My wife and I are fans of the Morse/Lewis/Endeavour cop shows, and we’ve been going back to Season 3 of the latter (which is, frankly, a disappointment compared with the earlier and later ones). In the episode “Prey” (featuring an escaped tiger as a particularly absurd plot point) Fred Thursday, young Morse’s superior, says “You want something to mither [/ˈmaɪ.ðər/] about with that brain of yours,” which of course intrigued me, and after the show I looked it up, discovering (scroll down to mither²) that it’s a Northern English dialect verb (“of unknown origin”) meaning ‘to fuss over or moan about something.’ A site search revealed that AntC brought it up a couple of years ago, but confused the issue by yoking it to this mither, meaning ‘take care of, act as a mother to,’ which of course is just the Scots form of mother and has a short i. The verb in question here has a long i, and happily the OED added it in 2002:

Originally English regional (northern and midlands).

1. transitive. To smother, muffle up; to encumber, burden.
1847 Mither, to muffle up; to smother; to encumber. Northampt.
J. O. Halliwell, Dictionary of Archaic & Provincial Words vol. II

2. transitive. To bother, pester, worry, irritate. Also intransitive.
1848 Don’t mither your mammy for bread, here’s a chap as has got some for you.
E. C. Gaskell, Mary Barton vol. I. vi. 90

2002 ‘Hey.’ She prodded him gently in the ribs. ‘Stop mithering,’ he said, still half awake.
R. Chalmers, Who’s Who in Hell iii. 27

3. intransitive. To ramble, be delirious; to ‘go on’; to complain, make a fuss, whine.
1860 implied in:
He was frequently giddy, and he was observed to be dull, and, as the nurse said, ‘mithering’. His intellectual power was considerably impaired. [at mithering adj.]
British Medical Journal 3 March 167/1

1998 The throng of pale grey Brummie lawyers sipping champagne and mithering..about how poor they are.
Observer 15 February 24/6

I found the long vowel odd, but it’s explained by the OED’s etymology, which says simply “Variant of moider v.” Moider is “Chiefly Irish English, Manx English and English regional (northern and midlands)” and means “To confuse, perplex, bewilder; to exhaust, overcome, stupefy; (occasionally) to pester (cf. mither v. 2).” Since the i is a variant of oi, of course it’s long; nothing to mither about!

Oh, and the etymology of moider:

Origin uncertain; perhaps < Irish modartha dark, murky, morose (Early Irish modarda sullen, sad), of uncertain origin. Compare mither v.

Welsh mwydro, moedro to bewilder, perplex (18th cent.) has been adduced as a possible cognate of the Irish word, but is probably borrowed < English.


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    probably borrowed < English

    GP just says without any qualification that it’s a loan from English “moider.”

  2. I first encountered the word here.

  3. I was surprised to hear Smith sing “I want privacy” with what I took to be the US long-i pronunciation, but the OED tells me both exist in the UK.

  4. Joseph Wright‘s English Dialect Dictionary has a separate entry for the OED’s first sense but gives a pronunciation with /i/, while putting the following under moither with /ai/.

  5. I miss Morse.
    Shades of Jude the Obscure.

  6. I thought the Inspector Morse episodes with plots drawn from the original Colin Dexter novels tended to be quite a bit better than the spinoffs, which were more generic police procedurals.

  7. Steve Plant says

    Growing up in Stoke-on-Trent (English Midlands) I heard ‘mither’ a lot, it was in the get-a-grip category of words; “stop mithering”, “stop blarting”, “don’t be such a mard-arse”. Hugging was viewed with deep suspicion.

  8. @Steve Plant. Same here, growing up in Birmingham, West Midlands. Blarting got short shrift in our household too. I still hear “mither” a lot, especially from my mother. Things mither her, like things she can’t quite call to mind. I had a conversation with my parents last weekend where one point touched upon was a contrast between “mithering” and “pithering”, in other words between fretful and purposeless fussiness. “Pither”: short `i’, intransitive, another get-a-grip type of word.

  9. Great stuff! Green’s Dictionary of Slang, blart; I especially like these citations:

    1873 [US] W.H. Thomes Bushrangers 134: You is sure that you isn’t a spy? that you didn’t come here to see what you could see, and then go off and blart like a bloody sheep?
    1948 [US] J. O’Connor Come Day – Go Day 99: Quit your whinging […] What are you blerting about?

    And this from the OED:

    1977 Real folk singers were great tough hard-handed ploughmen with strong blarting voices that could be heard against the thumping of pewter pots on old oak tables in drunken harvest feasts.
    Punch 31 August 350/1

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    “Blart” looks suspiciously like a variant spelling of “blurt” representing a dialectical difference in pronunciation, with “blert” perhaps representing an intermediate option. But maybe that’s a false-friend misperception on my part and it’s a coincidence?

