Monday, 12 March 2012

The richness of dialect - some Northumbrian Geordie examples

Though strong dialect is often thought of as a sign of ignorance in users, dialect words have enriched the language, not just in sound and natural rhythm, but in semantics too. Certain dialect terms have produced nuances of meaning that are not conveyed in standard English. The examples I’ve used below are all from my native Northumbrian Geordie dialect, but I know that many other British and non-British dialects can provide similar examples, and would welcome offerings.

bullet  is the Geordie word for a sweet, but specifically refers to a boiled sweet, especially of the round sort like the old-fashioned bulls-eyes or gob-stoppers. Bullet gives us the shape and hardness of the round shot that would have been used for bullets in the days the word was coined.

claggy as in ‘Your hands are all claggy’. More than just ‘sticky’, claggy emphasises the idea that strands of the stuff would cling to the toucher’s hands too, like sticky toffee does. Similarly the Geordie word clarts (‘I fell in the clarts on the way here’) is so much sloppier than mud.

gadgie is an old man. Somehow it expresses in one word the broken-down, dishevelled condition of the man, and hints at a certain cussedness or shortness of temper.

getten as In ‘This toaster I’ve getten is much better than the old one.’ The word conveys the sense of ‘I’ve got and am here in possession of.’

hoppings A fairground, as in the annual fair held at Newcastle’s Town Moor. The word combines movement and  energy with a slight grubbiness underneath - are we hopping with excitement or fleas, or both?

marra is such a wonderfully economical word - just five letters to mean a friend you work with - and such an affectionate one. ‘Alright, marra?’

spuggie is a sparrow, but we also get a sense that this is an urban, deprived, bedraggled sparrow, buffetted by the winds, but with a gleam in its eye for the next catch.

whisht as in the evocative opening lines of the song The Lambton Worm:

‘Whisht, lads, haad your gobs, I’ll tell ye aall an awful story.

Whisht, lads, haad your gobs, I’ll tell ye boot the Worm.’

Whisht - alliterative, onomatopoeic, dramatic - shut your mouths, draw near and listen.

Those are my few examples. Howay hinnys, let us hear yours.


  1. I like generic English slang (of the BBC variety) that gets right to the point where in American English doesn't cut it sometimes.

    Then again, snogging is not what I first thought it was, although it can lead to that.... ;)

  2. So I'm guessing what you thought 'snogging' was - I like it.

  3. This was a brilliant read, David, thank you! In Suffolk, we say 'shew' instead of 'showed'. I love it, it's so olde-worldy.

  4. I didn't know what any of those were! If I ran into them in fiction, I would be expecting the author has created this imaginary world that he/she will now describe to me:

    "He stood before the giant Whilinogger. Its nose was shaped like that of an anteater and it had brown mouse ears which wiggled back and forth in greeting."


  5. Ah yes, Whilinogger, another well-known Northumbrian expression. (Or is it from Suffolk?) Emma, what should we call a person from Suffolk? Suffolker sounds, well, rude. Actually, Diane, so does Whilinogger.