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Murmuring, misunderstood and with a language all their own, people from Newcastle are legendary throughout the UK.
Tourists from around the world visit Newcastle every day, only to be alarmed and confused by the mysterious words they hear, which seem to bear absolutely no relation to the English language. Even tourists from other parts of the UK struggle to interpret the formless mutterings which tumble out of the mouths of Newcastle’s citizens.
And I should know.
Because I’m one of them.
I remember when I first went to university. I packed my bags and made my way south, keenly anticipating the birth of some beautiful new friendships. But I didn’t realise that I’d be foiled by my very own mouth.
For the entirety of the first week I was there, pretty much everything I said was met with a blank stare, a 5-second pause and the confused reply of ‘huh?’.
No-one knew what I was talking about.
And it was all because of my Newcastle accent. Or as it’s known in the UK, my Geordie accent.
Luckily, I’ve since grown up and learned to speak a little more like a normal person, so I can communicate with people without the need for sign language. No matter where I go in the world, I’m now able to hold a conversation like a real human being.
But the accent is far from dead.
Throughout Newcastle (and the wider region), the Geordie slang continues to confuse, charm and entertain non-natives. And I’m here to tell you all about it.
Let wu gan!
(You probably don’t know what that means yet, but you will by the end of this article)
What is a Geordie and What Does Geordie Mean?
First, let’s take a quick detour to what ‘Geordie’ itself means. This one is an easy one:
‘Geordie’ simply means that something is from Newcastle upon Tyne.
Newcastle upon Tyne being a lovely city in the north of England.
The Newcastle accent is a Geordie accent. A person from Newcastle is a Geordie. I, Paul McDougal, am a Geordie.
But where does the word come from? This is a pretty big mystery. Here are three of the world’s best guesses so far:
- It’s derived from the name of George Stephenson, a railway engineer from the region who was born in 1781.
- It comes from the 1740s, when Scottish Jacobites would insult Newcastle’s support of King George II by using the term.
- It’s related to a type of lamp that Newcastle miners once used. Mining was once a huge part of Newcastle’s identity and economy. And it sort of still is.
It’s likely that the word ‘Geordie’ comes from one of these three guesses, but nobody really knows. The George-based guesses are probably the best ones – even today, Geordies who are called George are often nicknamed ‘Geordie’.
I told you we were confusing.
But regardless of the word’s origin, the accent is a huge part of life in Newcastle and the identity of its people.
Where Does the Geordie Accent Come from?
It’s thought that the accent first entered the region with the Anglo Saxons, who came to fight in the area after the end of the region’s Roman occupation. The settlement that they established eventually stretched all the way from Edinburgh to the River Humber, and became known as Northumbria.
The present-day accents in this entire region are therefore heavily influenced by the language of the Anglo Saxons, whose origins were Germanic and Scandinavian. But it seems that the Geordie dialect specifically was most influenced by these people.
The Newcastle accent’s closest living relative is the southern Scottish accent. They both share lots of words and pronunciations, and they’re both similarly difficult to interpret.
Are There Any Famous Geordies?
Yes, there are lots of them.
TV presenters Ant and Dec are probably the most famous names to come from the region, but other big personalities include Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix along with fellow singer Cheryl (formerly Cheryl Cole).
Cheryl was even dropped from the US X Factor over concerns that US viewers wouldn’t understand her accent. And compared to most of us, she speaks properly. Like I said, we’re hard to understand.
Big sporting personalities from Newcastle include Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley, who both played for Newcastle United Football Club.
Other big names include movie directors (and brothers) Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, and singer Sting. Locally, Sting is renowned for being a kids’ teacher in Newcastle before he became a huge name in music. It’s one of our favorite facts about the region, and we bore everyone with it at every chance we get.
He even taught one of my Dad’s friends back when he was in school, a million years ago. Hi Dave.
But Why is the Accent So Famous?
It’s notorious for being hard to understand, but that’s not the only reason the accent is famous.
It’s also known for being one of the UK’s most approachable accents, and is routinely voted as one of the friendliest, most trustworthy accents in the UK. Some call centres even intentionally employ Geordie staff, as customers enjoy talking to people with Geordie accents.
It’s also often considered to be one of the UK’s sexiest accents (especially when it comes out of my mouth).
The accent itself is bouncy, undulating and sing-song, and it flows fast.
Not only is the accent very thick, very speedy and packed with weird pronunciations, it’s also full of its own words, which makes it even more iconic and absurd.
In Newcastle, we have a huge number of alternative words which we use instead of normal English ones. We have so many made-up words that lots of bemused book publishers make and sell Geordie dictionaries.
Part of the accent’s infamy comes from our own pride at being from Newcastle.
People from Newcastle absolutely love being from Newcastle.
