We’ve all had this experience. You hear or read an unusual word that’s completely new to you—and then, a day or so later, you hear or read it again! Is it a coincidence?
It just happened to me with the word “ginnel.” Not to be confused, of course, with “jitty,” “snicket,” or “twitchel.” In the novel Ha’penny (which I’m reviewing in my next blog post), I came across the following exchange:
“What would you call this gap between houses, sergeant?” he asked.
“Alley, sir,” Royston replied. “Though it’s small for one.”
“They’d call it a ginnel in Lancashire,” Carmichael said, as they came out into the back garden.
Normally I wouldn’t remember this. But, the day before, I had been reading Mapping Urban Form and Society, as one does, and had been struck by the sentence “Over the years I’ve realised that language and mapping intersect in all sorts of interesting ways.” Obviously they were speaking to me! You realized immediately, of course, that the author is British, because of the unAmerican spelling “realised,” and in this case they are talking about terms for “the narrow walkway between or along buildings” in various UK dialects. Among the terms are alleyway, cut, entry, gennel/ginnel, jitty, passage, snicket, and twitchel. Read the link for more fascinating details about where each term is used. (OK, I may find it fascinating, but YMMV.)
And then came the conversation between Carmichael and Royston near the top of this post.
Since a picture is worth 1000 words, here are 4000 words’ worth of images to help you with ginnels, jitties, snickets, and twitchels, in that order (alphabetical, of course):