My wife is unusually susceptible to cold, and I have often regretted that there is not a word in English for this quality — the French have frileux and the Russians зябкий, so why should we be deprived? Now I learn that such a word actually does exist, though only at the fringes (“Now regional,” says the OED in its 2003 entry), and I am posting about it to encourage everyone to start using it. Unlike so many of the words eager logophiles propose for adoption, this one fills an actual need. I want people to be able to say “I’m nesh” and have it understood.

Since you’re surely wondering, here is the OED’s etymology:

Cognate with early modern Dutch, Dutch regional (West Flemish) nesch, nisch soft (of eggs), damp, sodden, foolish (16th cent.), Gothic hnasqus soft, tender. A connection with Old High German nascōn and its cognates in sense ‘to eat dainty food or delicacies’ (see nosh v.) has been suggested, but seems unlikely.
The further etymology of the word is unclear: it has been suggested that it is related to Sanskrit kiknasa particles of ground grain (of rice), flesh of rice (represented in only one corrupt late Vedic text, with variants caknasa, cikkasa, in context implying an unattested compound piṣṭa-cikkasa particle of flour, from which some have posited a Sanskrit root cikk- to hurt) and further with Latvian regional knost, knosīt to peck at plumage with the beak, pluck, beat (compare Latvian knosīties to scratch oneself), but the connection between the two is difficult to make, and their joint connection with the Germanic word is not generally accepted.

And here’s a selection of citations:

1583 P. Stubbes Anat. Abuses sig. Eiᵛ This pampering of our bodies, makes them weker, tenderer, and nesher, than otherwyse they would be.
1845 P. J. Bailey Festus (ed. 2) 247 He..let All rigour do its worst, which only served To harden him, though nothing nesh at first.
1887 H. Caine Deemster I. vi. 115 Their own little room.., where no fire burned lest they should grow ‘nesh’.
1977 R. Scollins & J. Titford Ey up, mi Duck! II. 16 Up at seven, nesh o’t cowd.
a1978 S. T. Warner One Thing leading to Another (1985) 76 ‘They take looking after. They’re nesh.’ Nesh. Her father’s word, meaning ‘delicate’. The girl looks nesh.
2001 R. Hill Dialogues of Dead (2002) xxxv. 379 As you can see, I am nesh enough to like a fire when things get a little too chilly or damp.

The Wikipedia article says:

This word has been used in both literature and films where other terms have not been available to convey the particular meaning. Despite being considered a dialect word, and somewhat archaic, writers have periodically turned to it. In addition to its appearance in fiction, in the 19th century it was used in official reports as a general term for susceptibility to cold.

We’ll get ’em all back!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    My Nottinghamshire relatives use this word (in the sense “weak, soft, generally pathetic physically”, though, not specifically “susceptible to cold”, though that would certainly be one possible manifestation of neshitude. Southerners are nesh. Many of them have never even been down a coal mine in their entire lives.)

  2. This is one of those words for which the English Dialect Dictionary suggests itself. It has a whole page on nesh with many quotations (to be imagined spoken by picturesque 19th century bumpkins).

    A more general meaning seems to be ‘weak’, ‘delicate’, and the like, though the meaning ‘susceptible to cold’ is predominant in the quotations. It says it comes from OE hnesce, q.v.

  3. A more general meaning seems to be ‘weak’, ‘delicate’, and the like

    Yes, but it’s not needed in those senses.

  4. The word sounded vaguely familiar to me, and David E’s comment, plus the 1977 citation, makes me think I must have heard it from my Nottinghamshire aunt, who was also in the habit of using ‘duck’ as an endearment*. But I don’t remember the specific connotation of being susceptible to cold, just general frailty.

    *Actually, my aunt sometimes said ‘duck’ and sometimes ‘ducks,’ even for a single person. I never figured out the difference. Perhaps duck was a general term while ducks was reserved for close friends and family members, especially children.

  5. We discussed the word seven years ago also:

    West Flemish is very difficult to understand for the average Dutch speaker. In this clip, from a Belgian comedy show, a West Flemish speaker complains about his dialect always being subtitled on national tv:

  6. David L. Gold says

    *Actually, my aunt sometimes said ‘duck’ and sometimes ‘ducks,’ even for a single person.”

    It’s not a plural ending, but a hypocoristic suffix, as in:

    American English

    gramps < *gramp < grandfather

    Fats (as in Fats Domino. the affectionate name of Antoine Dominique Domino Jr., 1928-2017.

    and British English

    Bucks ‘Buckingham Palace’.

    South African English has it too, but examples escape me at the moment.

    "Perhaps duck was a general term while ducks was reserved for close friends and family members, especially children."

    Possibly, therefore you're on the right track: "duck" was affectionate for her and "ducks" more so.

