On Ilkley Moor - review by Richard Smyth

Richard Smyth

Through the Lekkin Glass

On Ilkley Moor


We were eight or nine years old. There were half a dozen of us, I suppose, kicking a football around the school playing field. It was lunch break. I can’t remember the conversation exactly but someone shouted something like ‘Are you lekkin?’ or ‘He’s not lekkin.’ At which point a dinner lady, who had been watching on with reptile stillness, interjected: ‘What did you say?’

‘I said he’s not lekkin.’

‘It’s not lekkin,’ the dinner lady said, acidly. ‘It’s laikin.’

I thought of that this week when I saw a clip of the great Shakespearean Sir Patrick Stewart, who grew up in Mirfield, about nine miles west of us, speaking on Radio 4 about the accents and dialects of his youth. ‘Atta laikin ot?’ is the example he used, which translates as ‘Art thou laikin out?’, which translates as ‘Are you playing out?’ The ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ had mostly dropped away in West Yorkshire by the time I was born – and ‘laikin’, had warped or devolved into ‘lekkin’ (‘laik’ comes from Old Norse, via Middle English; there may be a connection with the much more recent zoological term ‘lek’, for the knockabout mating fights of certain game birds).

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