Location in the North East
Location in the U.K.
TeesSpeak:An Urban Dialect
words: alley to bleb
words : bogie to butterloggy
words:-cack-handed to clammin
words:-clarry to dut
words:-eariewig to get
words:-Geordie to knackin'
words: lace- -mozz
words: mell- -mozz
words:nab to parmo
words: parkin to rully
words:sackless to Stee-as
words: steelie to tungie
words:village to youse
Gravel Voiced Gadgies
Nowt by Gob
East Cleveland Dialect
East Cleveland Dialect 2
Northern Dialect Societies
From both ends of the Tees
Local History Sources
On Not Being a Geordie
Then and Now
Familiar Places with Strange Sounding Names
BBC VOICES PROJECT Listen to Teessiders
On Being Canny
Middlesbrough's Language & Identity
The Iron Miners
Links for Lower Tees Dialect Group
On not being a Geordie
|To the country at large, everybody east of the Pennines from Northallerton to Berwick is a Geordie. I first became aware of this in 1963 when running for a train leaving a Manchester railway station. “Is this the train for Stoke?” I shouted. A soldier leaned out grabbed my arm and hauled me aboard saying. “Yeah. Hop on Geordie”. Geordie!!? Geordie!!? As a Middlesbroughian this was incomprehensible to me. How could anybody mistake my Teesside speech for Geordie? Vic Reeves(Darlington) and Bob Mortimer (Middlesbough) have been called Geordie comedians. An interviewer cooed that she could listen to Chris Rea’s ‘Geordie lilt’ forever whereas anybody who knows, can recognise Chris’s gravel crunching as unmistakeably Middlesbroughian.
Many years ago,a Boro-lad I know, got involved in a fracas with the local constabulary whilst visiting London. Safe at home in the Boro with some decent beer betwaddling his faculties, the story may well have been embellished somewhat but he reckons the Cockney Bobbies addressed him rather unkindly along the lines of you expletive Geordie expletive ,you expletive Geordie expletive and, even,you expletive Geordie expletive!. .(That last one was a bit much I think!) Finally he could stand it no more and he screamed at his tormentors. “Get me a expletive map and I’ll show you I’m not a expletive Geordie!”
In fact, the one thing,(perhaps the only thing!) which unites everybody in the North East region outside of the Tyneside area is that we all hate being called Geordies. To us, and the Geordies themselves, Geordies are very strictly the folks from the towns and cities of the lower Tyne. True, here on Teesside we try to wind up Sunderlanders by calling them Plastic Geordies ( they sound like Geordies but they’re not the real thing) but the wind up only works because they hate being called Geordies as much as we do.
You see it's a matter of pride. The only one time I allowed myself to be called a Geordie was when I was booked to sing some Geordie songs in a West Midlands folk club--but they forced me by pushing money in my hand. Perhaps people from outside the North East think we are parochial but Middlesbrough is forty miles from Tyneside--- as far as Manchester is from Liverpool. Would you call a Mancunian a Scouser?
Origins of the name 'Geordie'
There are various theories as to the origin of the application of the name Geordie to Tynesiders. The name itself is a diminutive (i.e. pet-name) of ‘George’ as used in Scotland, North Durham and Northumberland. One theory is that rural Northumberland rebelled in favour of James the Pretender in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion but the City of Newcastle remained loyal to George I and ,henceforth, were known as Geordies. Another is that Northumberland & Durham miners wore the helmet safety lamp invented by George(Geordie) Stephenson. I’m not convinced by this. Surely the only people who would distinguish them in this way were other miners from outside the Northumberland & Durham area who wore a different kind of lamp. Problem is miners from outside the North East would not use ‘Geordie’ as a diminutive of George. Yet another explanation is that, thanks to George III who, seemingly, started the royal tradition of talking to trees, Geordie, in the North East, became a name synonymous with idiot or simpleton. Certainly in Victorian times, in music hall sketches and the like ‘Geordie’ was an uncouth rustic simpleton. Geordie certainly hasn’t always been exclusive to Tynesiders. Indeed on two occasions I’ve been told by natives of Newcastle. ‘We’re not the Geordies. It’s the miners who are the Geordies’. (One ,vehemently rejecting the Geordie label, styled herself as a ‘Novocastrian’.) To the older generation of Teessiders a Geordie was anyone north of Sedgefield in South Durham i.e. the point where the coalfield starts but now to any Teessider under 60 it refers specifically to Tynesiders. It may once have referred to the miners but by the 20c the South Durham miners themselves rejected the name. The South Durham historian, John Etherington, writing in March 1974 states
