Q: I heard a 93-year-old lady from Leeds use the term “doy” as an endearment for children. It meant something like sweetie/pet/love. Do you know where it comes from or how widely it’s used?
A: A book called The Dialect of Leeds and Its Neighbourhood, published in 1861, defines “doy” as “a name of endearment for a child.” Leeds is the largest city in Yorkshire, a historic county in northern England.
I found a similar explanation in Dialects of the West Riding of Yorkshire: A Short History of Leeds and Other Towns, by Samuel Dyer (1891): “Doy is the diminutive of darling. … Its origin I do not know.”
It must have been common in its time, since I’ve found many such explanations.
Also, the word appears in many old Yorkshire ditties and poems. Here’s one from a collection published in 1872: “Whear is thi’ Daddy doy? Whear is thi’ mam?”
What’s the source of the term? Susan Aaron, born in 1909 in the Yorkshire town of Knottingley, thought it might have been of Scandinavian origin.
“Many Norse words I learnt from Granddad, and when he called me it was ‘Come on Doy’ a form of endearment,” she said in “Childhood in Knottingley,” a long posting to a website called “Knottingley and Ferrybridge Online.” (The item was submitted by a nephew, Don Aaron.)
Was it originally Norse? I can’t tell, since I haven’t found the word in any of my etymology references. Unfortunately, it’s not even listed in the Oxford English Dictionary.
A poster to another website, Secret Leeds, described “doy” as a dialect word for love “that was used when I was a kid.” The writer added that it was “a word you never hear these days” and that it “must have died with my grandparents and their generation.”
Another poster to the site also thought that “doy” meant love, and described it as a “Yorkshire dialect word used to me when I was little by my grandma and her friends.”