1) A narrow entrance between houses.

Many dialect words have been lost in recent times but ‘ginnel’ survives in good health, acceptable in polite conversation and even in newspaper articles. In that respect it can be compared with ‘snicket’, as though the two fulfil a role in the language that English somehow cannot match: it must be suspected that most regions have their own equivalents. Early references are scarce and they tell us little about the word’s precise meaning. In 1744, Arthur Jessop the New Mill apothecary wrote that a subpoena had been sent to Joseph Eastwood’s wife in the Ginnil in the Low at Holmfirth. Similarly, one branch of the Taylor family was said to be of Ginnel in Meltham in 1774.In most reference works no clear distinction is drawn between ginnel and snicket, and they are both described as north-country words for a narrow entrance between houses. However, in the Holme Valley I was told that a ginnil ‘goes uphill and has setts whereas a snicket doesn’t – and it hasn’t’. The OED says that it has an obscure etymology but likens the word to ‘channel’ and offers the meaning as ‘a long narrow passage between houses, either roofed or unroofed’. In Wright’s Dialect Dictionary it is contrasted with ‘entry’ which is specifically said to have a roof – unlike a ginnel. The editors of Yorkshire glossaries are less reticent about the etymology and more than one claims a connection between ginnel and a Scandinavian word for ‘mouth’, as though the ginnel was originally an opening.I am unable to contribute to the etymological argument but one or two other references to the word may be of interest. For example, Council minutes printed in the Huddersfield Daily Chronicle show that Councillor Brooke moved a resolution in 1881 that a footway near the Baptist Chapel in New North Road should be closed. In the statements that followed several councillors referred to the footway as a ginnel and said that it was in an unsanitary state. In fact, they also described it as an alley and a road but ginnel was the preferred term when its shocking condition was being mentioned. In a much earlier example there were similarly unpleasant connotations in Manchester. In 1613 Robert Charnock was said to have newly erected a privie, the Filthe whereof Falleth into a certen Gynnell or gutter between his house and one belonging to Thomas Brownsword. It was even claimed that he kept his swine in the same gynnell . On the other hand it was acceptable for the narrow alleys off Skipton’s High Street to be named as ginnels, and John Ranson’s guinnil had that name as early as 1756.

dates 1613 1744 1756

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