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.

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

  1. My dad was a music teacher and taught Chris Rea at stainsby school he also came to our house for singing lessons I left the boro 38 yrs ago and me accent is still the same as it was then I avnt lost it

    1. That’s very cool! I went to Kings Manor school opposite Boynton and Hustler. We lived on Oxford Road, and me and my little brother used to buy sweets (and 20 Embassy for our mum) at the shops opposite Stainsby. Good memories… 😉

  2. Thanks for this! i had to google Teeside , b/c i was reading about one of my fav England footballers, jordan nobb, and they referred to her as “puree teeside.”

    i had heard her speak and new she was not a Geordie, but also that must be close….

    1. Yeah, Jordan’s a proper hero. Did you know the singer Chris Rea is also a ‘Boro lad? In the 1970s we used to buy ice creams from his parents’ cafe. OMG I just realised I am REALLY OLD, lol 😉

    1. I’d forgotten that one! I also like the fact that borrowing and lending get mixed up: ‘can I lend your phone?’

  3. The area was actually settled heavily by Vikings, even the name Redcar comes from the Norse Rota KJaar meaning the red marshes and Roseberry Topping derives from it’s original name “Odin’s Berg” meaning mountain of Odin and was likely user as a lookout point during times of Norse settlers in the area.
    All up the North Yorkshire coast and into Northumbria was settled and indeed influenced by the Norse language.
    Me favourite word we use that comes from Norse is “beck” asin
    “Youse bin catching frogs down the beck yourself?”

    1. Thanks Matt, that’s really interesting. And aye, I’ve caught a few frogs down the beck meself 😉

  4. I really enjoyed reading that! I moved to Texass (spelling intentional…) nearly 30 years ago and had to soften my accent so people would understand me. I remember the first time my husband heard me & my sister nattering away and he wasn’t sure we were speaking English 😆

    1. Ha, that’s funny Jenni. When I first arrived in Brighton from ‘Boro, 40 years ago when accents were stronger, I struggled to make myself understood as well! Thank you, Limey Princess! 😉

  5. I was born in Darlington in the late 50’s and grew up there but lived in Grangetown Middlesbrough for a while in the 70’s.
    I now live in Kent after living and working in pubs all over the UK.
    As you can imagine I have heard rather a lot of accents over the years and have never had any problems differentiating a Middlesbrough accent from that of other towns in the Tees valley area.
    Like most of the North East Middlesbrough uses words retained from Viking settlers: claggy, ganning, bairn, etc, but whereas in most towns and villages in the Tees valley area accents are influenced by the flat vowels and slightly monotonal delivery of North Yorkshire the industrial communities of Middlesbrough still retain the cadence and pronunciation of the workers from Merseyside and Ireland who moved there and changed it from a tiny farming community to one of the UK’s largest industrial towns in less than 50 years.
    It’s by no means unusual for close knit industrial communities who have moved from one location to another to retain their original accent for generations.
    Around Barnsley in South Yorkshire there is still a large Welsh speaking community which originates from coal miners and their families moving there in the 19th century after their pit in North Wales was flooded and closed.
    Personally I was very surprised when working in North Notts to discover that in Cresswell, a small town of some 3,000 people, absolutely everyone spoke with a Durham accent.
    The answer was of course that when a number of pits closed in the Durham coalfield in the 30’s whole communities moved en masse to a newly opened pit with its own newly built pit town in Nottinghamshire.
    The point is that in the towns and villages surrounding Cresswell you wouldn’t hear anyone at all with a Durham accent and it’s much the same with Middlesbrough.
    Middlesbrough’s accent still has far more in common with Merseyside than the area which surrounds it even though as you say over time it has been softened and influenced by changing times.

    1. That’s really interesting Geoff, thank you so much for the insight. Very cool!

  6. 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 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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

  9. 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.

    2. People mistake me for a scouser and that’s probably because I pronounce certain werds as werk, shert, perple and so on! My grown up kids don’t, the boro accent is changing (not with everyone) but definitely with the younger generation. Like ya never heard Mum in boro only our mam, but now I hear mum on a daily basis. I prefer our mam, thank god my kids got that one right! 🤣

  10. 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.

    1. Agreed, I wrote a sociology paper on the 90s at college in Acklam Middlesbrough. I tracked the migration of accents from the North (Scots, geordie), all of Yorkshire, and predominantly the west coast and Ireland when iron ore was discovered in the Cleveland Hills. There was also the arrival of the navvies working slowly across the pennines building the railways. This all came together on one of the most colloquially diverse accents in Britain. As I say to my children….Be proud of your heritage and NEVER be embarrassed by your amazing accent. GARTH

      1. Thanks for your comment Andy. Yeah, it’s sad to see accents disappearing so fast, replaced by that awful semi-posh whiny non-accent that’s spreading across the UK. Mine is a right mish-mash these days, part Boro, part Brighton, part Devon. It changed over the years, nothing I could do about it, it just happened naturally. It’s a wonder anyone knows what I’m on about.

  11. 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.

    1. I have always been struck by the similarities between the Teeside accent and the Widnes accent. These areas are on opposite sides of the country, yet I was surprised to learn that one of my former colleagues was a born and bred Widnes lad. When I first heard him speak, I just assumed he was from the Boro area. My experience with Teeside accent stems from my time in the armed forces.

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