My old mate Tony Lumb gave Eddie and me a lift to piano lesson the other Saturday morning.
We got talking about some old sayings and words and he said: “Where’s that one come from, ‘nawpins’?”
We both knew it meant ‘perks of the job’ but neither of us had any idea of its origin. I’ve just spent the best part of three hours going through my collection of dictionaries – I own at least 20, dialect ones and the 13 volume Oxford English – but I can’t find any trace of this word.
It’s the same online, there are a few references to it being a Yorkshire word meaning everything from cadging money to dishonestly taking something that’s not yours but no clue to its origins.
I found reference to a short story called The Nawpin Stick but I don’t think that’s anything to do with the term in question.
The word nawpin does exist in the Native American language of the Mataponi tribe of Virginia, it means ‘to sit down’ but I can’t believe there would be a linguistic collision between West Virginia and the West Riding, though you never know.
Perhaps having a sneaky sit down to rest from work was somehow ‘a nawpins’ of the job. The best reference I discovered was in the following phrase: “There’s nooah nawpins ’ere, but tha’s bahn ter finnd tha dooant need a bucketful o’ brass I’ us teea’ahse.”
This, in the form of a notice, is pinned to the wall of a café’ up in Buckden in the Yorkshire Dales.
For those of you not from those parts or unused to dialect spelling, it means ‘there are no giveaways here, but you’re going to find you don’t need a lot of cash in our tearooms.’
I like the use of brass, meaning money in that phrase, that’s a proper old fashioned Yorkshire word isn’t it?
Which leads me to a lovely story. You will remember the group The Pretenders who with their American lead singer Chrissie Hynde had a worldwide number one hit with a song called Brass In Pocket. Well the song title came from something Chrissie Hynde heard while on tour with a group of musicians called Strangeways from Wakefield. My mate Adrian Wilson was in a dressing room backstage after a gig and someone said: “Whose trousers are these on the back of this chair?” One of the band members replied: “They’ll be mine if there’s any brass in t’ pocket!”
Chrissie Hynde laughed and said: “Brass in pocket! That’s a cool phrase.” A few months later Brass In Pocket was a song on its way to the top of the charts, the first number one record of the 1980s and one of the first videos to be seen on MTV.
People have been calling money ‘brass’ for a long time, since at least the 16th century. Joseph Hill in his collection of satirical poetry The Virgidemiarum uses the phrase: “Shame that muses should be bought and sold for every peasant’s brass.”
I think the word brass clings on just in Yorkshire now and I suspect it might have something to do with that well known northern phrase ‘where there’s muck there’s brass’.