Out walking the other day I came across a lovely West-Country-ism from a local walking her dog – frit, meaning frightened, in “you frit him” (referring to a startled dog). The speaker sounded local (Bristol / Gloucestershire).
Oxford online gives it as an adjective, with the origin: “Early 19th century: dialect past participle of fright.” but I’m interested more in the verb use, in particular, in which dialects it is or was used.
A related discussion at WordReference.com gives some scattered examples of the use as an adjective, including one in which the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used it in a list of synonyms for “afraid”. Examples as a verb are harder to find
While dictionaries tend to describe frit as a dialect-based usage, its usage as a past participle is widespread enough that register (it being colloquial) is more important to its use than place. The Oxford English Dictionary (note: paywall) notes the dialect usage, but not which dialects:
Dialect and colloquial past participle of fright v. 2a.
(fright v. 2a.) transitive. To affect with fright; to scare, terrify. Now rare exc. poetic and dialect; in ordinary language its place has been taken by frighten.
A selection of the quotes illustrates that the shortened form frit goes back to the 19th century, with a possible breadth of sources:
1821 J. Clare Village Minstrel II. 196 The coy hare squats nestling in the corn, Frit at the bow’d ear tott’ring o’er her head.
1908 D. H. Lawrence Let. 31 Dec. (1962) I. 44 The woman is..a wee bit frit.
1960 Oxf. Mail 4 Aug. 1/5 When I heard he was dead I got frit.
1970 New Society 19 Nov. 897/3 I was frit, cold and bored.
Most of these uses treat frit as a past participle.
The English Dialect Dictionary Online 3.0 (an adaptation of a late 19th century/ early 20th century dialect dictionary) provides more information in its entry for fright, v. and sb.. For the past participle frit, the following entries and dialect areas are mentioned (I expand the dialect area abbreviations):
(6) Nottingham. He war always frit in the dark (L.C.M.); Harrod Hist. Mansfield (1801) 53.
South Nottingham. A were a bit frit at the noise (J.P.K.). Lincoln. (J.C.W.);
Lincoln.1 North Lincoln. He was to be frit wi’ nowt, Peacock Taales (1890) 2nd S.
121. South Lincoln. (T.H.R.), Lei.1
Northampton. Frit at the bow’d ear tott’ring
o’er her head, Clare Poems (1821) II. 196;
Northampton.1 I was frit to
Northampton.2 He was soon frit, warnt he?
Warwick.24, South Warwick.1
Hereford.2 Is her frit?
Oxford. Frit to death (G.P.).
Bedford. Being ‘sore
afraid’ was explained in the Sunday-school to signify being
‘uncommon frit’ (J.W.B.).
fare wholly frit (C.T.).
Sussex.1 I was quite frit to see him so near
Hampshire. N. & Q. (1854) 1st S. x. 120;
Hampshire.1, East Devonshire.
So the past participle form crops up in many places, from Nottingham to Sussex to Devonshire. In addition, the EDD Online notes that the basic form frit is present in Scotland and the preterite form frit occurs in Nottingham, Lincoln, and as far south as Warwick and Leicester. So the word seems dialect-based in a broad sense. For example, regional dialects of British English uses frit but American English does not.
Returning to Oxford Dictionaries, an article on Margaret Thatcher’s use of the word frit confirms that the word is “regional” but not locked down to a single place like Lincolnshire:
In the early 1980s, Mrs Thatcher accused the Labour politician Denis Healey of being “frit”, corresponding with modern day “frightened”. It was widely reported, at the time, that she had employed a Lincolnshire dialect word, demonstrating her Grantham roots. This wasn’t quite true – “frit” is used much more widely in English regional use that just Lincolnshire.
Indeed, her opponents seize upon the informal register of the term:
The term was seized upon by her political opponents and cries of “frit”, “is she frit?”, and even “Madame Frit” could be heard in the House of Commons for a good few years afterward.