Variants of all right

In November 2007, my friend Lieanne was doing a project for her university course in graphic design. One of the project options was to create a "typographic design" that "celebrated language". She wanted to tackle it because it was one of the more difficult options and would thus be more of an achievement if she could come up with something.

The one stumbling block was that she didn't have a subject. She is a graphic designer, not a linguist. Since she'd once told me that people say "'torrit?" to one another in Wigan, I hit upon the idea of variations on a theme. So I did a few hours' research one evening to come up with some linguistic analysis for her. This is that analysis.

I even discovered the correct spelling for "'torrit". ☺

Yorkshire English

awreet — A phonetic spelling of the Yorkshire English pronunciation of "all right". It is used to form greetings such as "Art awreet?" ("Art [thou] all right?"), which in Lancastrian English is sometimes written as one compound word "artawreet", shortened in conversation and computer discussion fora (but not yet in print) to "'tawreet".

George C. Greenfield records its use by Yorkshireman radio celebrity Wilfred Pickles in his 1995 memoir A Smattering of Monsters:

And when one plump junior clerk for the third time of asking offered a new copy of the book for his signature, Wilfred Pickles looked up with a bright eye and said in his broadest accent, "It's awreet, lass. Last lap!"

Griffiths and Williams also use the word to represent dialectal speech in A Learning Approach to Change, relating the following Northern English anecdote:

John's parents were dismayed because for six years he had failed to talk, despite all their coaching. On his seventh birthday, he suddenly complained "Ey, Mum, this tater pie's 'orrible!". "John, yer've spokken. Why aster nivver spokken afore?" asked John's mother. "Tater pie's bin awreet upter neow." said John.

The word is comparatively recent, its earliest ocurrences in print being from the early to middle 20th century. One of the earliest occurrences is Seymour Hicks, in his 1938 book Night Lights: Two Men Talk of Life and Love and Ladies, describing Gracie Fields as "emphatically 'awreet'" — a description of Fields that is repeated in the 1946 edition of The Strand magazine. There are a sparse smattering of earlier occurrences in print from 1937 (Eric Knight's Song on Your Bugles) and 1927 (The Countryman: A Quarterly Review and Miscellany of Rural Life and Progress ), but overall the word is rare.

It can be traced to the earlier spelling "aw reet", from which the Northumbrian and Geordie "areet" is also descended.

Northumbrian and Geordie

areet or alreet — A phonetic spelling of the Geordie pronunciation of "all right". It is used in combination to form greetings, such as "Areet? 'ows tha goin'?" ("Are you all right? How art thou?") and "Areet lads and lasses!" ("All right, boys and girls!").

The word has widespread mainstream acceptance in Northumberland and County Durham, and is sometimes regarded as a distinctive cultural marker. In 2004, for example, the Newcastle Youth Council set up a (since defunct) web site with the names "" and "".

One of the earliest occurrences of the word in print is in the 1857 The Bowtun luminary, Tumfowt telegraph, un Lankishire lookin-glass on page 161:

[…] strung hints abeawt th' greight importance o 'payin close attenshun to the' tendencies uv a child's disposishun, wi' a view to guide it areet by th' force un peawr uv eddikashun, which hit us on th' yed but too often wi' no effect.

An earlier spelling is "aw reet", as used by Robert Anderson in one of his poems, The Bleckell Murry-Neet, collected in 1820:

Aa, lad! sec a murry-neet we've hed at Bleckell,
The sound o' the fiddle yet ring i' my ear;
Aw reet clipt and heel'd were the lads and the lasses,
And monie a cliver lish huzzy was theer:


awright — A phonetic spelling of the Cockney pronunciation of "all right". Used in combination to form greetings, such as "Awright, guv'?" ("Are you all right, governor?"). Eric Partridge's 1961 A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English lists "orright" as the definitive spelling, albeit that "awright" is in fact the more popular spelling. (The later, posthumous, 2005 revision of Partridge's dictionary also has "orl right", although not as a heading in its own right but only occurring within quotations.)

One of the earliest occurrences of the word in print is in Arthur Morrison's 1895 collection of short stories, Tales of Mean Streets on page 182:

"Awright, guv'nor," said one, "we're auf", and two more echoed, "Awright, guv'nor", and began to move away.