“Pitmatic (i.e the dialect of the mining area of South & East Durham) must not, of course, be confused with Geordie which seems to be the in dialect in the North East at the moment. Geordie is not, repeat not, spoken by the Durham miner living in the coastal and south east belts of the county.Geordie appears to have become a composite term identifying both the person and the dialect of those who live between Tyne and Tees but this is quite wrong. There are words and expressions used in this area of the county which would be quite incomprehensible on Tyneside”
(originally written by John Etherington in 1974 . Reprinted by the author himself
in ‘Our Patch: Part Two: Our Proud Tradition People and Life
By John Etherington: Atkinson Publishers, Hartlepool 1992: isbn 1 872239 07 2)
Another theory worth exploring may not be as grandiose as the Jacobite rebellion or even miners’ lamps. If you look at other cases where a particular forename has come to denote a nation or region, it seems evident that outsiders have seized on a forename they’ve heard commonly used amongst the particular group. Jocks are so called because ‘Jock’ is the Scottish diminutive of John. Paddy is from the Irish ‘Padraig’. Dago is from the Spanish ‘Diego ‘(James).North East Historian,David Simpson tells me that in the 17th & 18th centuries so many Scots had settled in Sunderland that colliers(i.e. coal ships) were known for a time as ‘Jamies’. In the second world war all Germans were Fritz and all Russians were ‘Ivans’(.I’ve even heard that the Welsh call the English rugby team ‘the Nigels!!!) I reckon the older names originated amongst18th & 19th century sailors. In his North East Dialect Dictionary, Bill Griffiths notes that in the 1866 Oxford English Dictionary it states,”The sailors belonging to the ports on the north-eastern coast are called ‘Jordies’. So I wonder, quite simply, if other sailors heard North Eastern sailors using 'Geordie' as a common name amongst themselves. In those days you could almost define a Geordie as ‘someone from that part of England where Geordie is used as a diminutive of George'. Anyway,whatever its etymology and original wider use for Durham as well as Tyneside, now, perhaps due, in no small part, to the strict delineations of football loyalties, I can now state categorically:Geordies are Tynesiders and I am not one and that helpful soldier , forty years ago, was mistaken and if he hadn’t stood 6 feet 6 with muscles in his spit "Aa’d’ve purrim strite!”
Now just a mere 12 miles south of Newcastle is Sunderland whose folks glory in the name ‘Mackems’. It is believed this was a name given to them by the Geordies in the shipyards from the Sunderland/Durham dialect pronunciation of make as ‘mak’
Here on Teesside I’ve also heard the name ‘Mak’n’taks’ used to describe all Durham folk and not just Sunderlanders. No doubt originally ‘Mackem’ was an insult term but it has been adopted by the Mackems themselves and is used with some pride. In fact Mackems through their evening paper, the Sunderland Echo, are campaigning to have it included in the Oxford English Dictionary on the grounds that ‘Geordie’ is in it.
The rivalry between Mackems and Geordies is...how can I put it......lively at times. One time I was visiting the Cardio-thoracic wing in the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. A nurse had thoughtfully switched on a radio for one patient, a huge man wearing an oxygen mask. He was obviously a Geordie because when he realised the radio was broadcasting Sun-Fm, the Sunderland station he requested in so many words, ‘I say, nurse, this is broadcasting the Sunderland station and I would really rather not listen to it” Well this was the gist of it. It wasn’t really in Geordie or Mackem dialect. It was more a language that the clergy do not know.
One way to tell a Geordie from a Mackem is if they are in tribal dress. The Geordie football shirt is vertical black and white stripes. This black and white, of course, gives their football team the name Magpies.The Mackem strip has vertical red and white stripes. (Of course, the extent to which these stripes in both cases are vertical or not depends on how kaylied(drunk) the wearer is i.e degree of palaticosity)
If you’re colour blind ...well...my advice is not to approach someone to ask which is which! To the best of my knowledge getting keggy-eyed (blackened eyes!!) is no cure for colour blindness.
(By the way--- The Mackems take their name ‘Black Cats’ from the black lions either side of their crest.) Thing is this Mackem or Geordie division it is so tied up with football I’m not sure geographical area is always relevant. I have a mate from Murton which is near enough a suburb of Sunderland but he is a Newcastle supporter so I’m sure he doesn’t see himself as a ‘Mackem’.
