Photograph of Newcastle

Geordie lexis

English has a rich, diverse vocabulary, enhanced by the continued use of local words and expressions. Listen to some examples of Geordie dialect words and find out more about their origins and distribution.

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 20th 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 sections below give 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 (‘to spit’), hoy (‘to throw’), marra (‘mate’), muckle (‘very’), plodge (‘to trudge through thick mud’), spuggy (‘sparrow’ – used as a nickname for a character on the children's television series Byker Grove), stot (‘to 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. Click on the sound files to hear a Geordie using the target word. You can also find information about the background of the word and its regional distribution.

(All sound files © BBC. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.)


alang

Standard English equivalent

along

Sound file

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

Comment 

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

Standard English equivalent 

as well, also, too

Sound file

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

Comment

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


and such as

Standard English equivalent 

etcetera, and so on and so forth

Sound file

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

Comment

Also common in other parts of the northern England.


a-one

Standard English equivalent 

one

Sound file

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

Comment

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.


auld

Standard English equivalent 

old

Sound file

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

Comment

Common across northern England and in Scotland – derived from Anglo-Saxon ald, which had mutated to old in Midlands and southern dialects by the 13th century (cf. modern German alt).


aye

Standard English equivalent 

yes

Sound file

you mentioned a sledge?

aye, the, it would pull a sledge

Comment

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


bairn

Standard English equivalent 

child

Sound file

never used to hurry see the bairns then

Comment

Until recently common across much of 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

Standard English equivalent 

snack, packed lunch, food taken to work

Sound file

decided I would sit and have my bait there

Comment

Derived from Old Norse beita (‘food’).


byre

Standard English equivalent

cowshed

Sound file

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

Comment

Common in other parts of the north and in Scotland – retained from Anglo-Saxon byre.


champion

Standard English equivalent 

great, lovely

Sound file

you ate it and it was champion

Comment

Common term of approval among older speakers in northern England.


clarts

Standard English equivalent 

mud, crap

Sound file

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

Comment

Origin unknown, although references date back to 13th century.


crack

Standard English equivalent 

banter, camaraderie, fun

Sound file

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

Comment

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

Standard English equivalent 

go

Sound file

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

Comment

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

Standard English equivalent

great, fine, excellent

Sound file

that would be grand fun

Comment

Common term of approval among older speakers in northern England.


granda

Standard English equivalent 

grandfather

Sound file

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

Comment

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


hinney

Standard English equivalent

honey

Sound file

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

Comment

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


laddie

Standard English equivalent 

lad, boy

Sound file

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

Comment

Also common in Scotland.


lang

Standard English equivalent

long

Sound file

it's not that lang ago

Comment

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

Standard English equivalent 

girl

Sound file

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

Comment

Common across the whole of northern England – possibly derived from Old Norse lasqar, meaning ‘unmarried woman’.


lassie

Standard English equivalent

girl

Sound file

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

Comment

Also common in Scotland.


like

Standard English equivalent

like (discourse marker)

Sound file

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

Comment

Common discourse marker across the UK – especially common in the North East in utterance final position.


loaning

Standard English equivalent

lane

Sound file

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

Comment

Derived from Old Frisian lona, meaning ‘lane’.


mam

Standard English equivalent

mother

Sound file

mam was just a little lady – very slim

Comment

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


man

Standard English equivalent 

form of address

Sound file

was great, man!

Comment

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

Standard English equivalent 

maybe, perhaps

Sound file

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

Comment

Common in the North East in contrast to the use of mebbe or happen elsewhere in the north.


mind

Standard English equivalent 

mind you (discourse marker)

Sound file

place, mind, I must admit

Comment

Utterance final discourse marker used widely in the north (in contrast to mind you elsewhere).


nae

Standard English equivalent

no (determiner)

Sound file

nae money

Comment

Common also in Scotland – pronunciation survives from Middle English Northumbrian dialect.


nae body

Standard English equivalent 

nobody

Sound file

nae body bought houses in them days

Comment

Also common in Scotland.


netty

Standard English equivalent 

outside toilet

Sound file

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

Comment

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


nowt

Standard English equivalent 

nothing

Sound file

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

Comment

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


our lass

Standard English equivalent 

my wife/girlfriend/female partner

Sound file

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

Comment

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


our + personal name of a relative

Standard English equivalent 

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

Sound file

our Dorothy, she, lives at Watergate not far away

Comment

Term of endearment used when referring to a close relative – pretty common in the north and parts of the Midlands.


owt

Standard English equivalent 

anything

Sound file

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

Comment

Common across much of northern England, although pronunciation varies – derived from Anglo-Saxon eowiht.


round the doors

Standard English equivalent

nearby, in our area

Sound file

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


summat

Standard English equivalent 

something

Sound file

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

Comment

Very common elsewhere in the north and in parts of the Midlands.


tae

Standard English equivalent 

to

Sound file

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

Comment

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

Standard English equivalent

well (discourse marker)

Sound file

why 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

Comment

Highly distinctive discourse marker commonly used in the North East in utterance initial position.


wrang

Standard English equivalent

wrong

Sound file

got the wrang one

Comment

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

Standard English equivalent

still (now as formerly)

Sound file

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

Comment

Common in other parts of the north and in Scotland.


you know

Standard English equivalent

you know (discourse tag/filler)

Sound file

would kill a horse, you know

Comment

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

  • Jonnie Robinson
  • Jonnie Robinson is Lead Curator for Spoken English at the British Library. He has worked on two nationwide surveys of regional speech, the Survey of English Dialects and BBC Voices, and is on the editorial team for the journal English Today. In 2010/11 he co-curated the British Library exhibition Evolving English: One Language, Many Voices. His latest publication Evolving English WordBank: a glossary of present-day English dialect and slang (2015) draws on sound recordings made by visitors to the exhibition.

The text in this article is available under the Creative Commons License.