Northern British Sayings #6: Summat/Owt/Nowt

A trio of related words this time.

  • Nowt. “Nothing” (likely derived from naught). Rhymes with “out”. Example:”We’ve got nowt in for dinner.” We have nothing in for dinner.
  • Owt. “Anything” (likely derived from aught). Pronounced “out”. Example:”I dun’t want owt!” I don’t want anything.
  • Summat. Quite simply, “something”. Used in Yorkshire, an example of this might be, “Tha dun’t get summat for nowt.” You do not get something for nothing. I have read alternative definitions suggesting that summat is a contraction of “somewhat”; however, that was definitely not the common usage in Barnsley or Sheffield.

Update on nowt/owt, a couple of people have pointed out to me that there are one or more other pronunciations of these words. One variation would rhyme with note/oat. Can’t really say I have ever used that variation myself. The other would be using a short ‘o’ sound, such as in the word “on”. I can’t actually think of a “regular” word that has that combination, but take the ‘o’ from ‘on’ and replace the ‘n’ with ‘wt’ and you’ll be close.

Posted by Steve Wetherill


I think Those words are used further a field than just yorkshire. I’m sure in Barnsley ,dearne ,sheffield they say nayowt . The words are either from old anglian or old norse

Yep – nayowt is also familiar.

Regarding the variation that rhymes with note/oat, my grandparents emigrated from Leeds to Buenos Aires in the early twentieth century, and their pronunciation was very definitely of the note/oat variety. I suppose northern dialects have changed over the years, just as Standard English / Queen’s English / RP has. By the way, to this very day, cultured Anglo-Argentinians that are native speakers (of English) use Conservative RP. To them, modern everyday British English sounds rather shockingly like mid-twentieth century cockney.

Those words are used in parts of Leicestershire also, where I’m frim.

Ref. the derivation of “summat”. I believe it’s a portmanteau word, derived from the fact that there was no Middle English word for ‘something’, So the ancients had to use ‘some anything’ – which equals ‘some aught’ – but thus pronounced as “some owt” in Northern counties. Say that quickly, over several centuries – and you soon get today’s “summat”.

So ‘anything’, ‘nothing’ and ‘anything’ become the well-used phrase “owt, nowt and summat”. (I was brought up in York now in Barnsley, and can assure y’all that there’s not a jot of difference in the contemporary pronunciation and usage within the 2 areas. It’s still Yorkshire sithee…)

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