Now I suppose some Geordies and Mackems could also be called pit yakkers since many miners actually lived in Sunderland and the Tyneside towns but, generally speaking, we tend to mean the inhabitants of the mining villages...or rather former mining villages.( I remember the villages when they were vibrant and bustling. I still find it hard to believe that a way of life, a culture in fact, could be destroyed so brutally, so comprehensively and so quickly and easily.) I’ve had a long discussion via email with Bill Griffiths of the Durham and Tyneside Dialect Group and David Simpson , the North East historian about possible origins of the word ‘yakker’ but we’ve reached no satisfactory explanation. Bill has pointed to the Australian word ‘yakka’ meaning hard work and suggests it could have been imported into the North East when Ozzie soldiers were stationed in Co.Durham in the First World War.
David turned to a dialect dictionary published in 1904 and found an older Scottish Borders term. ‘yack’ meaning to ‘talk thickly’ and the person who talked so was a Yackuz’. Originally in his North East Dictionary,Bill suggests ‘yakker’ comes from a word meaning ‘to hew’ and you can see how this could be applied to miners. . Before the original Hartlepool was amalgamated with West Hartlepool, the former’s secondary education was controlled by County Durham and the town’s grammar school took pupils from the East Durham mining villages who were known in Hartlepool as the Yakkers. On a bus shelter someone had daubed ‘Poolies are Loonies but Yakkers are crackers. To my Newcastle born wife ‘yakkers’ were the people from the Northumberland mining villages to the north of Newcastle
Teessiders Confuse the Issue
|Trouble is Teessiders confuse the issue somewhat in that we also use ‘yakker’ to refer to farmers or farm labourers. In fact, in our geography, we have ‘pit-yakkers’(i.e. Durham folk) to the north and ‘farm-yakkers’ (North Yorks folk) to the south. To complicate the matter even further,there is evidence that the word occurs well to the south, far away from coal mining, way down on the North Yorkshire coast. Apparently there were intense rivalries amongst the fishing ports on the Yorkshire coast. A jibe by Runswick against Staithes
went,”Stee-as yakkers, flither pickers, ‘errin’ guts fer garters’ (flither=limpet)
So whatever the origin of the word, its meaning now, throughout the North East seems to be ‘villager’ ‘rural person’. .
Poolies or Monkey 'Angers
Everybody in the North East, at least, knows the legend of the hanging of the monkey in Hartlepool. The story goes that during the Napoleonic Wars a pet monkey was washed up on the beach at Hartlepool and the locals mistook it for a French spy and hanged it. Poolies seem to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude, some complaining that it is now a tired old joke yet they exploit it in other ways. The football team mascot was ‘Angus the Monkey’. The gadgie who wore the suit ( yes---of course-it was a gadgie in a monkey suit--I mean there's not enough danger money in the Bank of England to pay a real monkey to go to Hartlepool!)Anyway this monkey-suited gadgie stood in the mayoral election as ‘Angus and actually won! So now Hartlepool is not only the place where they hung one monkey for being a spy...they elected another one as their mayor!
Of course the original story is difficult to believe. As a seaport of over a thousand years
Hartlepool folks must have encountered monkeys before. In fact the story seems to crop up in other parts also. I’ve also heard of it being attributed to Aberdeen. The explanation given, in this instance, is that a wrecked ship could not be ‘salvaged’ whilst there was one living soul on board. The sole survivor of the wreck was a monkey so it had to be disposed of before the cargo could be claimed. Be that as it may, the story and the fame is now definitely Hartlepool’s. Note it allegedly took place in ‘Old Hartlepool’. The original Hartlepool dates well back to Anglo-Saxon times and has strong associations with St Hild more commonly commemorated for her later residence in Whitby.However in mid-19th century a new town grew up around the village of Stranton. At first this was known as the West Dock but later became West Hartlepool or in music hall parlance ‘British West Hartlepool.’ It rapidly outgrew the older Hartlepool and, on many occasions, tried to persuade Parliament that it should take over the old town as well. This was resisted strongly by Old Hartlepool and it is perhaps during this period of acrimony that West Hartlepool may have circulated the monkey hanging story in retaliation against their stubborn neighbour’s unwillingness to be wooed into union.
Finally in 1967 Hartlepool and West Hartlepool were amalgamated much against the wishes of Hartlepool so now the story is attributed the whole town.
