Free the Word: twine
As part of the Free the Word series, OED associate editor Eleanor Maier explores Cumbria’s chosen word, which will be the subject of a poem by Katie Hale.
twine v. to moan, complain.
Moaning seems to be a universal human trait and the English language has a number of words for the activity, from ‘mither’ in the north-west of England, ‘squinny’ in Portsmouth, Yiddish ‘kvetch’, to ‘whinge’ which was originally found in Scottish and northern sources but is now universal. To that list we can add ‘twine’, a variant of ‘whine’, and Cumbria’s chosen word.
Although the word is recorded across the north of England and some parts of Scotland, it is particularly associated with Cumbria. From the first use in a poem told in the Cumberland dialect to recent tweets from that area.
The earliest use we have found so far of the word (in the form ‘tweyne’) is in a collection of poems by John Stagg (1770-1823), who was known in Cumberland as the ‘Blind Bard’:
For still ‘tmun rather ease my meynde,
At is bit owr dispwosed to tweyne,
To ruminate on aul lang seyne.
From ‘A New Year’s Epistle. Written in the Cumberland Dialect.’ (1805)
From the 19th century onwards the evidence shows that the verb ‘twine’ is used both specifically of a baby crying and more generally to describe anyone fretting, whining, or complaining. Most of the evidence we have found for the word in the 19th and 20th century is non-contextual: from various regional glossaries of the 19th century to the magisterial Survey of English Dialects, which records how, in the 1960s, fieldworkers in Durham received the reply ‘twining on’ to the question: ‘When a baby wakes up and starts making loud, shrill noises, you say the baby is….’
However, with the advent of internet newsgroups and later Twitter, it is much easier to find contextual examples of such local vocabulary, as the following tweets show:
sorry – I don’t mean to moan at you. I’ve twined about it enough over the years.
— Muzzer Daftbat (@muzzer_daftbat) November 19, 2016
Why can’t baby’s just go to sleep like a normal human they have to twine about it for an hour first then go to sleep
— bethany (@bethanyARx) June 6, 2017
some people just like twining on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on
— Heather (@Heather695) January 9, 2012
However, the story doesn’t end with the verb. As with the related word ‘whine’, ‘twine’ can also be used as noun (e.g. ‘Oh how I do love to have a good old twine about something.’) and has given rise to the adjective ‘twiney’, with twitter showing common collocations to be ‘twiney mood’ and ‘twiney arse’ (compare ‘mardy-arse’). Over a century earlier the English Dialect Dictionary records the compounds ‘twiny-bags’ and ‘twine-wallets’, both defined as ‘a cross, peevish child’.
Oh how i do love to have a good old twine about something.
— Rebecca Hocking (@BekahHocking) October 26, 2010