GENNEL/SNICKET.

Songdog has alerted me (via e-mail) to the synonymity of two words whose existence had hitherto been unknown to me: gennel and snicket. They both mean ‘alley between houses’; the OED entries are:

gennel, ginnel (‘dZEn@l, ‘dZIn@l; elsewhere ‘gIn@l). dial. A long narrow passage between houses, either roofed or unroofed.
1669 Manch. Ct. Leet Rec. (1887) V. 98 Wm Jackson hath made a Doore into A Ginnell belongeinge to Edmo Heywood. A. 1804 J. Mather Songs (1862) 33 in Sheffield Gloss. s.v., When Sancho was a raw-boned whelp And lived in yonder jennel. 1855 Waugh Lanc. Life (1857) 111 Through th’ ginnel, an’ up th’ steps.

snicket (‘snIkIt). north. dial. A narrow passage between houses, an alley-way.
1898 B. Kirkby Lakeland Words 136 Snicket, a narrow passage between buildings. 1947 I. Brown Say the Word 65 We have vennels, gunnels, and snickets in our northern towns. 1957 R. Hoggart Uses of Literacy i. ii. 52 Street after regular street of shoddily uniform houses intersected by a dark pattern of ginnels and snickets (alleyways) and courts. 1968 B. Hines Kestrel for Knave 31 He cut down a snicket between two houses, out into the fields. 1981 J. Stubbs Ironmaster xx. 276 We are cramming poor people into ginnels and snickets and foetid courts.

So here we have, as far as I can see, exact synonyms to set beside furze and gorse.
Incidentally, I apologize for the disappearance of recent entries and comments between yesterday evening and this afternoon; it was the result of a server change by my hosting service. Thanks to Songdog‘s dependable expertise and selfless efforts on this blog’s behalf, everything has been restored, with the minor glitch that the restored comments are all dated “October 17, 2003 01:38 PM.”

Comments

  1. The word you use to mean "A long narrow passage between houses" is my favourite example of regional variation in words. As well as your two, there’s also bunnyrun, wynd, jitty… and some others I can’t call to mind as I’ve only just woken up.
    Next time you’re in a room with people from different part of the country, try asking – though it tends to work better with northerly types. For the record, I’m from Darlington and I say "ginnel".
    My second favourite example is the word use to mean "the food you take out to work, to eat at midday", which was historically equally as varied, but seems to be dying out. (I’d say "bait").

  2. Fascinating! If I’d known, I’d have framed the post differently. So do you pronounce it with /g/ or /j/? And other British readers: what word do you use? Here in America, I think we just say “alley,” boring gits that we are.

  3. And if you want to find out about a very different kind of “rapper,” check out this entry of Elizabeth’s. Pub crawling and two-foot lengths of flexible steel — two tastes that go great together!

  4. Sorry, having just been pointed at this post by a friend, I’d failed to notice that you weren’t in the UK! I’ve been musing on regional variations in words this past week – presumably you must get similar things, what with having a whole lot more country to vary across ?
    Ginnel has a hard G (like in goat) where I come from, which is in the North East. I believe I have heard people say it with a J-sound though. Now I live in the South East, most people look at me funny if I use the word at all.
    And you definitely have rapper teams in America, I’ve met some of ‘em! Though they mostly seem to go in for doing "displays" in a nice organised manner, rather than barging into pubs/bars…

  5. In the old town of Edinburgh, and in other parts of Scotland, a ginnel would probably be called a close,or maybe a wynd.
    But then in Glasgow, and in other parts of Scotland, a close is the common area inside a tenement, not the passage between buildings.
    And this is a small country.
    I agree with Elizabeth about words for midday meals. I would take a piece, or pieces, to work, but England thats as confusing as going the messages

  6. Huh. So what do they call a close/ginnel/wynd in Glasgow?

  7. That’s interesting. My high school was located on the grounds of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, and the oversized city block on which the Cathedral sits was always referred to as “The Close” or “The Cathedral Close.” I wonder if there is any connection to the Scottish term mentioned above.

