SAYING “nu” to someone from outside the Tyne Valley – or even outside Hexham – will usually elicit little more than a confused stare.

For those who don’t know, it’s used as an informal greeting, with various urban legends surrounding its origin.

It’s just one example of the Tyne Valley and the wider North-East’s rather unusual dialect. But with the rise of spell-checking technology in everyday life there are fears that these words – particularly in the written form – could die out.

Hexham’s veteran dialect poet Nick Short, well known for his success at the Morpeth Gathering, believes that the war on dialect starts from a young age.

“In schools, dialect is brayed out of the bairns,” said Nick. “They have to talk in proper English.

“It’s a bit unfortunate because there’s some dialect words that are non-existent in proper English.”

Nick’s extensive knowledge of the Northumbrian dialect has, perhaps unsurprisingly, lead to some unusual words.

“Kenspeckle, that’s somebody who thinks he’s self important,” Nick explained.

“And when you park your car awkwardly and you have to manoeuvre in, you have to wemmel it.”

Unusual North-East words are the focus of an ongoing exhibition at The Word, National Centre for the Written Word in South Shields.

As part of a two-year initiative, visitors to the centre were invited to write down words and phrases they rarely heard anymore.

Some of the oddest words of the 2,400 recorded included fuddleskelly – meaning untidy in appearance – and orly gorlies, meaning the giggles (apparently).

Now, the exhibition, known as Lost Dialects and created 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.

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

Tania Robinson, head of culture at The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, said: “Increasingly we communicate via technology and spellcheckers don’t recognise dialect,” she said. “So, if you type the word ‘clarty’, (dirty) it will autocorrect 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.”

Hexham’s Peter Arnold, chairman of the Northumbrian Language Society, agrees that dialect is an important part of North-East culture.

Peter said: “Our dialect is a mark of who we are as a people, it marks us out as different. Not better or worse, just different.

“In the North-East we have a history, a culture and a heritage that is worth preserving, and the way we speak is a very important part of that.

“The official policy of the Northumbrian Language Society is that people should speak two languages – standard English when they have to and dialect the rest of the time.

“The BBC has done a lot of very good things, but the idea of received pronunciation has been a killer.

“My personal perspective is that people who willingly get rid of their local dialect are saying that they’re ashamed of where they come from – and isn’t that sad?”

The Lost Dialects exhibition is open until September.