Recalling old South Tyneside words at ... The Word

A ladle-full of 'plarpy' school dinners perhaps, for these hungry-looking 'sprouters'.
A ladle-full of 'plarpy' school dinners perhaps, for these hungry-looking 'sprouters'.

Over the years, the English language has gone through a great many changes, with the arrival of new words and the departure of others that have fallen out of favour.

Now, some of those less popular words from the past, particularly those peculiar to the North East, have been dusted down and given pride of place at an exhibition, staged appropriately enough – at The Word.

As part of a two-year Lost Dialects initiative, visitors to National Centre for the Written Word, at South Shields, were invited to jot down words and phrases they rarely heard anymore.

As a result, the visitors’ feedback provides the focus of a Word Bank of Lost Dialects display, which features the familiar alongside the less known and often long forgotten.

“Every one of the 2,400 words and phrases donated by the public would once have been part of everyday language in the shipyards, mines and in street games and social gatherings” says a spokesperson for The Word.

“And, while some of the words will be familiar, others – such as Fuddleskelly and dilk- have never been formally recorded before.”

The exhibition, by artists Jane Glennie and Robert Good, enables visitors to view the full word bank, take a rubbing of some of their favourite Geordie words and vote whether they want to “use” or “lose” them.

The Word Bank of Lost Dialects also explores the histories of some of the most popular and some of the most obscure words and phrases donated; words such as “gruffy” (skin wrinkled from being in water too long) or “budgie” (a half pint of beer) and “spags” (feet).

Among the discoveries made by Jane and Robert, as they collated and researched the donated words, is that spellings of some words varied enormously, suggesting they were spoken more often than they were written.

“Take, turnip, for example,” said Robert, “or snadgie. There are no fewer than 12 different spellings of that, from snadgi and snaggy to snadger and snaggie.

“But before dictionaries and schooling were the norm, many common words had multiple spellings until gradually the ‘right’ spelling became accepted and taught.”

The exhibition also highlights those words that give the Geordie language its unique sounds – words such as gis, short for give us; alreet for all right and gan, for go.

And, adds the spokesperson, because language is constantly evolving, the exhibition also features completely new words and phrases, such as elephant’s ears to describe naan bread, grockles (tourists) and soogie (a long, hot, bubble bath).

Tania Robinson, Head of Culture at The Word, said the project is one of the most fascinating ever undertaken at the venue, “because it is about capturing a language that is danger of being lost forever.

“Increasingly we communicate via technology and spell-checkers don’t recognise dialect,” she said. “So, if you type the word ‘clarty’, (dirty) it will auto-correct it to clarity, for example.

“This will make it harder for written dialect words to survive, which is why this project is more than just a trip down memory lane – it is a record of our regional identity.”

The free, Word Bank of Lost Dialects exhibition runs until September. For more information visit www.theworduk.org, www.facebook.com/worduk, www.twitter.com/theword_uk

What are your favourite South Tyneside-flavoured words and phrases?

Which words did you used to use when you were younger that you don’t anymore? Please send me your suggestions.