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Newcastle English ("Geordie")

written by Geoff Smith 

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Listen to some "Geordie"




English people asked to name a famous Geordie would probably choose a soccer player such as Alan Shearer, until recently England's captain, or Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne, the tabloid reporter's dream with a sublime footballing talent only matched by a penchant for self-destruction. We Geordies (or should I say "us Geordies"?) -- the inhabitants of the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and its surrounding area -- are often perceived by the rest of the country as friendly, somewhat unsophisticated folks, usually fanatical football supporters who like their beer and tabs ('cigarettes'). The word tab has even gained currency recently among student populations in the rest of the country, who also favour the occasional "Newkie Brown" (Newcastle Brown Ale). This latter name would actually sound very strange to natives of the North-east, who usually refer to their iconic drink more succinctly as dog or simply Broon. A rather unflattering Geordie stereotype is amusingly caricatured by Reg Smythe's cartoon strip character, the outrageously politically incorrect but likable rogue, Andy Capp (You can check out the latest strip at

The word "Geordie" is said to date from the early 18th century, when Newcastle people declared support for the English kings George I and II, in opposition to the rest of the population of Northumberland, who supported the Scottish Jacobite rebellions. Although the name is localised to the Newcastle area, the dialect here merges gradually into the Northumbrian and Scottish dialects to the north and to a lesser extent into Durham and Yorkshire varieties to the south. The variety described here includes that of the region immediately surrounding the city of Newcastle and the villages of East Northumberland to the north that I am more familiar with. These villages, until recently depending largely on the coal industry, are home to many of the broader dialect speakers.

Visitors from the south of England are typically nonplussed by a broad Geordie speaker, which has prompted some to claim that Geordie could even be considered a separate language. A broad accent is certainly not intelligible to many other native English-speakers at a first listening. Peter Beardsley, another soccer player and Geordie icon, even suffered the indignity of having English sub-titles on all his television interviews. This unintelligibility is due to a combination of variations on standard sounds, especially vowels, and the use of various distinctive words and grammatical structures. In recent years, the problem of mis-communication has diminished to a degree. Not only have Newcastle residents accommodated somewhat to the norms of Standard English, but the Geordie accent has become better known to the rest of the country through television series such as "The Likely Lads" and "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet" and the cult movie "Get Carter." Others from the entertainment industry associated with Newcastle include the rock bands The Animals and Dire Straits, the singer and environmental activist Sting and singer, actor and hard-man Jimmy Nail.

The relationship between the local dialect and standard English, like in other parts of Britain, has not always been comfortable. Nonstandard pronunciation and grammatical forms have been widely proscribed in school classes, and speakers of the dialect themselves will often express a view that their language is substandard or bad. Until very recently, there has been no educated role model on radio or television, and many people from the area feel that they are discriminated against on the basis of the way they speak.

This is not unique to people from the Newcastle region, of course, but publicity over a couple of recent events has highlighted these problems. The failure of an exceptionally well-qualified applicant from a Tyneside comprehensive school to negotiate an interview for Oxford University received wide publicity, including accusations of elitism from the Chancellor Gordon Brown, and other ministers in the labour government. Similarly, the rustication of a Geordie female officer cadet from the British Army's Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst renewed suspicion that accent may still be a cause of discrimination, although this was strongly denied by the Sandhurst administration. The officer cadet in question claimed that fellow cadets taunted her with shouts of Whey aye, man! and she was told by her instructor that use of the word knackered ('exhausted') should be replaced by the more genteel "pooped". She also alleges that she was warned that Geordie speech patterns such as sentence-final "like" were not becoming of an officer and should be eliminated from her speech. As she put it, "Because I spoke differently they thought I was thick" (The Times, May 6th 2000).

Nowadays, many educated Geordies, especially in the urban area, have a wider degree of competence in both standard and nonstandard speech so that, depending on context, they have a range of forms at their disposal. Generally, the more informal the context, the greater the number of dialect features. There are also signs of a growing pride in the distinctive nature of the dialect, with Geordie dictionaries, versions of bible stories and so on, appearing on the market, even if somewhat self-deprecating in tone. There are also bumper stickers with humorous messages such as Divn't dunsh us, I'm a Geordie! (= 'Don't bump into me').

(For more background information, check out the following websites:

Diven't dunchus, We'r Geordies:

The Geordie Bible:


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People in the North-east will often tell you that a lot of Geordie words come from "Scandinavian." To be a bit more specific, there does seem to be a strong link with the language of the Anglo-Saxon immigrants of the first millennium, particularly those from the Angle areas of what is now southern Denmark. Words such as lop 'louse or its egg', bowk 'belch', hoppings 'fairground', ket 'rubbish' and worm 'monster' have been suggested as Anglo-Saxon survivals. Invaders from further north, known popularly as "Vikings", probably had a greater influence on the language further south in Durham and Yorkshire. Geordie language is, in fact, quite closely allied to Lowland Scottish, although the exact etymology of many words of the area is still not fully understood.

