Accents are Magical – All About the Middlesbrough Accent

In my world the spoken word is just as fascinating as the written word. I recently found myself wondering what has happened to accents. Not so long ago you’d go somewhere like Middlesbrough – where I was brought up – and you’d hear people speaking ‘Boro everywhere you went, a powerful accent with its own unique collection of grammatical oddities. Now it’s dying off.

Here’s a post written in celebration of everything that’s good and bad about the Middlesbrough accent… as the locals say, UTFB!

PS – I’ve written a black comedy novel partly set in Middlesbrough. My violent, incredibly sweary serial killer heroine, The Nurse, has to learn the ‘Boro accent to stay under the radar when in the town. Have a read if you like – I’m serialising the book here.

Exploring the Middlesbrough accent

People from Middlesbrough are called Smoggies, a nod to the old Dorman Long factory, ICI, British Steel and the rest of the heavy industry the town was once famed for. “Can I lend your pen” is ‘Boro for “Can I borrow your pen” “Thrill” is ‘Boro for “frill”. “I was sat” is ‘Boro for “I was sitting”. 
Akki means filthy. Nor is no. Haway means “come on, you’re having a laugh”.

If you bray something, you hit it. If you’ve had a black ‘un you’ve been boozing all day. If you’re battered, you’re an emotional wreck.  Catch a ride on the back of someone’s bicycle and you’re having a tan, as in “give us a tan”, where “us” actually means “me”Claggy is sticky, when you greg you spit, cadge means borrow, and a gadgie is an old bloke. Ow, youse means “Oi, you.”

Spectacles are geggsket means sweets, and the good folk of the ‘Boro were the first to over-use the word “like”, endemic today to the point of being a worldwide verbal tic. But, being Smoggies, we’d add a “but” at the end for good measure: “A’yer goin’er werk like but, or a’yer nickin’ off?”

When you leave the town, the local accents used to change enough for it to be noticeable. People from Hemlington spoke slightly differently from those in Stockton-on-Tees, who spoke differently from the residents of Redcar. But because they lived out of town, we called them all “woollybacks”.

I haven’t lived in the ‘Boro since the early ’80s. Now the accent has softened, at least in younger generations, and that unique, hilariously funny way of describing the world has faded. It’s probably the same story with all the odd,  eccentric British accents that used to make meeting people from different places so interesting.

So where did the wonderful ‘Boro accent come from? Apparently there were once numerous Scandinavians living in Teesdale and the Tees Valley, most of whom came over from Norway, arriving via  Cumberland in the west rather than directly over the North Sea. It’s possible that much of the ‘Boro accent originates from ancient Norse. There’s also some Irish influence, reflected in local place names like Lackenby and Commondale. In fact most of the Norwegians who settled there were of mixed Irish-Norwegian ancestry.

Some North Easterners claim their dialect originates with the Vikings, but history says the region – then called Bernicia – was not widely settled by Vikings. In fact the Angles of Bernicia considered themselves very different from the Vikings of Yorkshire. The Middlesbrough accent has some similarities with the accents of South Durham, Cleveland and Cumbria too, all of which are closer to each other than they are to accents in Northumbria, Tyneside and North Durham. Some even say the ‘Boro accent harks right back to the Celts.

Wherever it originated, I kind of miss it. I accidentally mislaid my own rich Middlesbrough accent during my 35 years in Brighton and nowadays, apart from saying grass not grarse, and bath not barth, my accent is merely a boring mix of generic northern and generic southern.

To top things off, here’s a poem by John Christie, sent via LinkedIn by my old school mate Ian ‘Smiggy’ Smith.

Derty Werk Shert

There’s a gadgie down the road I think they call him Mike
Finishes every other sentence with “Ya know worra mean like”
He says “Eh” when he’s heard ya and “Jokin arn ya” when you’re not
He loves parmo in a bun and always eats em too hot.
He goes all over with their young un, gives him a croggy on his bike
Their lass does his head in, ya know worra mean like
He’ll call ya a Doyle if ya do summat wrong
He’ll be at the club Thursdays cos’ they’ll have a tern on.
Club’s going down the pan, they all are round here
Nowhere for a bit a’crack and a pint of cheap beer
No sense of community or society in this town
He’ll preach from his barstool and he’ll proper swear down.
He used to play Sunday footy and now he’s on the darts team
He’s proper Teesside Mike ya know worra mean
He’s got an old faded Boro tattoo on the top of his arm
Tells ya how he used to go to Away games…all the tarm.
He used to be a Plater, till they all got the sack
Now he goes on crap schemes while he’s on the pancrack
He would pile on the tarzy and go raid the oggy
And he was a top beck jumper as a junior smoggy.
From spencers and stay press and air-ware with segs
To what they call leisurewear, in the sale, Sports Direct
But he’ll never leave here ‘cos he loves Teesside, Mike
Best place in the werld.. know worra mean like.

