What's a Geordie and How Do You Speak It?

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••• Cheryl Tweedy Cole Fernandez Versini (Now just "Cheryl") is one of Britain's most popular stars but her Geordie accent may have scuppered her U.S. career. FilmMagic / Getty Images

Ever wonder why you can't understand some British sports figures and celebrities. Could it be that they have Geordie accents?

Geordie is what people from around Newcastle and Tyneside, in the northeast of England, are called. It's also the dialect they speak and it's the oldest dialect spoken in Britain. But don't feel bad if you don't understand Geordie (pronounced "Jordy"). Most Brits are puzzled by it too.

When the popular UK talent show, the X-Factor, made its US debut in the spring of 2011, Cheryl Cole (actually Cheryl Tweedy Cole Fernandez-Versini "Just Cheryl"), one of the most popular judges on the UK original, was meant to be a judge. The exposure was expected to make Cheryl an even bigger star in the U.S. than she already was in the UK. But, before the show actually went live in the States, Cheryl was packing her bags and heading home. And all because of one little problem; most of the US audience, the contestants, and her fellow judges could not understand a word she said. Cheryl's Geordie accent scuppered her budding US career before it even started. 

Where Did You Say You Were From?

Geordie is a dialect spoken by many people in the northeast corner of England, particularly Newcastle and the Tyneside area. The word also refers to the people of that area. Despite several theories, nobody really knows why this region's people and their way of speaking are called Geordie.

Some suggest the name George, locally popular in the 18th century, figured in several popular ballads. Others say Geordies were supporters of the Hanoverian King George I, in Newcastle, during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745 when the surrounding area supported the Stuart cause. There's even a theory about a brand of mining pit lamp.

Talking Geordie

Geordie is more than an accent. It's a strong regional dialect, a full blown variant of English with many of its own words for common things. It is crammed with words of Anglo Saxon origin compared to the English spoken further south (which has more Latin roots) and may derive from Anglo Saxon mercenaries brought over by the Romans to fight the Scottish tribes to the north.

Some experts say that Geordie may be the oldest dialect currently spoken in Britain with words and pronunciation close to the English spoken by Chaucer. The word "claes" is more than "clothes" spoken with an accent, but the actual Anglo Saxon word.

Geordie Words

This small selection of Geordie words, culled from around the Internet and from listening to Geordie friends and celebrities, are more than slang—they are words in everyday use with origins in the English spoken before William the Conqueror added Norman French to the melting pot.

  • bait = food or a snack taken to work
  • breeks = trousers - this is a bit archaic but you might hear it spoken in jest
  • canny = good, nice, true (different from its meaning elsewhere as "clever" or "sly")
  • clart = to mess about, create a commotion, as in "clarting around"
  • cushat or cushy = pigeon
  • dunch = to bump or thump someone
  • fash = to trouble someone, to be troubled or, as a noun, a bit of trouble
  • gan = to go. You might be invited down to the pub:"Come on, we'll gan doon to the pub." And if someone is going somewhere (usually into a state of mind) the word is gannin, As in  "Pay me Nan no mind, she's gannin micey"  - Don't pay attention to Granny, she's going mad.
  • hoppings = a fair
  • monkey's blood -  Relax. If someone asks you if you want monkey's blood on your ice cream, they're just offering you raspberry sauce. 
  • wazzock - an imbecile or a jerk
  • whisht = hush

A Geordie Dialect Joke

The Geordie word "hoy" means to toss or throw. Locals occasionally tease visitors by telling them about a "famous Japanese company" - Hoyahama Owaheah. Actually what they've just said in Geordie is "Throw a hammer over here,"

Stottie: A Geordie Dish

Stottie is a dense, doughy bread baked in a flat round. Its name comes from the Geordie word stott, meaning to bounce, and is meant to suggest that's what it will do if you drop it. A good stottie was meant to be heavy and chewy enough to stand up to a big filling—the sort of thing a miner would take to work as his "bait" for lunch. A common filling for a stottie might be a thick slice of ham and a slab of pease pudding, a greenish porridge made from dried peas and still an old fashioned favorite in parts of England. Modern stotties, or stotty cakes, like this BBC recipe, are lighter. 

Geordie Celebrities

Very few Geordies are famous outside of the UK, simply because their accent is often difficult for other English speakers to understand. Of those who have made a big impact on the international scene, some like Sting, have pretty much lost their distinctive Geordie accent. Some others whose names might ring a bell include:

  • Charlie Hunnam of Sons of Anarchy and The Lost City of Z fame
  • Bryan Ferry of 70s band Roxy Music
  • Actor Jimmy Nail
  • Rowan Atkinson of Black Adder and Mr Bean fame.
  • Film directors Ridley Scott (Blade Runner)and Tony Scott (Deja Vu).
  • England football manager, the late Bobby Robson
  • Ant and Dec—the team of comedy presenters Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly (hosts of ABC's Wanna Bet?)