The British Geordie Dialect – From Another Planet?

"Yes, of course" in Geordie dialect. (Photo via Carl Heyward's book via Northern-Heritage.co.uk)

“Yes, of course” in Geordie dialect. (Photo via Carl Heyward’s book via Northern-Heritage.co.uk)

It’s fair to say that, as with Yorkshire, the dialect from the far Northeast of England is unique; some might say totally incomprehensible.  People from this region, (basically the banks of the River Tyne,) are called Geordies and the accent and dialect is also Geordie.

When Geordies (like Sting) relocate to other parts of the U.K. they often have to soften their accents and drop most of the dialect. When they come to the U.S. they might as well be from another planet, as beloved Brit Cheryl Cole discovered when she was allegedly fired as an X Factor judge. Here she is talking in a fairly regular Geordie accent:

Not only do Geordies pronounce English words their own way (scroll down and listen here), they have completely different versions of many standard English words. For example, I might say “Am gannin yem noo” to a group of friends. Any idea what this might mean?

Am = I’m
Gannin = going
Yem = home
Noo = now

If I’m telling someone to go carefully, I’d say “Gan canny” and if I’m complaining about being hungry I’d say “Eeeeeh, am clammin man.” Geordies say “Eeeeh” a lot for emphasis and stick “man” on the end of anything and everything.

Interestingly, they also overuse the word “like” but not in the same way as Americans. Where an American might say “I was like totally bummed”, a Geordie would stick it on the end of a sentence thus, “Eeeeh, A was stottin mad, me like.” The “me” is inserted anywhere the speaker wishes to emphasize a personal viewpoint. “I was hevin nowt to dee with it, me like.” (“Personally, I was having none of it.”)

A lot of Geordie words are actually old Angle words. The Angles invaded England around Hadrian’s Wall after the Romans left. The Geordie dialect is about 80 percent Angle in origin, compared with Standard English which is 30 percent Angle. The verb “to gan,” mentioned above, is actually a direct Angle word.

“Bairn,” the Geordie word for a child, is Anglo-Saxon and Viking in origin, and the modern-day Swedish and Norwegian word for child is “barn.” Geordie pronunciation of many words also follows old Anglo-Saxon, for example “deed” (dead), “wrang” (wrong) and “hoos” (house).

Here are some of the more notable Geordie words and phrases:

“Howay!”
Pronounced How-way, this is a word with quite a few meanings. Basically, it means “come on” as in “Howay, let’s gan noo” (Come on, let’s go now.) If you stick “man” on the end however, it becomes more of an expression of irritation. If someone bumps into you and spills your Newcastle Broon, you could say “Howay man” either in a joking or menacing way, depending on how much beer was lost. The most famous phrase including “howay” is “Howay the Lads” which is the chant heard at Newcastle United Football Club to cheer the team on. The team is often referred to as the “Toon” (town) and the fans are the Toon Army.

“Champion”
This is the positive answer when you ask a Geordie how s/he is. When a Geordie is expressing delight with something, such as a meal or a pint, you’ll hear “Eeeeh, that’s champion man.” (The “man” when pronounced by a Geordie is a quickly enunciated word, unlike its Californian cousin, which can go on for several seconds.)

“Aye”
As in Shakespearean times, this word means “Yes” in Geordie, however it’s often coupled with “why” for emphasis. (Why, yes.) So, in answer to the question “Are yi gannin oot the neet?” (Are you going out tonight?), your typical Geordie would respond thus “Why aye man. Worra daft question.” (“Why yes of course. What a silly question.”)

“Hadaway”
Possibly my favorite Geordie word, it means “away with you” and has multiple uses. If you’re in a conversation and someone says something fairly stupid, the dismissive, yet friendly, response could well be “Oh, hadaway yi daft bugga.” If you’re going for a slightly more offensive response, it would be “Hadaway and Shite”. I actually have this on a Christmas ornament, from a fabulous Geordie merchandise company.

“Hoy a hamma owa heeya”
If you can say this phrase, you’re well on your way to mastering the Geordie accent. Use it as a warm up whenever you attempt it. Breaking it down:

Hoy = throw
Hamma = hammer
Owa = Over
Heeya = here

“Hoy” can also be used as with “Hoy the kettle on.” (Put the kettle on.) Here’s the Geordie version of the well known “Keep calm” merchandise.

So there you have a sampling of Geordie. If you fancy having a go (or “hevin a gan,” as they say), this guy’s instructional video is decent—for a Southerner, that is!

Do you speak Geordie, Brits in America? Give us your favorite phrases below:

See more:
10 Common British Expressions That Baffle Americans
10 Common American Expressions That Baffle Brits
8 American Sports Idioms Brits Won’t Understand

  • angie

    I understood Cheryl better than I did Jonathan. I believe her not being on the XFactor had nothing to do with her accent, but probably more her personality. They want someone loud, outspoken. A quiet Geordie was not going to do.

    • Toni Hargis

      It’s funny, Geordies who have a fairly mild accent tend to be understand quite easily around the world. it’s probably something to do with the vowel sounds. I remember when I first moved to the States and an extremely posh British friend came to stay. No one could understand her!

  • IotaM

    Very interesting.

    To my ears, Geordies raise their pitch at the end of sentences, making statements sound like questions. That’s become widespread. I heard a linguistics expert on the radio recently saying that she thought it had originated in Australia, but I wondered if Geordies had started it first.

  • Jennifer Howze

    Fascinating. I live in London and don’t hear that many Geordie accents here. I love that they actually have different words for things, like “bairn” and “bait”.

    • Toni Hargis

      I was talking to a Geordie friend yesterday who’s spent a lot of time in Sweden. The amount of words they have that are the same as Geordie is unbelievable. They say “snecka” and “neb” for nose, and Geordies say “sneck” and “neb”. If someone’s a bit nosy you call them “nebby”.

  • Henrythehorse

    and lake for playing

  • Toni Hargis

    Obviously it’s THE topic of conversation at the moment. Here’s more on the Geordie dialect –

    http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/newcastle-sayings-updated-top-47-6466922

  • Mrs Baum

    There’s a TV comedy series called Hebburn in the UK, which is set in Geordie land somewhere. I don’t know if you can access the BBC iplayer from the US, but if you can it’s worth a look, if it’s still on there. Or just google it.

    • Toni Hargis

      Have seen bits of it and must try harder to watch it. I doubt it’ll come to Masterpiece!

  • http://www.metropolitanmum.co.uk Metropolitan Mum

    The Georgie accent is sooo hard to understand for foreigners. And a little bit funny, too. Do you follow ‘Cheryl’ on twitter? Hilarious… https://twitter.com/CherylKerl

    • Toni Hargis

      Good grief. Haven’t seen that. It actually does my head in reading Geordie, and I’m from there! LOL

  • http://www.mumsgoneto.blogspot.com/ Trish @ Mum’s Gone to

    Even though I haven’t lived in Newcastle since 1982, I have still got a fairly strong Geordie accent. We had a holiday in Sweden in 2012 and, like your friend, found so many words which reminded me of home. The hospital was a ‘sjukhus’ (sick-house) which was very easy for me to translate.

  • Toonmarra

    Wey if ya understood the geordie then you’ll have some chance at the Northumbrian dialect it is another language such as ‘netty’ means toilet and spuggy mean sparrow (the bird)

    • expatmum

      That was the same in Geordie when I grew up.

  • Toonmarra

    You should listen to Bobby thompson (a geordie comedian from the late 70s)

    • Toni Hargis

      Funny, I was watching a You Tube of him a week or so ago.