This is often employed to convey a Cockney stereotype. Unlike other dialectal variants, "awright" has not gained mainstream acceptance, and still conveys connotations of working class Londoners. In 1959, Margaret Schlauch in The English Language in Modern Times, Since 1400 classified "awright" as a vulgarism, and it continues to be regarded as such today.

General English

You can read another discussion of this written by Kickstartnews.

alright — This is widely considered to be a simple mis-spelling, of "all right", that has only gained traction in the United Kingdom at the end of the 20th century and has gained no traction in the United States. This belief is erroneous.

The 2006 American Heritage Dictionary says that "Despite the appearance of the form alright in works of such well-known writers as Langston Hughes and James Joyce, the single word spelling has never been accepted as standard. This is peculiar, since similar fusions such as already and altogether have never raised any objections. The difference may lie in the fact that already and altogether became single words back in the Middle Ages, whereas alright has only been around for a little more than a century and was called out by language critics as a misspelling. Consequently, one who uses alright, especially in formal writing, runs the risk that readers may view it as an error or as the willful breaking of convention."

Examples of these language critics are H.W. Fowler, who stated unequivocally that "there are no such forms as all-right, or allright, or alright, though even the last, if seldom allowed by the compositors to appear in print, is often seen […] in manuscripts", and Frederick Thomas Wood, who stated in 1967, in English Prepositional Idioms, simply that it is that it is a mis-spelling, giving it no further treatment.

In fact, as the AHD notes, the word has a long history of usage in print, in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and elsewhere, dating back to the 19th century. Examples of this include:

Indeed, the AHD is underestimating the age of the word (as is the Oxford English Dictionary, whose earliest quotation is from 1893). In the 1849 edition of Martim de Albuquerque's Notes and Queries, on page 413, it is stated that "It may be of some interest to say that the form 'alright' began to appear in Scotland mainly in boys' letters, some six or eight years ago.", making the AHD's "little more than a century" to be at least 163–165 years, and giving the word over 7 decades of use before the language critics of the early 20th century got a-hold of it. (In fairness, it should be noted that an 1883 note in the Texas School Journal and an 1867 letter to the editor of The Journal of Education both object to the use of the word — the latter in classic "Sir, The young people of today …" style.)

Those "young people of today", most of whom would have been long dead by the time that H.W. Fowler wrote about the word, were of course indulging in nothing more than a normal English word formation process — the same process via which many words that language critics have no problems with, such as "within", "without", "upon", "into", "towards", and, indeed, "already", were themselves formed.

The word that they were coining (or re-coining, given that "alriht" and various other spellings exist in Middle English texts) was merely a variant on a phrase that itself was new at the time. "All right" itself had only been around for a mere two decades before those Scottish boys started writing "alright", having been absent from the (recorded) English language for 430 years, since Chaucer's use of "al right" in approximately 1385. It had only just reappeared in 1822, in Shelley's Scenes from Goethe's Faust.

The word has long since been recognized, too, even in the United States. Merriam-Webster first included it in its dictionary in 1934.

The 1994 Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage gives "alright" a far more lengthy treatment than the two-word treatment given to it by Frederick Thomas Wood, noting the disapproval of Fowler, after whose 1924 denunciation of the word "nearly all usage commentators fall into line", but pointing out that the usual form of such disapproval is to apply a pejorative label to the word or to deny its existence (despite popular recognition of the word — one correspondent having petitioned Merriam-Webster to include it in its dictionary in September 1913) with "no cogent reasons […] presented for its being considered wrong".

The conclusion that Merriam-Webster presents, in part, is that "alright" was subject to somewhat of a vicious circle: It didn't appear in print outside of reported speech because copy editors suppressed it, correcting manuscripts that contained it. Copy editors suppressed it because they considered it to be wrong. They considered it to be wrong because authorities said that it was wrong. Authorities said that it was wrong because it didn't occur in print in respectable publications, only in manuscripts. And all this began because in the first decade of the 20th century, commentators happened to notice the theretofore quiet existence of "alright" as a word and wanted to argue against what they saw to be a bad analogy.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathan de Boyne Pollard. "Moral" rights asserted.
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