Northern Sayings

25 Northern Sayings

by Northern Life

Northern linguistic quirks and their origins...

Northern sayings and their origins

  1. Ey ‘up- A widely used greeting in the north Midlands and Yorkshire, this term is simply another way of saying hello in the north. Like many slangs in the Yorkshire dialect, the popular slang term can be traced back to Old Norse languages. Another form of it is ‘se up’ which means ‘watch out’, and there is also the rhyming version ‘ey up me duck’ which adds the affectionately spoken term ‘me duck’ deriving from ‘mi ducas’, an old Anglo Saxon word.
  2. Barm – Yet another addition to the controversial and ever-lasting argument of the ‘correct’ term for a teacake/bap/bun/bread roll. ‘Barm’ is particularly popular in the North West, with interesting Germanic origins, as it is thought that the term comes from ‘beorma’, the Old English word for yeast, which consequently comes from the Proto-Germanic ‘bhermen’. In any case, the word refers to yeast-based products, such as bread and beer, the latter of which lead to the insult ‘barmy’, as ‘barm’ can also reference the froth on fermenting beers, said to make consumers ‘barmy’ if they drank it.
  3. Damp Squib – The term ‘damp squib’ can be most effectively explained by its Elizabethan Yorkshire roots- when fireworks were known as ‘squibs’, a ‘damp squib’ therefore being a wet firework that is unable to explode. As a result, the meaning of the slang term ‘damp squib’ in the north is to underwhelm, or be an anticlimax. Funnily enough the word ‘squib’ can also be a reference to the Harry Potter books, where the insult was popularised after being cited as ‘a magic-born person who can’t do magic’ in the books.
  4. Daft ‘Apeth – This barb is said to originate from the early 20th century nickname for half of the old one penny. In the north, a halfpenny’s worth was commonly refereed to as a ‘ha’porth’, so a foolish person is a ‘daft ha’porth’- simply worth only half a penny.
  5. Scran – A popular slang term in the north, meaning food that is cheap, easy to make/find and most often, junk food. The origins of the word point to North Germanic or Old Norse, and some claims state that the word ‘scran’ was actually used as slang for ‘bar-tab’ in the 18th Though it’s meaning tends to sound rough and abrasive now, the term ‘scran’ is generally used to describe a scrappy comfort meal, like yesterday’s leftover pie or a cheeky microwave pizza on a cold day!
  6. Ginnel – A ginnel or an alleyway is the narrow pathway between houses and streets, ginnel being the more common term used in the north. The slang term has two possible origins, the more widely accepted one being that the word ‘ginnel’ in one of its many ways of spelling, comes from the French ‘chenelle’, which also translates in the form of English words like ‘channel’ or ‘canal’. The second point of origin supposedly has roots in Old English with the word ‘ginn’, meaning a side opening, and the addition of the diminutive suffix ‘el’, which in turn changes the meaning to a small empty space.Northern Sayings - Ginnel
  7. Couldn’t stop a pig in ginnel – Following on from this, another popular saying that also includes the term ‘ginnel’, is widely used in Manchester to describe someone who is useless or incompetent, although it was originally used to refer to someone who was bow-legged. This stems from the Victorian times, when it was common to keep pigs in the back garden. With the disease of rickets being rife, one of the consequences of a child having the illness was that they ran the risk of becoming permanently bow-legged; as a result, if the household pig were to escape down the ginnel, it would be difficult to catch them, as it would run between their legs.
  8. Dibble – The term Dibble has been adopted into northwestern slang with the meaning of ‘police officers’, most often in a derogatory way- for example, “Shoot! The Dibble are coming, we better get going!” The most common point of origin for this term is the 1960s US cartoon series ‘Top Cat’, in which the character of a local cop is called “Officer Dibble”. In recent times, this unfavourable term is used commonly for the Greater Manchester Police Force- although the specific reason for this is unknown.
  9. Lady Muck – This colloquial term originates from early 20s England, and was used to describe a snobbish person who thinks themselves higher than they may actually be. In those times, the term traced back to Lady Nora Docker, an English socialite who scandalised Britain with her beliefs that she was an aristocrat- despite the evidence that she was far from. Although the term Lady Muck is usually associated with her, some views state that the term actually didn’t come around until the 1950s. Over time, the term was also developed into its counterpart, ‘Lord Muck’, which saw the derogatory slang to mean both men or women who have a high sense of self-importance.
  10. Sound – Another term commonly used in Manchester, the slang term ‘sound’ is used affectionately, meaning ‘cool’ or ‘decent’. This one also originates from the United Kingdom and Ireland back in the 20th century, as an informal way of calling someone or something favourable, tolerable or likeable. Don’t be confused- it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the vibrations that travel through the air!