It is a tired old joke but occasionally it does raise a smile with a new twist. “What was top of Hartlepool’s Hit Parade?” “Tie a yellow gibbon to the Old Oak Tree”. “What happens in the final film of the Planet of the Apes series.?” “ They send a couple of ‘Pooly astronauts there.”
Hartlepudlians term themselves ‘Poolies’ . The most famous Pooly of all is ,of course, Andy Capp created by Pooly cartoonist Reg Smythe. I gather they’re about to raise an Andy Capp statue in the town. They’ve allowed him his pint of beer but not his dog end (cigarette).....a politically correct Andy, eh?
Continuing slightly further south we arrive in....Teesside..well..mebbees we were already in Teesside when we were in Hartlepool. Poolies seem a bit ambivalent about whether they're Teessiders or not. The Borough of Hartlepool actually extends down to the RiverTees. What I think of as the best song about Teesside,Ore Boats was actually written by a Pooly,Gordon Steer, looking across the river from the Hartlepool side. However as you leave Hartlepool from the south you note a road sign pointing to Teesside. I do think there was a time when Poolies and even Darlington people were happy enough to include themselves as Tees-siders( with a hyphen!) but in 1968 a new County Borough of Teesside was created from the six towns Stockton, Billingham, Thornaby, Middlesbrough, Eston and Redcar. Although it lasted only until another local government cockup..sorry..’reorganisation’ in 1974, it perhaps fixed the name Teesside to the more limited area excluding Hartlepool and Darlington. Anyway,that aside, for a long time, we Teessiders had no tribal name. However quite recently our best of enemies, the Mackems began calling us ‘Smoggies’ . (I go into the origin of this appellation in more detail on another page of this website.see Smoggies) When in the 2002 TV series of
Aufwiedersehen, Pet, the Tim Healy character “Dennis” introduced the term ‘Smoggy’ to the wider public some Teessiders took exception and complained in the local daily the Evening Gazette. I had a letter published. in which I wrote
“As a Teessider I’m not at all insulted by the term ‘Smoggy’. Indeed working, as I do amongst Geordies and Mackems. I’m rather pleased now to have a ‘tribal name’ which gives me some sort of parity with the natives of the other two river sides. Of course it’s an insult..but most such names start out this way. Really it’s just all part of the tradition of North Eastern banter. In a way being given a tribal name by our northern neighbours, the Geordies and the Mackems is a recognition by them that we exist, have an identity and belong.”
So is Teesside a smoggy place.? .Well..no worse than any other industrial area really.
We do have huge petro-chemical complexes. Some times they give out some bonny coloured plumes but I would think the iron and steel works are just as responsible. Still..I for one, am prepared to live with a bit of that...within reason.(where there’s smog, there’s work!) It’s a tradition, particularly for third rate stand up comedians and poor quality sitcoms, to sneer at hard working places like Teesside, the places where folks actually make things. I remember seeing some pranny on the TV high up in Teesdale lamenting that the beautiful Tees up there turns into such ugliness lower down amongst the chemical works. Of course, this gadge was wearing the latest weather proof cagoule and such stuff. Where did he think the materials of this gear were made? They weren’t knocked up by some hermit living in a cave in the Pennines! I heard the best put down for this kind of snobbery( because that’s what it is- the quintessential English vice) far away from Teesside, when I was training as a teacher near Stoke in North Staffordshire. I warmed to the ‘Potteries’ almost as soon as I got there. Visiting Longton, one of the Pottery towns, I noted someone had written under the sign ‘Longton’ ‘Live dangerously..breathe deeply. These are my kinda folks I thought..I recognised the..same sort of self-deprecating humour, same sort of down to earth, matter-of-factness I like in Teessiders. My uncle an archetypal Teessider used to wax lyrical about waking up to the spuggies’ (sparrows) coughing and spending a quiet evening watching the gas tanks setting in the sun. Anyway, one day at the college, during a break, a bunch of us were sitting around when a pretty young thing from Sussex or Surrey, or some such place, was decrying the Potteries complaining that it was a grey, depressing place and, furthermore, the people were grey and depressing also. She hadn’t realised my mate Derek, was actually a local lad( from Longton, in fact.) He shut her up “Listen, if it wasn’t for my Mum and Dad, your Mater and Pater would have to take their High Tea in enamel mugs” To me that says it all, for places like Stoke-on-Trent and Middlesbrough and Scunthorpe and so on.
