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 geggs, ket 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.