Complex and Fascinating
The English language is a fascinating thing that provides continuous frustration for anyone who attempts to learn it. With a complex grammar system, spellings that make no sense, and a vocabulary larger than any other language in the world, English continues to evolve and expand with each passing year, leading to constantly updating dictionaries, internet slang and neologisms.
This article takes a look at some dialects and slang from various places in the north of England, where uncommon words and unusual accents are rife due to Britain's invasions and trading history.
Newcastle-upon-Tyne is in the northeast of England and isn't far from the Scottish border. People from Newcastle, sometimes nicknamed Geordies, have their own unique accent and dialect, some of which has similarities with north-western areas such as Cumbria. Here are some Geordie words, along with their definitions.
- Spelk. "Spelk" is the word often associated with a small piece of wood stuck in your skin, i.e. a splinter.
- Tabs. Cigarettes. "I have to go down the road and get some tabs."
- Scran. The word for food. "I'm going to get meself some scran."
- Wifey/Lass. A woman. Usually, 'lass' refers to a younger woman or girl. "Did you see that lass?"
- Sarnie. A sandwich. "I love bacon sarnies like."
- Whitey. Throwing up or vomiting. "He's gonna do a whitey."
- Yem. Accental more than dialectal. "I'm gan yem" translates to "I'm going home."
- Clamming. Very hungry. "When's dinner ready? I'm clamming."
- Toon. Again, it's more accental. It's how people from Newcastle pronounce 'town'. Usually, they're referring to the city centre or a night out.
- Marra. Friend, mate.
- Canny. 'Canny' can be an adjective or an adverb. "That's canny good" is similar to "that's rather/quite/pretty good". 'Canny' can also describe something alone, like "ahh she's canny", which can mean nice. There may be other meanings too.
- Bairn. Baby or small child. Also frequently used in Scotland.
- Mortal. One of the many words to describe being very, very drunk.
Liverpool was a central trading port town once upon a time, and therefore the local accent has a lot of influence from Ireland, Scotland and Europe, as well as contributions from the black and Chinese communities. People from Liverpool are sometimes nicknamed Scousers, and the accent Scouse. There are really too many Scouse phrases and words to name them all, but here are a few you may not have known.
- Kecks. Trousers.
- Boss. An adjective that means something really good.
- La. Friend, mate.
- Bevvy. Beer. Shortened version of alcoholic beverage.
- Barney. Argument or fight. "Watch out, they're having a barney!"
- Brassic/Skint. Having no money. "I can't go, I'm brassic."
- Made up. Really happy/delighted. "That's boss, I bet he's made up."
- Chocker. A place that's very crowded or busy. "This train's chocker mate."
- Crimbo. Shortened version of Christmas.
- Cozzie. Bathing costume. "Did you bring your swimming cozzie?"
- Dead. Very. "I'm dead angry about this."
- Butty. Sandwich. "Could you make us a sausage butty?"
- Defo. Short for definitely.
- Gaffer. Boss or manager. It could be an adaptation of the southern English word "governor".
- Gob. A rather rude word for mouth.
- Leg it. To run. "There's the police! Leg it!"
- Jammy. Lucky. "You jammy thing, how did you beat me?"
- Grotty. Dirty or smelly. "Get a bath, you're dead grotty."
- Cob on. To be in a bad mood. "Why's she not talking to you?" "I don't know, she's got a cob on."
Birmingham is an industrial city, and the home of Ozzy Osbourne. The city has its own set of unique words.
- Blart. To cry or sob.
- Chobble. To munch or chew on something loudly.
- Deaf it. Don't bother. "Nah, deaf it, mate."
- Donnie. Someone's hand. "Give us your donnie."
- Fittle. Food. "I need some fittle."
- Ozzy. Hospital.
- Yampy. Someone who's daft.
- Pop. A fizzy drink such as cola or lemonade.
- Lamp. To hit or smack somebody. "I'm going to lamp him if he doesn't shut up."
Yorkshire is in the middle of England and therefore has a lot of influence from both the north and the south. Here are some words and phrases that are used by people in Yorkshire, but are not necessarily unique to Yorkshire.
- Aye. Yes. Pronounced like the letter "I" in the alphabet. Also used in Newcastle, Cumbria and Scotland.
- Badly. Not well, sick. "What's wrong, is he badly?"
- Twonk. An idiot or moron.
- Beefing. Crying.
- Mardy. Grumpy or petty. Someone can be a "Mardy-arse".
- Champion. Really good. "That concert was champion."
- Nowt. Nothing. "It's nowt to do with you."
- Owt. Anything. "I didn't do owt."
- Chuddy. Chewing gum. Also said in Manchester.
- Spice. Candy or sweets, usually hard-boiled sweets or liquorice.
Words for 'Drunk'
I felt like words for drunk needed its own section, as there are so many ways in Britain to say you've had a little too much.
- Messed up
- Rat arsed
There are countless phrases and words all over the UK to mean different things, and more are being introduced every day. Do you know any northern English slang that I might have missed? Comment below.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Poppy
Robert Levine from Brookline, Massachusetts on September 10, 2019:
Yorkshire's "nowt" and "owt" seem like variant pronunciations the old-fashioned terms "naught" and "aught."
Northumberland was the Vikings' stronghold in England; do any of the Newcastle terms have Scandinavian origins?
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on July 21, 2014:
One of my great Grandads came from St Leonards in Sussex. When he left the cavalry he married and settled down to a warehouseman's job in Leeds, West Riding. Another great Grandad was a farm labourer who 'migrated' with his father from near Kings Lynn in Norfolk and gravitated to ironstone mining in the North Riding of Yorkshire and then married a farmer's daughter who had inherited her dad's farm near Stokesley in the shadow of the Cleveland Hills. Both learned different versions of the same county's speech patterns.
Having grown up in the North Riding near Middlesbrough (it was, until 1968) I found it hard to understand broad Leeds, it was almost like a foreign language. I learned much later it owed a lot, like North Yorkshire, to Danish Old Norse, (like Lincincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and East Anglia - once the Danelaw)
Ann Carr from SW England on July 20, 2014:
Don't tell a Yorkshireman that he comes from the middle of England! It's part of the north of England. The middle of England is known as 'The Midlands' (there's a clue in the name!) and centres around Birmingham/ Nottingham/ Derby.
Many of these words are used around England in general. Half my family is from Yorkshire and Newcastle and the other half from Sussex, so I have a pretty broad language base, as well as being a student of English and a lover of all dialects.
This is an interesting hub with many interesting words but I would dispute some of the origins!
Any language and dialect (not to be confused with slang) is fascinating and I love them all.
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on July 18, 2014:
Thank you very much for your comments, everyone
daydreamer13 on July 18, 2014:
This was fun to read. Thank you for sharing this.
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on July 18, 2014:
People from Berwick see everybody as 'down south' (they used to be southern Scots, now they're northern English. When I lived in Ealing I knew a barman who came from Berwick, he didn't even see Geordies as 'hard cases'.
(The ones who see all the rest of us Brits as 'southerners' are Shetlanders).
Carlisle and Cumberland in general used to belong to Strathclyde, Scotland before it became part of England (annexed in AD1092 by William II, 'Rufus'), and at one stage it was a Norse 'colony' like the Northern Isles, that's why they've got their interesting licensing laws and pub times. Berwick and Carlisle are both regional 'peculiers'.