The following words, typically used around Tyneside and Northumberland, do appear to have currency further north into the Scottish Lowlands:

bairn  'child'
burn  'stream'
bonny  'pretty'
muckle  'very'
keek  'peep'
'come on'
sweer  'obstinate'
donnered  ' stupid'
clarts, clarty  'mud, muddy'
gulley  'large knife'
sackless  'stupid, useless'
sneck  'door latch, nose'
stot  'bounce'
spuggy  'sparrow'
spelk  'splinter'
glaiky  'slow-witted'
howk  'dig'
dottle  'cigarette ash, droppings'
cushat  'wood pigeon'
hadaway  'go away, you're kidding'

The common word galluses meaning 'braces to hold up the trousers', seems to have reached not only Scotland but parts of the US as well.

Other typical Geordie words are also found further south, and appear to be part of a general Northern English lexicon:

aye  'yes'
gob 'mouth'
give over   'stop it'
chuffed 'happy'
wisht  'be quiet'
nowt 'nothing'
nigh on  'nearly'

What, then, can be considered truly Geordie words? The following do seem typical of the area, although it may well turn out that they are known outside the area as well.

bullets  'sweets'
stanners  'stony river margin'
lonnen 'a lane'
chare  'a lane'
pet 'term of address for females' (e.g. "thanks, pet")
mairk  'maggot, pest'
gowk 'apple core'
dunsh  'push, bump'
deek 'see, look at'
bowk  'belch'
lop 'flea, louse or their eggs'
ket  'rubbish'
marra 'friend, mate'
bait  'food'
bubble 'weep'
hoppings  'funfair'
proggy mat  'kind of woven or patchwork mat'
hacky 'dirty'
lowp  'jump'
bool 'wheel (e.g. pram)'
ten o'clock  'morning snack'
hoy 'throw'
hockle  'spit'
cree '(bird) cage'
kiff  'very good (see folk-singer Ian Anderson's song "Muckle kiff")'
get 'stupid person'
netty  'toilet'

The word canny is widely used in Geordie with a variety of meanings, including adverbial 'very'. Varnigh is in common use, meaning 'almost', or 'very nearly'. Other dialect words such as penker 'marble' and plodge 'wade through mud' may have an onomatopoeic element, while a Romani origin has been suggested for some words such as gadgie 'chap' and baari 'excellent'. I have also seen references to an alleged Romani borrowing jugal 'dog', although I have never heard the word used in speech. Some indigenous terms are well known from local songs or legends, but may not often be heard in conversation today. Examples are singing hinny 'a kind of pancake', worm 'monster', mazer 'an eccentric', girdle cake 'another pancake'.

(For more on Geordie vocabulary, see:

The Geordie dictionary:


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Most consonant sounds are similar to those of Standard English. The most notable exception is the famous "burr" or uvular r sound, roughly similar to the French pronunciation of "r". This is by no means universal on Tyneside, but more common in mining communities further north. It has received a lot of interest from linguists, although its use appears to be declining today. Unlike many English dialects, initial "h" is not dropped from the beginning words, but word-final -ing is usually pronounced as -in.

The most notable feature of the consonants occurs in the sounds in the middle of words like "bottle" "dapper" and "chicken". In Cockney, the t sound in "bottle", for example, is replaced by what linguists call a "glottal stop". This is what occurs in the middle of "uh-oh", where the air flow is cut off way down in the larynx (or Adam's apple). So in Cockney, the word "bottle" is pronounced something like "bo-ull". But in Geordie, the t sound is not replaced completely as it is in Cockney. Rather, it is half replaced so that there's a glottal stop and the t pronounced at the same time.

There may also be a "v" sound inserted in some sequences, such as "give it tiv us" ('give it to me') or "A sez tiv im" ('I said to him').

It is the vowel sounds that really give Geordie speech its distinctive character. Like other northern dialects, the u vowels tend to be short, so that the vowel sounds in the words "foot" and "bus" are the same. Final vowels are usually given rather greater stress than in standard English, so that words like "fighter" and "mother" sound like faita and mutha. Some vowels involve the combination of two different vowels, such as those in "eight" and "throat" which sound more like "ee-ut" and "throw-ut" (In technical linguistic terms, these vowels are "heavily diphthongised".) These are the real shibboleths of Geordie speakers and tend to persist even where other features of the accent are lost. I remember in school English lessons our class having to repeat the sequence "boating lakes" in a (usually unsuccessful) attempt to master the standard sounds. There are some more extreme variants too, for example, "take" may be pronounced tek and "face" fyes.

The vowel in "town" is typically pronounced "toon." Fanatical followers of Newcastle United Football Club are well known as the Toon Army. Similarly, "brown", "about", "pound" and so on are pronounced broon, aboot and poond.

The position of the vowels as in the standard English "shore" and "bird" is rather more complex. There are two separate Geordie vowels equivalent to the "shore" vowel in standard English. Words spelled with an "l" such as "walk" are pronounced with a distinctive lengthened a sound usually written "waak" in dialect writing. Those without "l" such as "board" are roughly the same as standard English. The standard "bird" vowel is usually rendered as the sound in "chalk", so that "heard" becomes indistinguishable from "hoard" and "bird" from "board". This sound confusion is the basis for a well-known Geordie joke:

Workman visiting doctor: "Me leg's bad, man, can ye give us a sick note?"

