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Geordie Lexis

Geordie Dialect Vocabulary

Many people believe the word dialect refers only to the use of unusual vocabulary, but this is only one aspect of a dialect. This preoccupation with vocabulary is perhaps not surprising. Grammatical variation tends to be very subtle and many non-standard constructions are in fact national, rather than regional features of popular speech. Likewise, differences in pronunciation, although noticeable, rarely affect our ability to understand each other. So it is only when someone uses an unfamiliar word or expression that we assume they are speaking in dialect.

Local words and expressions

There was, until quite recently, greater lexical diversity across the UK. For centuries, local lifestyles and speech changed very little. Despite a gradual erosion of dialect vocabulary over the course of the twentieth century, one still regularly hears local words and expressions, and Tyneside is a particularly fruitful hunting ground. Much of the local vocabulary is descended from Old English (Anglo-Saxon), but has changed or been replaced in other varieties of English further south. For instance, when a Geordie uses the verb larn, meaning ‘to teach’, it is not a misuse of the Standard English verb learn (c.f. modern German lernen), rather it is the modern reflex of the Anglo-Saxon verb læran, meaning ‘to teach’ (c.f. modern German lehren). Several Geordie words are also thought to have been borrowed from Romany. For example, gadgie, meaning ‘bloke’ or ‘fellow’, is probably an anglicised version of the Romany word used to refer to a ‘male non-Roma’, gadjo (plural gadje). There has been a Roma presence for centuries in the Borders area and so it is not surprising this has influenced speech in the North East.

A rich local vocabulary

The table below gives examples of regional vocabulary in Tyneside. All are from recent BBC interviews and reflect current usage. They represent natural, authentic usage, rather than reported usage, which can sometimes be exaggerated. The list is by no means comprehensive, and there are numerous other local words commonly used, for example: bonny (‘pretty’), burn (‘stream’), canny (‘quite, really, very’), cushat (‘wood pigeon’), fogs (‘first’), hadaway (‘get away’ or ‘you must be joking!’), haway (‘come on!’), hame (‘home’), hockle (‘spit’), hoy (‘throw’), marra (‘mate’), muckle (‘very’), plodge (‘trudge through thick mud’), spuggy (‘sparrow’ - used recently as a nickname for a character on the television series Byker Grove), stot (‘bounce’), spelk (‘splinter’) and pet, the quintessential Geordie address to females, and popularised by the character of Terry Collier in the television series The Likely Lads and the programme title Auf Wiedersehen, Pet. It is incredibly difficult to record dialect vocabulary naturally. The fact so many local words are included below demonstrates a wealth of local vocabulary is still used spontaneously by Geordies. The left-hand column lists each word, while the second column gives a definition in Standard English. Click on the sound files to hear a Geordie using the target word. The right-hand column gives information about the background of the word and its regional distribution.

WordStandard English equivalentsound fileComment
alang

along

the auldest ones, they would give a bit roar and they would come alang, cause they knew they used to get fed when they come in to get milked, you know

also common in Scotland - adjectives ending orthographically in <-ong>, such as long, strong, wrong retain the Old English pronunciation that derives from Anglo-Saxon (c.f. modern German lang)

and all

as well, also, too

they would hire a hay-man and all in the summertime to help them with the hay

used nationally (although this pronunciation is restricted to the North East of England)

and such as

etcetera, and so on and so forth

a couple of outside buildings where they stood the ash-bins and such as ‘ and that was about it

also common in other parts of the northern England

a-one

one

, nearly every house had a, a little wash-house; sometimes you shared a-one with somebody else

at one time common in popular speech across the country - this is now restricted to ritual counting, such as before playing a piece of music or when boxing referees count out time

aught

anything

, when, uh, when, uh, you come to clean your fires and aught and things like that, you just lifted the whole seat up

common across much of the northern England, although pronunciation varies - derived from Anglo-Saxon eowiht

auld

old

, like I say, this is the auld house that we‘re ganning to have a look at

common across the northern England and in Scotland - derived from Anglo-Saxon ald, which had mutated to old in Midlands and southern dialects by the thirteenth century (cf. modern German alt)

aye

yes

mentioned a sledge?

aye, the, it would pull a sledge

origin unknown, common in the northern England and Scotland and in the extremely formal ceremonial voting system of The House of Commons

bairn

child

never used to hurry see the bairns then

until recently common across much of the northern England, nowadays more restricted to the far north and Scottish Borders - probably Old Norse in origin (although possibly also Anglo-Saxon - cf. modern Danish barn)

bait

snack, packed lunch, food taken to work

decided I would sit and have my bait there

derived from Old Norse beita, (‘food’ )

byre

cowshed

that was the stable and then next door to the stable was the byre where the house cows lived

common in other parts of the north and in Scotland - retained from Anglo-Saxon byre