  8. There is a connection in that historically they’re the same word, the noun close (with final unvoiced s, rhyming with dose), meaning ‘An enclosed place, an enclosure.’ But that general meaning developed specialized senses in different contexts; the ones we’re talking about are (OED definitions) 3c ‘The precinct of a cathedral’ (1371 in J. Britton Cathedrals, York 80 Inwith the close bysyde the forsayde Kyrk; 1848 Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. 339 Closes surrounded by the venerable abodes of deans and canons), 4 ‘An entry or passage. Now, in Scotland, esp. one leading from the street to dwelling houses, out-houses, or stables, at the back, or to a common stair communicating with the different floors or ‘flats’ of the building. Also variously extended to include the common stair, the open lane or alley, or the court, to which such an entry leads,’ and 4c ‘A short street closed at one end, a cul-de-sac.’

  9. Fascinating. Thanks for answering a question that I have long been wondering about.

  10. I asked my Glasgow colleagues what they would call a passage between buildings. They did not know.
    Personally I’ve always fancied living in proper wally close, but we don’t have many of those in Edinburgh

  11. Noo there’s some say that tenement living was swell
    That’s the wally close toffs who had doors wi’ a bell
    Two rooms and a kitchen and a bathroom as well
    While the rest o’ us lived in a single-end hell
    -The Glasgow I Used To Know

  12. (wally close a tiled close, considered a sign of social superiority)

  13. In the central part of Yorkshire (Wakefield) where I am from you’d say ginnel for an alley and snicket for a cut or gap in a fence.
    I only realised it wasn’t ‘proper’ english when I directed a visiting friend from Cambridge “up the ginnel acroos the road, then through the snicket’s quicker”!
    At lunch time I eat snap.

  14. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid says:

    On furze and gorse; what about whin? Usually as “whin bushes”.

  15. Quite right, I forgot about whin (defined in Cassell as ‘furze, gorse’). A triple synonym!

  16. We are now an office divided! Buxtonians say Gennel whereas our ‘foreign’ cousins from Marple say Ginnel!

  17. Alan Pembleton says:

    In South Yorkshire, a snicket was a path across a piece of open land, whereas a gennel or ginnel was always between houses.

  18. I live in Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire. It’s actually in Sheffield, but is on the Sheffield/Barnsley border. I say ‘gennel’, as do my Stocksbridge friends and family. However, my friends from Penistone (just the other side of the Sheffield/Barnsley border) say ‘ginnel’, as does my Grandad (who was born and raised in Barnsley).

  19. i am birmingham born and bred, but my mum is from yorkshire(ilkley). i have always known an alley to be a “snicket” but get blank looks from my mates. it doesnt appear in the dictionary or anything…

  20. Here in Australia the word which seems closest is “lane” or “laneway” which I would describe as a narrow road between the backs or sides of old houses.
    And, uninterestingly, we simply take our “lunch” to work. )-:

  21. Kate Mirfin says:

    This is a fabulous debate! It’s one that my friends and I have had for years!
    I am from South Yorkshire (Penistone) and a covered passageway between two houses is definitely a ginnel (and not gennel/jennel, as pronounced by my friend from Maltby!). A small alleyway or passage or path without a roof is a snicket.
    And at lunchtime you definitely take ‘snap’ to work for your ‘pack-up’ (i.e. packed lunch!)

  22. Kerri Worrall says:

    And yes… it is pronounced Penis Town! You comedy northerners!

  23. I’m from Wakefield and I say ginnel, snicket and snap. Though I thought snicket was a narrow lane that usually leads to a more open space, for example a field or playground.

  24. Monica Colter says:

    I spent the first 27 years of my life in Sheffield, (Stocksbridge side) and didn’t realise how many dialect words I used in everyday speech until I moved to the Birmingham (England) area. Within half a mile of my home were two gennels (soft g), but they were a public right of way for pedestrians, giving access to another road. In both cases there was an end of terrace house on one side and a school/Congregational Chapel on the other.
    The narrow way between terraced houses which gave access to the yard at the rear I would have called a passage.