Doctor: Can you walk?

Workman: Work? Y'a kiddin' man, A cannet even waak!

Also in Geordie, "blow" becomes blaa and "cold" cowld, but in other words such as "flow" and "slow" the vowels are not changed in the same way.

A number of words are said to have pronunciation indicating a possible survival from earlier periods of English, such as gan 'go', lang 'long', aks 'ask' and deed 'dead'. The word "can't" is usually pronounced cannet.

Intonation patterns in Geordie are quite distinctive, with a rising intonation at the end of declarative sentences (statements), but the issue is complex and no definitive studies have been done.

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Probably the most noticeable feature of Geordie grammar is a confusing difference in pronoun forms. The term us is used to indicate a singular "me", while the plural form for "us" is wu or even wuz. So give us it means 'give me it' and give wu it means 'give us it'.

"Our" is pronounced wor. Typical members of the family thus include:

wor lass  'wife'
wor kid  'younger brother'
wor fatha  'father', etc.

The plural form yous is also in use, and possibly arose due to influence from the large influx of Irish people to Tyneside in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The negative form of the verb "to do" is divvent instead of "don't" and there are distinctive past tense forms of verbs such as tell (telt), forget (forgetten) and put (putten).

A broad speaker might say, for example:

I telt you to give us a one, but you've forgetten. If you divvent give us it noo, I'm gannin yearm.

('I told you to give me one, but you've forgotten. If you don't give me it now, I'm going home.')

The above example also shows the common combination a one as in "give us a one".

In many cases, what is the simple past form in standard English is also used as a participle in the Geordie variety. For example, in standard English you say "I took" but "I have taken" and "I went", but "I have gone". However, in broad Geordie, I've took one and He's never went there may be used. The well respected Sir Bobby Charlton, commentating recently on a football match observed: "He did well to score from a penalty considering he's never took one before." This feature has long been stigmatised as "bad English" but it is actually a consistent part of the grammar.

Another notable grammatical feature is a combination of certain words such as "might" and "could" which are not allowed together in most standard varieties. It is possible to say, for example: "He might could come tomorrow." Often, quantity expressions such as five year and ten pound are used without a plural -s.

A common discourse feature is the use of the word man to indicate rather more than reference to a male person. For example, in "ye cannet, man" ('you really can't'), the word man acts as a final particle emphasising the impossibility of the action. Another final particle mar has a similar function of emphasis, as in "it's cowld the day, mar" ('it is really cold today'), while sentence final like as in "who says, like?" or "it's not my fault, like" may request or provide exemplification.

Another difference from standard English in the grammar is that but can occur at the end of a sentence -- for example:

It'll be dark, but.
You might could lose it, but

 Also, the object pronoun can be used at the end of a sentence for emphasis:

I really love chips me.
I cannet understand it, me


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Finally, visitors to Newcastle might like to try out a few greetings or phrases commonly heard aboot toon
Hoo ye gannin?  'How are you?'
Hoo's ya fettle?  'How are you?'
Y'areet, hinny? 'Are you all right, kid?'
Champion. 'Very good, very well'
Bonny day the day.  'It's nice weather'
Cowld the day, mar.  'It's cold today.'
Whey aye, man.  'that's right'
Give ower, y'a kiddin.  'Come on, you're joking'
Hadaway man.  'I'm still not convinced'
Ya taakin shite.  'I really disagree with that'
Ootside!  'Let's settle this outside'
Hoo's the Toon gannin?  'How is the Newcastle United match progressing?'
Tara now, pet.  'Goodbye (to female)'
Wee's yon slapper?  'Who's the young lady?' (derogatory)



Beal, Joan (1993). The grammar of Tyneside and Northumbrian English. In J. and L. Milroy (Eds.), Real English: The grammar of English dialects in the British Isles. London: Longman.

Dobson, Scott. (1969). Larn Yersel' Geordie. Newcastle: Frank Graham

Elliott, Andrew (1986). The Geordie Bible. Rothbury: Butler Publishing.

Geeson, Cecil (1969). A Northumberland and Durham Word Book. Harold Hill.

Graham, Frank (1987). The New Geordie Dictionary. Rothbury: Butler Publishing.

Hughes, Arthur & Trudgill, Peter. (1996). English accents and dialects: An introduction to social and regional varieties of English in the British Isles (3rd edition). London: Arnold.

McDonald, Christine. (1981). Variation in the use of modal verbs, with special reference to Tyneside English. University of Newcastle: Unpublished PhD thesis.

Simpson, David. (1999). The Millennium History of North East England. Sunderland: Leighton

Watt, Dominic & Milroy, Lesley. (1999). Patterns of variation and change in three Newcastle vowels: is this dialect levelling? In Paul Foulkes and Gerard Docherty, Urban Voices: Accent Studies in the British Isles. London: Arnold. pp. 25-46.




Geordie origins:




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