champion

great, lovely

you ate it and it was champion

common term of approval among older speakers in the northern England

clarts

mud, crap

used to jump off the wagon, outside the Central Station, covered in clarts

origin unknown, although references date back to 13th century

crack

banter, camaraderie, fun

was great, it was, eh, the, the, the crack was great, the crack

probably derived from the Anglo-Saxon verb cracian (cf. modern German krachen) - from which we get Standard English expressions, such as to crack a joke and wisecrack

gan

go

next thing you used to remember was the alarm clock ganning off the next day - it was time to gan back to work

until recently common in local dialect as far south as Humberside, nowadays very much the Geordie marker - derived from Anglo-Saxon gan in contrast to Old Norse ga, which was at one time common in the North West of England

grand

great, fine, excellent

that would be grand fun

common term of approval among older speakers in northern England

granda

grandfather

I says to my granda, I says, “Well, what was the hole for in the ceiling?”

term of endearment for ‘grandfather’ used across much of the North East

hinney

honey

they would say to you when you went down, and you, “Yes, just get what you want, hinney!”

common form of address in the North East used when addressing females or young children

laddie

lad, boy

I remember when I was a little laddie looking up through the hole

also common in Scotland

lang

long

, it's not that lang ago

also common in Scotland - adjectives ending orthographically in <-ong>, such as long, strong, wrong retain the Old English pronunciation that derives from Anglo-Saxon (c.f. modern German lang)

lass

girl

if the lass had a bairn; even if the lass had a bairn out of wedlock, she was look, frowned upon, you know

common across the whole of the northern England - possibly derived from Old Norse lasqar, meaning ‘unmarried woman’

lassie

girl

her, one lassie got a mouse down her jumper before dinner-time the first day

also common in Scotland

like

like (discourse marker)

being a boy, mind, I didn't do much of that, like

common discourse marker across the UK - especially common in the North East in utterance-final position

loaning

lane

, when we got to the loaning, the road, we had to turn round and come back up

derived from Old Frisian lona, meaning ‘lane’ term of endearment for ‘mother’ used across the whole of the north and in Scotland and Northern Ireland

mam

mother

mam was just a little lady - very slim

term of endearment for ‘mother’ used across the whole of the north and in Scotland and Northern Ireland

man

form of address

was great, man!

common form of address used widely in the North East to attract attention or establish solidarity among speakers - also used (with a different pronunciation) in the Caribbean

mebbies

maybe, perhaps

on where you lived for how far you had to carry the water - sometimes mebbies two or three hundred yards

common in the North East in contrast to the use of mebbe or happen elsewhere in the northcommon in the North East in contrast to the use of mebbe or happen elsewhere in the north

mind

mind you (discourse marker)

place, mind, I must admit

utterance-final discourse marker used widely in the north (in contrast to mind you elsewhere)

nae

no (determiner)

nae money

common also in Scotland - pronunciation survives from Middle English Northumbrian dialect

naebody

nobody

naebody bought houses in them days

also common in Scotland

naught

nothing

always think you ganning to be left with naught again, aren't you?

common across much of the northern England, although pronunciation varies - derived from Anglo-Saxon nawiht

netty

outside toilet

in them days we never had any flush toilets or anything like that; there was always these netties as we used to call them, you know

origin unknown, although some theories suggest it is an abbreviation of Italian gabbinetti, meaning ‘toilet’

our lass

my wife/girlfriend/female partner

I met our lass in, I mean, I fell, I mean, why, it sounds, it might sound old-fashioned but I fell in love with her, you know

see lass above and go to Geordie connected speech processes for explanation of local pronunciation of our

our + personal name of a relative

my + personal name of daughter/son/brother/cousin etc.

our Dorothy, she, lives at Watergate not far away

term of endearment used when referring to a close relative - pretty common in the north and parts of the Midlands

round the doors

nearby, in our area

, uh, the local pub, The Townley Arms, or working men's clubs round, you know, round the doors

somewhat

something

wiped it, sort of, on our new clothes or somewhat, you know

very common elsewhere in the north and in parts of the Midlands

tae

to

should‘ve had to walk there when you were a kid I divvent think I would like tae

also very common in Scotland - derived from Old Frisian ti in contrast to Old Norse till, which survives in dialects in the North West

why

well (discourse marker)

do you say that the horse is far better than the tractor?

why the tractor‘ll not gan through a lot of snow - two or three feet of snow, but a horse can gan through a fair bit snow

highly distinctive discourse marker commonly used in the North East in utterance-initial position

wrang

wrong

got the wrang one

also common in Scotland - adjectives ending orthographically in <-ong>, such as long, strong, wrong retain the Old English pronunciation that derives from Anglo-Saxon (c.f. modern German lang)

yet

still (now as formerly)

, uh, and it was fantastic to smell -I still, in fact I can still smell it yet

common in other parts of the north and in Scotland

you know

you know (discourse tag/filler)

would kill a horse, you know

common discourse tag with highly distinctive pronunciation in the North East used as a hedge or filler