  25. Michael says:

    I’ve just realised what everyone’s talking about – you mean a twitten!
    Mostly here in Sussex we use the twitten to get to our back gates.
    My sister-in-law in Sheffield says she has a ginnel though (hard g)

  26. What an amazing two-year conversation! I found this site having searched for ‘ginnel’ and ‘snicket’, both of which I heard when living in Sheffield as a student. I was told at the time that one was more Lancashire and the other more Yorkshire; from the above it seems ginnel is Lancs and snicket Yorks. Then last weekend a friend from Shoreham (Sussex) came to London and casually commented on a ‘twitten’ when we passed a small alleyway behind some houses. I had never heard this word before, but there it is above from Michael. I wonder what a twitten is called in Surrey?

  27. Here’s the OED entry for twitten:
    Sussex dial. A narrow path or passage between two walls or hedges.
    1801 PENNANT Journ. fr. Lond. to Isle of Wight II. 77 Alleys, or, as they are called here [at Brighton] twittings, narrow passages, often not three feet wide. 1860 W. H. AINSWORTH Ovingdean Grange 334 Having tracked a series of ‘twittens’.. they issued forth into West-street. 1904 Sat. Rev. 2 Apr. 424/1 Along the bostals of the Downs and through the village twittens.
    And I too am very impressed by this two-year conversation; may it continue unabated!

  28. Originally from Lancs/Yorks border, again Ginnel (hard G) was for between houses (often covered – like the Ginnels that run from Skipton High St to Canal St – see streetmap.co.uk – nearest post code I can find is BD23 1AA) and snicket was more rural, like a path between allotment plots. There’s a new thread – Allotment!

  29. I came from Glasgow and had nver heard of these “wierd” words. A close in Glasgow was the common entry to a tenenmant building and the communal back area where the washing was put out and dustbins located. I moved to Doncaster (S Yorks) where I had a “snicket” next to my house leading to a large park. Now I divorced and live in a terraced house with a “ginnel” (hard G) between my and my neighbours houses.
    Curious or what?

  30. Vivian Petrik says:

    Am in the process of reading a book by Val McDermid where she uses the word “ginnel” extensively. In vain I looked in the Oxford dictionary and couldn’t find it. Thank heavens for Google. I now have a much better idea what it means. I rather did guess from the context that it was an alley way or lane way between houses, but never did guess that there could be so much controversey about a word and its usage. I also figured it must have a more local use than world wide. Here in Canada we would use either lane or alley and this would be at the backs of two lines of houses or buildings. Don’t know if the eastern provinces (Maritimes) would have another word being more of two worlds (English and French). I am living in British Columbia (although born in Ontario). Perhaps I can start a further debate. Interesting that this has gone on for 2 years. Glad I found this site.
    Vivian

  31. Glad you found this thread, Vivian! I hope to make it the world’s favorite source for gennel/snicket information.

  32. Andrew Dunbar says:

    Mostly here in Sussex we use the twitten to get to our back gates.
    Now that reminds me of an Australian word which sounds very mundane but I cannot find it in the online AHD, Collins, Encarta, or Merriam-Webster: “sideway”
    A sideway is the narrow space between a suburban house and the neighbour’s fence,
    usually on the opposite side to the driveway. Sometimes it’s how you get to the back gate.
    You can find it with Google if you search for “down the sideway”.
    … but it’s not really like a gennel or a snicket.

  33. Not in the Oxford Australian Dictionary either. Seems to be an adaptation of an old (standard) word; OED entry:
    1. A path or way diverging from, or lying to the side of, a main road; a byway; also fig.
    1552 HULOET, Bypathes, bywaye, or sydewaye, out of the hyghe waye. 1660 F. BROOKE tr. Le Blanc’s Trav. 220 We took a side-way towards the towns. 1832 BREWSTER Nat. Magic ii. 17 In a path or road where there was no side-way by which the figure could escape. 1874 L. CARR J. Gwynne I. iii. 69 From this her mind would slant off into a sideway.
    2. A (raised) path along the side of a road; a footway. Now U.S. Cf. SIDEWALK 2.
    1738 RICHARDSON De Foe’s Tour Gt. Brit. (ed. 2) III. 319 A Causeway or Walk, well pav’d with flat Freestone, such as the Side-ways in Cheapside and Cornhil. 1852 D. G. MITCHELL Reveries Bachelor IV. I. vii, Below, dim figures are gathering on the narrow sideways to look at the solemn spectacle. 1886 Philadelphia Times 9 Apr. (Cent.), Every inch of roadway,.. and every inch of sideway,.. was covered by people.
    attrib. 1804 J. GRAHAME Sabbath (1808) 24 Mark the father ‘mid the sideway throng.

