So I recently read Sarah Millican’s book, How to be champion, and I absolutely loved it. One of the things I really loved was that in the beginning of the book, she explained the word champion, which I hadn’t even considered. Being champion has been a big part of my life since birth, because I was born in a small town called South Shields, just a little way along the Tyne & Wear Metro line from Newcastle. Our local dialect, known as Geordie, has a lot of these words that mean something slightly different to the rest of the country. For example, the word lush, which elsewhere is a name for somebody with an alcohol abuse problem, here means ’gorgeous’… and the change in meaning and indeed attitude actually makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever been on Tyneside on a Saturday night. Champion, for those who were wondering, doesn’t mean ‘the best’ in this sense of the word, it just means sort of… great. Or even just fine. Passable! It’s just one of those generally positive words, like ‘good’. Got that covered? Reet, champion.
Technically speaking, the English word to describe somebody from Newcastle is ’Novocastrian’, but you have to be fully prepared to be laughed out of Newcastle should you ever attempt to use it. Geordie is the prevailing term. I’ve done a bit of surveying people from different areas of the country, asking them which words popped into their heads when I said the word Geordie. They said: friendly, outgoing, weird accent, Northern (this one is just geographically correct, but two people said it so I thought I’d include it anyway), and Greggs (which is a chain of bakeries which can be seen on every street corner up here). This is fairly standard. The Geordie accent often top polls for ’most friendly’ and ’most trustworthy’, though it is reputed that Geordie singer Cheryl Tweedy (formerly of Girls Aloud) was dropped from the American version of The X Factor because test audiences couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
Bit of a left turn here, but bear with me. I have a Swedish friend, who hails from the southernmost region in the country, which is called Skåne. You can fall out of bed in Skåne and find yourself in Denmark, that’s how close it is. She once got very annoyed when a Danish person didn’t understand her accent, saying ’well it’s your fault we talk like this!’ In the same way, the Danes deserve a lot of the blame for the Geordie dialect too. We have a lot of words that originate from Scandinavian, such as bairn, which means ’child’ and is related to the modern Scandinavian word barn. We say hyem instead of ‘home’, which is related to the Danish and Norwegian hjem. Those bloody vikings, they get everywhere.
We do have other words that confuse etymologists up and down the nation, such as netty, which means toilet, and claggy, which means sticky. If you ever find yourself in a claggy netty, you’re in trouble. There’s also the phrase that is synonymous with Tyneside – howay (which means ‘come on’ or ‘hurry up’) and its counterpart haddaway (which means ‘go away’, and is most often seen in the phrase haddaway and shite.) If you were to ask anybody in the country to imitate a Geordie accent, they would either say howay man or whey aye man, which although similar, are definitely distinct phrases.
I sometimes think I should bring more of my dialect into my… well, speech, but mostly writing. I moved around a lot when I was young so my own accent is a little bit all over the place. I also have a bad habit of imitating the people I’m around, which is very useful for language learning, but a bit weird when you watch an Irish comedian on DVD and then find yourself thinking in an Irish accent for the rest of the day.
It’s bizarre that I should even have to say this, but this is entirely not sponsored. I just wanted to add that if you’re interested in the Geordie dialect, you can get a book called Larn Yersel’ Geordie on Amazon. I’ve never read it myself, because I’ve already larnt mesel’ Geordie, but I’ve heard it’s a very good resource for anyone wanting to learn a little more about our charming little quirk of speaking. And for the record, I have absolutely no idea what’s supposed to be going on on the cover of that book. Why is he holding an enormous leek? Heaven only knows. Anyway, thanks for reading this one. I know it’s probably not my best work but I’ve been in bed with flu for almost a week now, so I figured why not talk about my local dialect! Stay tuned though, because there might be something a little bit special coming in the next few months! See you next month!