11 thoughts on “Accents are Magical – All About the Middlesbrough Accent

  1. Sorry for the rather late reply!to be honest I couldn’t tell Darlington and Stockton accents apart.i think that roughly a line just above Bishop Aukland to just above Hartlepool and under that line the accent is almost the same.as you go south to about Whitby you start encountering a mixture of people some with typical Yorkshire accents and some with Northumbrian accents about 50/50 in fact.another place I have noticed this 50/50 is Southport 50 percent talk like Scousers and 50 percent in the standard Lancashire ‘eh up’accent itself very similar to the West Riding of Yorkshire accent and I’d be lying if I said I could tell Yorkshire and Lancashire apart!with middle class people across the north east the accent is more similar and it would be more challenging to say if they where from say South Shields or Wovliston although you would detect the Northumbrian in it.

  2. My accent has gotten stronger since moving away from the Boro. I regularly get mistaken for a scouser for the way I pronounce words like work, shirt and nurse just as a scouser would werk, shert and nerse.

    1. It’s interesting how similarly words like work (werk) are pronounced in Scouse and ‘Boro. I wish I still had my ‘Boro accent but it has faded away over the years without my permission, and I can’t even do it for fun now!

  3. ya wanna ear my accent proper teesside lad love my accent people say its so strong i talk teesside LIKE!!!,,love a good crack? chat in teesside lingo

  4. Yes for some reason people sometimes think I’m from Liverpool although I can’t see any similarly with the Tees side accent.its a generic accent found across south Durham and the very top of Yorkshire and most most closely connected to Geordie but Geordies don’t drop h’s.the bottom of the Durham coalfield,as was,it where it changes and becomes more Geordie with the pit yakker accent.i can’t tell Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Darlington, Stockton,etc apart but go to say Peterlee and there’s a clear change although they’ll still drop h’s unlike Geordies.i think that the reason why the Cumberland accent is similar is because it watered down Geordie but it’s very strange that they talk like Northumbrians over there, strange too Carlisle is like south Durham but penrith is standard north country “ee up lad!”basically south Durham is a Northumbrian accent and people call it Geordie…. wrong as I say; Geordie is a type of Northumbrian accent but Northumbrian accents are not a type of Geordie!

    1. What an interesting comment. Thank you. I remember when I lived in ‘Boro I could easily tell Stockton from from Darlington and had a very granular ear for all the different local accents. We always knew when someone wasn’t from ‘Boro but from an outlying village, in which case we’d dismiss them rudely as ‘woollybacks’! I can’t do it now – having lived elsewhere for almost 40 years I’ve lost the subtleties of the accents up there.

  5. I proper love the Boro accent me like. The accent is magical but this seems to be more about dialect rather than accent. To me the Boro accent sounds very scouse, even more so than it does Geordie which we often get called by the un-educated. I’m a local dialect enthusiast and love the different historic influences on the accent and the dialect. Aside from the accent, the dialect is very much influenced by the vikings as you have stated, although the Tees and Cleveland areas were occupied by Danish Vikings not Norwegian Vikings, much like the rest of Yorkshire at the time. The Middlesbrough dialect was originally a Cleveland dialect, which would have been closer to North Yorkshire, even the accent. The main shift in accent came during the industrial expansion of Middlesbrough and the wider Tees area. The period from the 1860’s to the 1900’s saw Middlesbrough expand at a rapid rate. During this time, Irish migration to the area was only second to that of Liverpool in England. Nearly 10% of the population were Irish born and also a significant amount of Welsh and Scottish influenced the accent. This influence can be heard in words like Nurse, Dirt, Work, Shirt and Purple which sound like Nerse, Dert, Werk, Shert and Perple, just how it is pronounced on Merseyside.

  6. Watching an old episode of Midsomer Murders where Sgt. Troy is promoted to inspector and will transfer to Middlesbrough. (Of course, watching the series in the U.S. on a Public Television station so they’re all old.) They made a small joke about the accent there so researched on line and found your article. Great explanation. Thank you!
    PS: Good for Troy. Who would want to live in Midsomer with all the murders. Might as well live in Chicago.

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