Canny lads and radgie gadgies: Geordie English
‘And they’re like what does canny mean?‘. With this complaint, a 20-year-old from Gateshead whose data is recorded in the new Diachronic Electronic Corpus of Tyneside English (DECTE) explains that on occasion some of her fellow students, who weren’t fortunate enough to grow up in the North East, just don’t get what she’s talking about. The way that she phrases this remark captures both the local and global aspects of the Geordie used by her generation. Words like canny have a long history as part of the local dialect. Others, such as the use of like to report what someone has said, are associated with her age group, not just locally but nationally and even internationally, with recent reports of the same feature being used by young speakers from the British Isles to the Antipodes.
He’s a good-looking lad and dead canny, and he’s a right laugh …
Here, canny has its characteristic Geordie function as a term of appreciation, a way of describing someone or something the speaker thinks is ‘nice’ or ‘pleasant’. Elsewhere, in the same way that dead is used above, canny can appear as the equivalent of words like very or quite, so that for one 21-year-old, weekends mean a ‘canny good piss-up’. This versatile traditional word also mixes quite happily with more recent expressions of approval and delight (like banging, cush or cushty, lush, and mint). In discussing the merits of local pubs, for example, a 19-year-old girl expresses surprise that her friend has ‘never been to Rewind’ since ‘it was canny good’, before quickly adding that ‘The Pig and Whistle was mint’. In fact, the recordings collected in the DECTE archive demonstrate that these two words can get very closely acquainted indeed, as when one young man from Burnopfield, about ten miles south west of Newcastle, says that an upcoming holiday will be ‘canny mint’.
… but then he goes for the proper mingers
Our good-looking lad may be dead canny, but he apparently has poor judgement when it comes to matters of the heart. Perhaps it’s clouded because, for him, a ‘canny good piss-up’ means getting absolutely mortal or bladdered. Or perhaps it’s the places he hangs out. Maybe they’re full of rough and vulgar charvers, a term defined by a helpful young local as meaning a loudmouth or ‘somebody who thinks they are mint’. Worse still, he could be hanging out in ‘radgy bars’ where aggressive radgies can be found. These violent rascals are not to be confused with gadgies, a term for old men in this dialect. Of course, a particularly bad-tempered old man can therefore be called a radgie gadgie. Clearly there is a whole range of undesirable people that dead canny lads and lasses might want to avoid on a night out. Finding names for them is evidently one impulse for the kind of linguistic inventiveness that can introduce new words into this region’s dialect, as we see when one 20-year-old young woman gives radgie a new twist, observing that ‘everywhere in Newcastle is going to have little radgepots about’.
The examples cited here come from DECTE interviews conducted between 2007-2011, with people in the 18-25 age range.