  11. Yay Big – Originating from the northwest in the 1950s, the slang term ‘yay big’ or ‘yea big’ is a rough description of the height or size of something, e.g. ‘Her son has grown a lot, he’s about yay big now!”. The saying is usually accompanied with a hand gesture to indicate just how big/high said something is, and is an extremely common way of providing a basic interpretation of size even now.Northern sayings
  12. Clam digging – ‘Clam digging’ or the more common ‘clamming’ is used in the Northeast of England predominantly as a way of expressing hunger. For example, you may hear people from Newcastle saying “What’s for dinner? I’m absolutely clamming!”.
  13. Scrikin – The term scrikin is a slang word that most likely originates around Manchester, where it is still a common word in recent times. In Mancunian terms, Scrikin means to cry or shed tears, for example “Can you give me a hand here? The baby just won’t stop scrikin!”
  14. Croggy – In typical northern fashion, this slang term is a playful way of referring to the act of giving someone a ride. If you’re giving someone a ‘croggy’ you’re offering them a lift in your car.
  15. Bloke – Yet another extremely popular slang word whose usage travels outside of northern England to places like Ireland and New Zealand, Australia. The term ‘bloke’ is simply another word for a common man, in line with other names such as ‘fellow’ or ‘lad’ . The origins of the word are slightly tricky to pinpoint given the popularity of the saying not just in northern England, although its earliest known usage is from the early 19th.
  16. Howay man! – This slang term originates in Newcastle, and it intertwined with the charm of typical Geordie slang. “Howay, man!” is a term often used to tell someone to hurry up, or get a move on. You’re hiking up a hill, and you look back to find your friends far behind you. “Howay, man!”
  17. Bits ‘n Bobs – An amusing slang term, limited to the north of England and hardly ever heard outside of the UK, the phrase ‘bits ‘n bobs’ means small objects or tasks, and would be used in a sentence thus; “I’m just nipping down to the shops- there’s a few bits ‘n bobs I need for the party.” It’s pretty easy to understand the underlying implications of the term, ‘bits’ being the clearest adjective describing something slight of trivial, and ‘bobs’- well, we can put that down as typical northern witticism! The term originates from around 18th century English, with its earliest record being ‘Vanderdecken; or, The Flying Dutchman’ by English playwright Thomas Taylor in 1846. In an excerpt from the book, one of the characters says “as time’s precious, I’ll reduce it to bits and bobs”.
  18. Gip – The feeling of nausea. This northern England slang meant to be disgusted to the extent of wanting to vomit, and is an onomatopoeic reference to the sound of bile rising up the throat.
  19. Down the banks – This slang term is commonly used in Liverpool, and it means to give someone grief, or to tell them off. “That customer wouldn’t leave me be, so I gave him down the banks.” Some views state that this 19th century slang originates from the multiple sandbanks in Liverpool Bay, which takes us back to pirating days when, according to folklore, pirates would lay in wait of the traffic warden and force them onto the banks to then make off with the valuable cargo. In this sense, the meaning of the term ‘down the banks’, as used even today, is to give someone a tough time.
  20. Doylem – ‘Doylem’ or ‘doylum’ is a northern slang term particularly rife in Yorkshire, and its meaning in the simplest of terms is stupid, or simpleton. Dating back to the early 1960s, the term seemingly originated from the Yiddish word ‘goylem’ with the same meaning, as cited in Yaron Matras’ “Romani in Britain: The Afterlife of a Language” in 2010. You’ll find the word also commonly used in places such as Leeds, where you may hear, “Watch it, you doylum!”
  21. Antwacky – This slang term, a wordplay of ‘antique’ indicates to something being out of style or old fashioned. It originated from the 1970s Liverpudlian dialect, and is still an extremely common in areas such as Liverpool; “That jacket is just so antwacky.”
  22. Devoed – Another slang term common in Liverpool, where it originally came from, is the word ‘devoed’, which is a shortened version of ‘devastated’. It is used to express disappointment, e.g “The last tickets for the concert just sold, I’m devoed! I was waiting all week to get them.”
  23. Chuddy – A form of slang popular in Manchester, ‘chuddy’ is the informal way of saying chewing gum. For example the term could be used as such; “Do you want a chuddy?”. This slang term is more commonly used within the youth of Manchester, as it is typically a more recent one.
  24. Clocked – In its original version from the 80/90s, the term ‘clocked’ was coined as a slang word for ‘hit’, the action of being punched or punching another person, e.g. “Say that again and I’ll clock ya!”. In recent years, however, this word has come to insinuate becoming aware of or seeing something. In this case, the word ‘clocked’ could be heard in a sentence like “I’ve just clocked now, they were together the whole time!”
  25. Nipping – In the north of England, to ‘nip’ down is an informal way of saying to go somewhere quickly, or a short trip that won’t take long. For example, “I’m just nipping down to the shops for some snacks, do you want anything?”. Although the more common meaning to the word ‘nip’ across the rest of the UK and also outside of it is ‘to be bitten sharply’, northerners often use the term in the former fashion.

Fancy hearing these words in person? Check out the best places to visit in Northern England and expand your slang.