We’re proud of our heritage, our football team, our food, our river, our people and our nightlife.
But most of all, we’re proud of our accent, and we love having our own mini language which only we can understand. Because of that, we often make an effort to speak with our own unique words and our unique pronunciations.
Is the Geordie Accent Heard Only in Newcastle?
Sort of. The true Geordie accent is heard only in Newcastle, but very similar accents are heard in some parts of Northumberland and other nearby areas.
It depends who you ask. Purists will tell you that you only speak real Geordie if you were born within walking distance of both the river Tyne and the city’s centre. Others, who are a little more forgiving, will tell you that people from some parts of Northumberland are also Geordies.
The Sunderland accent, though it sounds very similar to non-natives, is actually pretty different to ours. The same is true for accents from the Middlesbrough area.
And don’t ever get a person from Sunderland, a person from Middlesbrough or a person from Newcastle mixed up with one another. The more parochial ones might get a bit upset, though some of us have grown out of that now (apart from where football is involved).
I’m Gonna Need Some Examples
Okay, here we go. Strap yasel in and learn yasel some Geordie.
Here are some Geordie words and expressions that we like to use:
- Aye: yes
- Wey: well
- Wey aye: of course
- Yasel: yourself
- Iz: me
- Wu: us
- Gan: go
- Let wu gan: let’s go
- Gannin: going
- Yem: home
- Gannin yem: going home
- Deein: doing
- Nah: no
- Mint: good
- Howay: come on
- Howay: hurry up
- Howay: be serious
(‘Howay’ means a lot of things)
- Toon: town
- Toon: Newcastle
- Toon: Newcastle United Football Club
(‘Toon’ also means a lot of things)
- Canny: good
- Canny: nice
- Canny: kind
(‘Canny’ too means a lot of things)
- Doyle: idiot
- Doylem: idiot
- Divvy: idiot
(We like calling people idiots!)
- Divvint: don’t
- Knaa: know
- Divvint knaa: don’t know
- Neet: night
- Bairn: child
- Bait: food
And that’s just the beginning.
We have way, way more made-up words, crafted seemingly only to confuse the people who have absolutely no idea what we’re talking about. And that’s what we sort of love about it.
We also love saying the words ‘like’ and ‘man’ for absolutely no reason at all. We use them as filler words, for effect, in the same way that other people might use the words ‘okay,’ ‘right,’ or ‘I mean’.
Like, howay man.
Okay, That’s a Lot of Words. But I Didn’t Come to a Blog for All This Reading – I Need to Hear the Accent for Myself
Here’s a video of a Korean man trying his very best – but failing horrendously badly – to speak Geordie. Though he’s a lovely man and the video’s charming, his pronunciations couldn’t be much worse.
They’re way better than any Korean I can do though.
For something a bit more authentic, give the next video a listen. This is a real Geordie man using some real Geordie words in a real Geordie accent.
Ant and Dec also took part in this video, in which they get quizzed on Geordie accent and Geordie slang. Give it a watch!
Thanks, Now I’m Terrified to Visit Newcastle
You shouldn’t be.
We’re warm and welcoming and we love meeting new people. The further away you’re from, the more we’ll enjoy welcoming you to our friendly city.
We’re proud of where we’re from, and we love showing people a good time when they come here.
And most of the time, because you’re not from where we are, we’ll speak slowly and relatively normally. We’re used to having to repeat ourselves anyway.
I keep saying that we love speaking in our own bizarre accent. And we do. But when we meet someone who doesn’t speak the same way that we do, we try to speak properly, and we switch off our accent in order to make ourselves more understood. We’ll never let you be confused for very long.
Instead, we’ll do everything we can to make you feel welcome, happy and at home.
Check them out by clicking on the banners here:
You can also watch this video and try practicing along with Hannah:
But if you really want to know all about how the accent really works, the best thing you can do is visit Newcastle.
You’ll fall in love with our accent, you’ll fall in love with us and you’ll fall in love with our city. No matter how we talk, we offer the warmest welcomes in the whole of the UK.
I’m definitely biased, but you’d struggle to find anyone who would say that Newcastle isn’t one of the friendliest cities in the whole of Europe. Across the UK, Newcastle is known as one of the world’s most warm, welcoming, smiling places.
So even though I’m biased, I’m definitely not wrong. Find out by visiting Newcastle for yourself.
Howay man, get yasel to the toon and have a canny mint time!
Paul is a handsome and hilarious travel writer and travel journalist from the UK. He’s hiked, hitchhiked and laughed his way through more than fifty countries, and he’s always looking for a new place to call home. Originally from Newcastle, he’s lived all over the UK, spent more than three years in Asia, and most recently lived in Vietnam. Here’s his website.