  11. “Blart” looks suspiciously like a variant spelling of “blurt”

    The OED suggests it is a corruption of “bleat” and it’s first definition is all about animal noises. It’s their second definition I am familiar with: “Of a child, etc.: to cry, whimper, howl”. “Blarting will get you nowhere” I remember being wisely and repeatedly told.

  12. J.W. Brewer says

    Looking at it from the other end, the first two online etymologies I came up with for “blurt” somewhat unhelpfully just suggested it was “probably imitative” or “echoic,” without answering the question “imitative of what”? Imitative of bleating?

  13. … without answering the question “imitative of what”?

    The OED is more expansive: “apparently a modern onomatopoeia, expressive of a discharge of breath or fluid from the mouth after an effort to retain it; with the bl- element, compare blow, blast, blash, etc.; with the rest compare spurt, spirt, squirt, etc”

  14. David Marjanović says

    Like a bubble coming out of your mouth: [ɓl̺]…

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    Hmm. But is “bleat” included in the “etc.” after “blow, blast, blash”?

  16. Northern England: to me, mithering simply means whingeing or complaining, as in, “Stop yer mithering. Ah’s sick on’t.”

  17. I was hoping you’d show up — I figured this was right up your alley!

  18. Trond Engen says

    I hear Kate Bush singing

    mithering, mithering
    Mithering Heights

  19. Steve Plant says

    And then there was “to werrit”, like “mither” it meant “to worry”. I get the feeling “mithering” was more pro-active, but I could be wrong, it’s been decades since I lived in Stoke.
    (I don’t recall any pithering)

  20. The OED says werrit is a “variant or alteration” of wherrit ‘tease, pester, annoy’ (1762 “Find some other road, can’t you? and dont keep wherreting me with your nonsense.” I. Bickerstaff, Love in Village i. ix. 17) and/or worrit ‘worry, distress, vex, pester’:

    1818 These pests worrit me at business.
    C. Lamb, Letter 18 February (1935) vol. II. 225

    1837 ‘Don’t worrit your poor mother,’ said Mrs. Sanders.
    C. Dickens, Pickwick Papers xxvi. 271

    1848 Lord bless us, how she did use to worret us at Sunday-school.
    W. M. Thackeray, Vanity Fair lviii. 526

    1854 Why worrit yourself about finding Arthur Carr at all?
    W. Collins, Hide & Seek (1904) ii. xiv. 313

    1869 I have been worriting myself these last days with those Welsh chaps and our early history.
    J. R. Green, Letter November (1901) 235

    I expect DE will enjoy that last citation. (The entry is from 1928, so it can probably be antedated.)

  21. I don’t recall any pithering

    Here’s something from the English Dialect Dictionary Online (evidence from 1898-1905). The examples it gives in the sense I had in mind are all from the Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire area. (The counties it lists for the word’s use in general look like they surround but don’t include Staffordshire.)

    PITHER, v. Not. War. Wor. Shr. w.Cy. Glo. Brks.
    Also written pitther Shr.2 w.Cy.; and in form
    pitter. Ken.1 [piðə(r).]

    2. To move lightly over a surface; to scratch, dig
    lightly; to trifle with one’s work.

    War.2; War.3 He pithers with his work. He pithers with his
    food; War.4 s.Wor. What be the good o’ pitherin’ about like
    that thur? a con’t do scarce nothin’ at it ‘ordly (H.K.). Shr.1 I
    canna think whad yo’n bin pitherin’ at all mornin’ ─ I could a done
    twize as much in ‘afe the time. Brks. (W.H.Y.), Ken. (Hall.),

    There are substantial entries there also, by the way, for “moither” and “blart”.

  22. Steve Plant says

    @ Ian Preston. Interesting, we must have fiddled while those around pithered.

  23. Rob Grayson says

    I was born and raised in Yorkshire and can, like others, attest that “Stop mithering!” was a fairly common injunction, usually levelled by a frustrated parent at their whingeing offspring.

  24. Perhaps the only time I heard Stephen Fry mispronounce a word was when he used a short i for mither, in an audiobook reading. And of course he wouldn’t have known, would he?

  25. The full Fred Thursday quote from that Endeavour episode appears to be:

    “You want something to mither about with that brain of yours. You can find something useful on the Sandra Jordan case. Something that connects her to Ingrid Hjort maybe.”

    That makes more idiomatic sense to me than the cut off quote that you have. He’s inviting Morse to occupy his brain by worrying over the case.

  26. Thanks! I grabbed the portion of the quote I got by googling, so I appreciate the full version. I’ll fill out the truncated bit in the post so it won’t mislead people.

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