing objective possibility, opportunity, or absence of prohibitive conditions; have the potentiality to, be at liberty to, be permitted by circumstances to. Now somewhat rare.

Basically, he seems to be saying Suit yourself - I'll keep hold of any books you don't take right now, so you might / could1 find and take them later if you change your mind.


1 I'm guessing wildly here, but the actual combination might could still occurs in some US dialects. That's to say - at least some people might could use both words in this context. Most of us today would use the single auxiliary could (or can - it makes no difference). It just so happens Joseph's dialect favoured the other auxiliary.


Another written instance - Among the Untrodden Ways M. E. Francis (1896)...

He had grown used to Tommy's frequent visits ... but now ... it would be 'mich' if Tommy were ever allowed to cross his threshold.

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  • hm. Does the OED give an example for def. 5? (I ask so that we can see whether the example follows a similar structure to the one used by Joseph) Jun 20, 2023 at 19:25
  • I italicised That specific form appears to be tied to OED definition 5... because the way it's presented isn't clear. There's absolutely no doubt that mich was alternative orthography for might, but obviously the Brontës would know their own local dialect, so if it was also a local dialectal version of much, and that makes more sense to you, you should just go with that. It's certainly not a current usage, so it's not really important anyway... Jun 20, 2023 at 20:02
  • ...I threw the other written example in just to mix things up a bit (I'm inclined to suspect that writer might have known no more that we do about the meaning or etymology! :) Jun 20, 2023 at 20:04
  • We wouldn't expect to find an "it is [modal verb]" construction.
    – TimR
    Jun 22, 2023 at 21:30

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