Nesh is an English dialect adjective meaning 'unusually susceptible to cold weather' and there is no synonym for this use. Usage in the 21st Century has been recorded in Staffordshire, the East Midlands, Lancashire, North Wales, South Yorkshire and Shropshire. There is a similar term nish used in Newfoundland. In 1905, Volume 4 of the English Dialect Dictionary specified the word as being used more widely, in many dialects across England, Scotland and the United States.
The word comes from Old English hnesce meaning feeble, weak, or infirm and is a cognate with the 16th century Dutch word nesch typically meaning damp or foolish. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that some etymologists have suggested a connection with Old High German nasc, meaning 'to eat dainty food or delicacies' (the origin of the word nosh), but it dismisses this connection as "unlikely".
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.
- "It seemeth for love his herte is tender and neshe."
The earliest traceable use in modern English, in literature, was in Mary Barton, written by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1848. Gaskell's style is notable for dignifying the use of local dialect words by putting them into the voice of her characters, and of the narrator. It was also used in Gaskell's The Manchester Marriage, written in 1858.
- "Now, I'm not above being nesh for other folks myself. I can stand a good blow, and never change colour; but, set me in the operating-room in the Infirmary, and I turn as sick as a girl."
- "At Mrs Wilson's death, Norah came back to them, as nurse to the newly-born little Edwin; into which post she was not installed without a pretty strong oration on the part of the proud and happy father; who declared that if he found out that Norah ever tried to screen the boy by a falsehood, or to make him nesh either in body or mind, she should go that very day."
In 1885 nesh formed a quarter of a curious monograph entitled Four dialect words, clem, lake, nesh, and oss, their modern dialectal range, meanings, pronunciation, etymology, and early or literary use written by Thomas Hallam.
- "Whenever she and her husband came to a puddle in their walks together he'd take her up like a half-penny doll and put her over without dirting her a speck. And if he keeps the daughter so long at boarding-school, he'll make her as nesh as her mother was."
- "Do you ever 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."
- "F-ff-f!" he went, pretending to shudder with cold.
- "Goodness, man, don't be such a kid!" said Mrs. Morel. "It's NOT cold."
- "Thee strip thysen stark nak'd to wesh thy flesh i' that scullery," said the miner, as he rubbed his hair; "nowt b'r a ice-'ouse!"
- "And I shouldn't make that fuss," replied his wife.
- "No, tha'd drop down stiff, as dead as a door-knob, wi' thy nesh sides."
- From the background slowly approached a slender man with a grey moustache and large patches on his trousers.
- 'You've got'im back 'gain, ah see,' he said to his daughter-in-law. His wife explained how I had found Joey.
- 'Ah,' went on the grey man. 'It wor our Alfred scared him off, back your life. He must'a flyed ower t'valley. Tha ma' thank thy stars as 'e wor fun, Maggie. 'E'd a bin froze. They a bit nesh, you know,' he concluded to me.
- 'They are,' I answered. 'This isn't their country.'
The word also appears in the fourth line of Lawrence's "The Risen Lord" (1929):
- The risen lord, the risen lord
- has risen in the flesh,
- and treads the earth to feel the soil
- though his feet are still nesh.
The same usage also appears in a much less salubrious context, in the 1985 song "Now 'E's A Puff", by The Macc Lads. Part of one line of the first verse says:
- He's gone all nesh, he's makin' us sick...
Usage continued to be fairly local until the word reached an international audience in the film The Full Monty. This was shot during 1997 on location in Sheffield. In this film nesh was used in the context of feeling cold when others don't.
Since the appearance in the film the word, used for lacking courage, has occurred in the national press.
Nowadays, it is considered to be a gently derogatory comment, that can be used to a friend. An example might be 'Why are you wearing a coat? That's a bit nesh, isn't it?'.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists several shades of meaning, some of which are obsolete. Those still in use, include:
- Soft in texture or consistency; yielding easily to pressure or force. In later use chiefly: tender, succulent, juicy. For example, "It is hoped that the report will have a wide circulation as a guideline to asking sharp and pertinent questions that strip away the nish outer flesh and get right to the bone of the problem."
