Council warns Geordie workers: Mind your sexist language, pet

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The Independent Online

A council has instructed its staff to think carefully before using colloquial words such as "pet" and "hinny" to refer to women, in case they cause offence.

Bosses at Newcastle City Council have told workers to reflect before using the words, for fear they may be interpreted as sexist language. Such traditional Geordie terms are widely used as terms of endearment in the region, sometimes towards men too in the case of "pet".

But at a recent equality and diversity training course, those attending were told of the need to be sensitive to others.

A council spokesman said the words had not been banned, but that staff had been trained to "make a judgement" before using them. "There is no ban on words, such as 'hinny', 'pet', 'love' or 'darling'," he said. "The point made to council staff during equality and diversity training is that they must make a judgement before using these words as to whether they are likely to offend the person they are directed to.

"In the vast majority of cases these would not offend but we want our staff, as part of the equality and diversity training, to be sensitive to the needs of those in all of our communities."

Bill Griffiths, from the Durham & Tyneside dialect group, who has compiled the Dictionary of North East Dialect, said that in general, the colloquial words in question were regarded as "friendly" rather than insulting or demeaning.

"It depends on the context but if we are talking about ordinary conversation, I would have thought that the council would have done better to be friendly, otherwise what they are doing is talking down to people, if they assume a formal language which is not friendly or local or usual. That would be a rather sad approach really," he said.

He said a term such as "hinny" had been used for about 200 years and its connotations were those of familiarity and not of sexism.

"There's a debate on what "hinny" means, it either means honey or it has a Scottish connection, and originally it could be used towards a man or a woman," Mr Griffiths said.

"In the case of a word like 'pet', women working in shop will use it towards a man, in the sense of 'friend'. You wouldn't use "hinny" on a man now but only a generation back, you would have heard men use it on each other."

He said he hoped the council guidelines were not a deliberate attempt to "cut out dialect and regional speech".

Geordie speech, which has been immortalised in popular television shows and cartoon strips, such as Auf Wiedersehen Pet, and Viz magazine's Fat Slags (pictured below), is more than 80 per cent Anglo-Saxon in origin. In standard English, the figure is less than 30 per cent, as modern English words are predominantly of Latin origin.

For this reason, some dialect experts have argued that Geordie words should not be seen as "slang" as they are of great antiquity.

Talk of the toon

aad fashint old-fashioned

ta back ower to return

bad-weather geordie cockle seller

billy companion

birkie smart fellow

blackie blackbird

ta blain to cry

bonny lad handsome man

ta bool to walk

brahma excellent, perfect

bully brother, comrade

cakhouse lavatory

cheor popular greeting

claver gossip

cob loaf of bread

cocked drunk

contraband cigarettes, pipe, matches or lighter used for smoking (miners' slang)

ta dang to strike violently

Dell Devil

donsie unlucky

dowie depressed

ta fadge to eat together

hacka someone who commits a serious foul in football

wor hoose home

inatween between

kelter money

lolly tongue

moongin moaning

ta myek to make

oot back outside lavatory

ta rozzel to heat over a fire

samidge sandwich

skeet shoe

snadgee swede (vegetable)

snap snack (usually sandwiches)

swanky strong young man

tashin on look-out for girls

yark heavy blow

yelhoose pub

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