  34. Monica Colter says:

    Can I throw another pair of words into the ring for discussion? At home in Sheffield, S.Yorkshire my mother used to mix the dough for bread in a large, deep earthenware bowl with sloping sides. It was large enough to allow the bread dough to rise. This item was known as a pancheon (panshun). When I moved to Wolverhampton in the Midlands I eventually came across the word ‘steen’ used to label similar items. I have done a little research and found that pancheons were also used in farm dairies to allow cream to form on milk, but these pancheons were shallower. I have a feeling that this discussion could uncover a rich vein of regional variations.

  35. We live on a typical Mancunian street of Victorian semis/terraces, and call the 6′ paved gap between our house and next-door a gennel with a hard G (me) or a passage (my Bristolian wife). To get from the end of our road (a cul-de-sac or dead-end) to the next road we use the alley or the snicket (as our Yorkshire neighbour calls it). My Irish gran would have called it a twitchel.
    When we lived in Cardiff, the vehicle-width alleys behind the rows of terraces are known by all residents as lanes and are referred to as such in council leaflets.

  36. I was born in Darlington and then lived in Yorkshire. I was brought up on the words ‘ginnel’ and ‘snicket’ but my Somerset born husband has no idea what I am talking about!
    I am writing an essay on the variety of English dialects that exist and may make use some of the very useful comments I have found on this fascinating site.

  37. Fascinating! I was raised in Rawtenstall, north of Manchester and we had a ginnel between every second terraced house which was a narrow passage at ground level, covered over by the upper story of the house, usually a bedroom. I was born above a ginnel.
    A snicket was a narrow passageway leading somewhere but with no roof above. So I always thought that a ginnel was a covered passageway and a snicket was uncovered.
    My wife is from near Edinburgh and had never heard either word until we had an erudite discussion a couple of years ago when we snuck up a snicket at the end of a cul-de-sac…
    Home is now Perth Australia, and the snicket is a laneway.

  38. I asked my 84-year old father for his explanation of ginnel and snicket. He recalls a conversation with his mother-in-law in 1938 when he went to live in Lancashire, with the following result:
    1. A snicket is a narrow passageway between buildings to gain access to the rear of the buildings or to allow passage on a public right-of-way. It is open to the sky but not wide enough to allow passage of any vehicle.. The word originates in the Pennines district
    2. A Ginnel is also a narrow passageway but,in this case, it is not open to the sky but is an open tunnel through a building which is not guarded by a door. This word was understood to have originated in Haslingden.
    I hypothesise that “snicket” could derive from to sneak through a narrow opening, and “Ginnel” from “Tunnel” ?

  39. This thread is going to be a valuable resource for lexicographers. I thank all of you for contributing your experiences of these words (and other similar ones).

  40. Alan Black says:

    Fascinating ! all these different words. When I was a Bevin Boy in Lancashire working in the mines, the miners brought their “jack bit” to eat. could never determine if it was lunch or a late breakfast.
    Alan B Toronto Canada

  41. Mick from Dale says:

    The miners in Barnsley ate their ‘snap’ darn’t pit. It might have been a couple of sandwiches. They carried it in their ‘snap-tin’ which was slung off their belt.
    The term widened art int community and anyone might say, “am gooin ter ev me snap, nar”

  42. In Texas your “ginnel” would be an “alley”. And a passage through an opening in a fence would be a “gap”. Since some gates in west Texas are made from fence wire (usually barbed wire (“bobwar”)) they’re called a gap, also.

  43. cliqcliq says:

    does anyone know if ginnels were originally consructed for the sole purpose of convienence to enable tradesmen to deliver/collect household goods ie coalman,dustbinmen and dillyman(toilet waste)

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