- Damp, moist, wet, chilly.
- Lacking courage, spirit, or energy; timid, faint-hearted; lazy, negligent. For example: "The worst crime was the charge of being ‘nesh’... It was..nesh to..wait for the bus to stop before jumping into the road [etc.]."
- Delicate, weak, sickly, feeble; unable to endure fatigue, etc.; susceptible (to cold, etc.). For example: "A delicate, easily affected child, who therefore needs more than ordinary care, is said by old people to be nash."
- Fastidious, squeamish, dainty.
The definition in the Microsoft Encarta Dictionary is:
1. sensitive to cold: very sensitive to cold temperatures
2. timid: lacking courage or self-confidence
However, the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines nesh as:
'soft - in consistency, mind, or morals'
Webster's Online Dictionary 1913 defines nesh, in its earlier usage, as:
'Soft, tender, delicate'
- :'Putting SY on the wordmap', BBC, 22 August 2005
- "Staffordshire Words - your suggestions!", BBC, 2005
- "A Gradely Read for Gradely Folk". Archived from the original on August 2, 2013. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
- "Nesh", Vocaboly.com, January 18, 2005
- "What's Up Duck?". Derby Telegraph. 4 September 2009. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
- OED: 1879 G. F. JACKSON Shropshire Word-bk. s.v., 'Er's a nesh piece, 'er dunna do above 'afe a day's work. Given under Sense 2: "Lacking courage, spirit, or energy; timid, faint-hearted; lazy, negligent. Now Eng. regional, chiefly north. rare."
- Dictionary of Newfoundland English - nish
- Joseph Wright (1905). English Dialect Dictionary, Volume 4. Oxford: Henry Fowde. p. 252.
- Thesaurus of Old English
- "nesh, adj., n., and adv". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2 January 2017.
- Oxford English Dictionary online version.
- Jasper Copping (3 July 2011). "Regional phrases preserved in new wordbank so you can tell a bobowler from a bishybarnabee". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 August 2011.
- "Children's Employment: Factories". 6 (XVIII ed.). Reports from the Commissioners. 5 February – 28 July 1863. Cite journal requires
- Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell and Shirley Foster. "Mary Barton". Oxford World's Classics. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
- "Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales and Other Poems". everypoet.com. Retrieved 15 May 2010.
- "Mary Barton", Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
- "Have at the masters"?: literary allusions in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton", Studies in the Novel, June 22, 2007, Wilkes, Joan
- Victorian Short Stories, Stories Of Successful Marriages, The Project Gutenberg
- Indiana State University Library - Cordell Collection
- "The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy". Project Gutenberg. 1 April 1996. Retrieved 2 May 2010.
- Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911). The Secret Garden. Heinemann. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-0-19-958822-0. Retrieved 22 May 2011.
- "Sons and Lovers", Chapter VIII 'Strife in Love', World Wide School Library
- "England, My England", Chapter 4 'Monkey Nuts', Literature.org
- Keith M. Sagar (1966). The Art of D. H.Lawrence. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-06181-0. Retrieved 3 May 2010.
- "The Macc Lads - Now He's A Poof: Lyrics". Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- 'The Full Monty', Sheffield on the Internet
- Matt Kelly (5 January 2009). "Sorry - turns out I am a nesh biker after all. But at least i'm not a cyclist". Daily Mirror. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- Evening Telegram (Newfoundland) 28 December 1974
- W. W. SKEAT English Dialect Dictionary (1903) IV. 252/1. [Somerset] Nesh [of the weather: wet, damp, chilly].
- Guardian, 9 October 1995
- Western Daily Press 18 March 1924.
- A. B. EVANS Leicestershire Words, 1848. "Naish, or Nash,..is also used for dainty. ‘A naish feeder’ is said of a horse."
- Microsoft Encarta Premium Suite 2004
- The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (CD-ROM)
- Webster's Online Dictionary 1913
The dictionary definition of nesh at Wiktionary