  7. We discussed the word seven years ago also:

    Great heavens, so we did, and I quoted the OED then too — you’d think that would have jogged my memory. I even did a site search on “nesh,” but I obviously overlooked that post. Ah well, at least it’s been seven years…

  8. cuchuflete says

    At David Eddyshaw’s Nottinghamshire mention, I turned to my wife, who lived most of her life in Nottingham, before abandoning the big city to live in a tiny coastal Maine hamlet.

    Me: Do you know the word nesh?
    She: Of course. It’s common enough.
    Me: What does it mean to you?
    She: Feels the cold easily. It’s much used in Nottingham.

    In Spanish it’s friolero or friolento, with the susceptible to cold meaning.

  9. Bathrobe says

    The closest Japanese, I think, is the noun 寒がりや samugariya. From adjective 寒い samui ‘(feel that) it’s cold’, plus the suffix がる -garu meaning ‘give signs or vocalisations relating to a subjective state’ (that is, constantly complain or otherwise indicate that it feels cold, including, for instance, putting on lots of clothes), plus や ya, suffix for a person.

    That is, a person who constantly gives signs of feeling cold = susceptible to feeling cold.

    I think the normal Chinese equivalent would be 怕冷 pà lěng, ‘fear the cold’, averse to cold.

    Mongolian has даарамтгай (ᠳᠠᠭᠠᠷᠠᠮᠠᠲᠠᠭᠠᠢ), from the verb даарах (ᠳᠠᠭᠠᠷᠠᠬᠤ) ‘to feel cold’, and (apparently, according to my dictionaries) бээрэг (ᠪᠡᠭᠡᠷᠡᠭ).

  10. I grew up with nesh, but in the general meaning of weak, wimpy, delicate — I read the start of the post before the title, and didn’t guess what word you were talking about. (I grew up in London and York, but I think I got the word mainly from my mother, who was brought up in Essex by Anglo-Irish parents.)

  11. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I thought I’d learnt it from The Secret Garden, and possibly I did.

    “Do you never catch cold?” inquired Mary, gazing at him wonderingly. She had never seen such a funny boy, or such a nice one.

    “Not me,” he said, grinning. “I never ketched cold since I was born. I wasn’t brought up nesh enough. I’ve chased about th’ moor in all weathers same as th’ rabbits does.”

  12. Trond Engen says

    Norw. frøsen a., with (I profess:) -en as an adjectival suffix meaning “prone to” rather than a participle, at least synchronically.

  13. Kate Bunting says

    The Scollins and Titford book is about the dialect of South-East Derbyshire (D.H. Lawrence country). I was brought up near there, with a Yorkshire mother, and have known the word all my life and occasionally used it, though I haven’t heard it for a long time.
    By the way, actors in dramatisations of Lawrence often use a Yorkshire accent, but the real accent of the area is quite distinctive.

  14. Stu Clayton says

    actors in dramatisations of Lawrence often use a Yorkshire accent, but the real accent of the area is quite distinctive.

    I just listened to a short BBC video on Derbyshire accent. Gosh. “Lesh as a pig trough.” “You’n ayther ‘af fert’ arter else youn ‘af fert’ flit.”

  15. J.W. Brewer says

    Who among us has not on occasion been “represented in only one corrupt late Vedic text”? No need for etymologists to sound so judgmental about such misfortunes …

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    Irish has “Ní duine fuar mé”= I am not a person sensitive to cold (rather than I am not a cold person)

  17. Well, despite what Wiktionary says, зябкий is only rarely applies to a person. In Russian national corpus it is at most one tenth of all usages. More frequent meaning is a cold, damp environment, not a person. And when it applies to a person, the meaning is someone who is mildly cold (not in my usage, I prefer озябший), not a person who gets cold easily. I guess, the closest Russian word for that is мерзляк, but it is not a neutral word, it does have a negative shade to it.

  18. Kate Bunting says

    Before anyone corrects me – D.H. Lawrence did of course come from Eastwood in Nottinghamshire, but the speech of the whole area is similar.

    I found the video Stu Clayton watched – that’s actually about the dialect of the Derbyshire Peak District, further north. As a Derbeian, I recognised hardly any of his dialect words.

  19. I grew up in the 1970s in the Derbyshire/Notts border area. The word was very widely used. If you complained of the cold or wore particularly warm clothing out if season you were nesh. If you complained or moaned about anything to excess you were said to be mardy. So if you moaned about cold weather …you were told You are nesh ..stop being so mardy…

  20. PavleLux says

    I grew up in West Yorkshire 70s/80s and used nesh in the sense of susceptible to cold. It was a word widely recognised and even celebrated as a dialect word, and even as a philosophy – the semijokey idea of “Yorkshire central heating” ie saving on heating by collectively refusing to recognise the cold/saying you’re soft or nesh if you feel the cold.

Speak Your Mind