From a Smoggyland prospective,in addition to the main tribal categories of Geordie, Mackem, Poolie and so on we have one or two other terms for neighbours although I suppose Sand-scratcher, for Redcar folks is a sub-identity within Smoggydom. I should imagine ‘sand-scratcher’ comes from raking the beach for sea coal. I’ve already mentioned ‘Farm Yakker’ for North Yorkshire people but equally as common is Woolyback. My uncle used to call the Mbro to Whitby train ‘The Woolyback Special’ I don’t think this term is peculiar to Teesside. I’ve heard that Liverpudlians also use it to refer to their rural neighbours. The term for coastal people, I think, the natives of the North Yorkshire fishing ports, is ‘cod’ead although I have also been told Darlington Football supporters refer to the Poolies as such..
|So do we North Easterners acknowledge we have anything in common at all?
Well aye. There’s the same kind of irreverent jauntiness and, to be honest, downright stroppiness about all of us. I heard John Cleese suggest that the main difference between Americans and the English is that we English are naturally deferential....not up here we’re not, mate! Forelock tugging is no more one of our traditions than is drinking warm beer. In fact there’s no humour the North Easterner likes better than pricking the pompous or satirising the high and mighty. The Geordie comedian ,the Little Waster, Bobby Thompson, used to regale us with stories of chatting to George VI in the local fish & chip queue. A Teesside song, The Procession, tells of a fictitious visit by a royal princess to open an’ospital ward in the Boro in which she gets so palatic on a pubcrawl with ‘the mayor and his ‘click’ she returns home having forgotten to do it.
We feel there are differences between us, however. I’ve been told it was the writer Harry Pearson who commented that if you boiled a Geordie down to his essence you’d finish up with wit, humour and sheer joy of living. If you boiled a Teessider down to his essence he wouldn’t be surprised. I know what this means. Along with his dry humour and laconic wit the Smoggy often seems to incorporate a kind of dourness a pessimistic cynicism. ‘Always remember behind every silver lining there’s a bloody big black cloud’ could be the Teesside motto. Yet when the hard times do come Smoggy handles it with a humorous resilience. I read an Englishman’s account of modern day life in the French Foreign Legion. He wrote that in all the vicissitudes the one thing that kept the English speaking group going was one lad who could always see the funny side of even the most dire predicament. This lad came from Middlesbrough.--sounds about right. Perhaps it comes from our history. Teesside started with a railway boom which petered out within a decade and the new towns were almost ghost towns when along came iron..boom again..then the iron is unsuitable for steel...slump...then along comes the Gilchrist process and we’re back in business again. The 20c brought boom and bust almost in alternate decades..so you never quite trust it when things are going well but you learn to ride the bad times because you don’t expect that to last either.
And then there's the Boro..our football team..all too often November champions and then February flops..I joke that being a Middlesbrough supporter is character building because it inures you to the constant disappointments of life. Boro supporters are very loyal but also incredibly critical and pessimistic. The Boro could win ten games in a row magnificently and then narrowly lose the eleventh. There'd be at least one old gadgie coming out of the game muttering "Bloody typical!"
But Smoggy likes to laugh and perhaps has more of a tendency to self deprecation than our neighbours to the north. So we joke that Middlesbrough's most famous son was the great explorer James Cook who spent his life getting as far away as possible from it.
How seriously do we take the differences.within the North East.Well it’s mainly for fun. It’s part of the ‘banter culture’ of the North East. In the sixties I worked, for a time for an American company constructing plant in the Wilton Chemical Complex. The site manager was an American and he was both bemused and a little scornful of what he saw as our parochialism with all our talk of Geordies, Mackems, Woolybacks Cod’eads and the like. I suppose to him the distances between the localities were insignificant but this to me is one of the wonderful things about England, the sheer tapestry of variety. Travel a mere dozen miles and you’re amongst folks who perceive themselves as being just that little bit different from the place you’ve just left. As I write elsewhere on this site (see Regional Stereotypes) the media would prefer us all to conform to half a dozen, simplified, easy to portray regional stereotypes but why should we? Do we really want a land of bland sameness?
So, to sum up, the main tribal categories of the main population centres, people from Tyneside are called Geordies, people from Sunderland are called Mackems, people from Hartlepool are called Poolies, people from Teesside are called Smoggies and people from Darlington are called......er....people from Darlington
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