What’s a ‘ginnel’?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: ginnel…

When I read English authors, I often encounter words that are idiosyncratically British. Of course I can figure out the obvious ones: lift (elevator), boot (car trunk), pudding (dessert.)

But every once in a while, a word throws me for a loop. One such word is ginnel. I encountered it recently, in the book The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst.

Here is how he used it. 

It was nearly lunchtime when they set off down the hill, crossed the big road and picked their way down through the ginnels and steep stairways between cottages to the high sea.

A ginnel, it turns out is a narrow passageway or alley often between terraced houses. The word is apparently in common use in Yorkshire and Lancashire and comes from Old English ginn (an opening, abyss) joined with the diminutive suffix, el found usually in words of German origin.

I’m not sure where the photo at the top of this post was shot, but it looks rather Mediterranean to me.