YACCA, yakka or yacker – it doesn’t matter which spelling you use, the words sound the same when you pronounce them.

But there are two types of yacker: one who works on a farm; another who works in a pit.

“When I was at Northallerton Grammar School in the late 1950s and early 1960s, anyone connected with farming was called a farm yacker,” says William Barker. “It was certainly a derogatory term. Your article a fortnight ago was the first time I’ve seen it mentioned since I was at school.”

John Williams in Nunthorpe is of the same vintage and also remembers farm yacker from his childhood. “I don't believe it was used in a derogatory way,” he says. “It was simply local lingo.”

Indeed, some people don’t regard it as at all rude. Hannah Chapman, editor of the farm yacker’s bible, the Darlington & Stockton Times, who comes from Northallerton farming stock says: “We say yacker all the time. I am a self-confessed and fairly proud yacker, and would happily refer to myself as a “right yacker”.”

Darlington and Stockton Times:

A Darlington yacker, cattle dealer David Cook, drawn about 1900 by renowned artist George Algernon Fothergill, although he didn't call him a yacker

However, yackerdom is not something that is only conferred upon farmers.

“I am from Hartlepool,” says Ian Pullman, “and we have always used the term pit yakkas to refer to people who are from the collieries of Blackhall, Horden, Easington, and I suppose it was slightly derogatory. I had a mate who used to work as a bouncer on Church Street in the 1970s/1980s and he used to say the main bother was from the yakkas who used to come down to Hartlepool for a drink and a fight on a Friday and Saturday night!”

Graeme Slaughter grew up in Hartlepool perhaps a decade earlier than Paul and he agrees that pit yackers came from the same three coastal pit communities.

Jean Sanders suggests that the term might have been most often used by those outside the coalfield to be rude about those who toiled most of their lives underground.

“My mother was from Northumberland and she would say ‘pit yacca’ thinking it was a bit of an insult,” she says.

Janet Crampton knew both types of yacker in her childhood. “I grew up on Tyneside in the 1950s/1960s where the term ‘farm yacker’ was commonly attributed to farmhands and other unskilled agricultural workers, and ‘pit yacker’ to similar in the coal mines,” she says. “It was derogatory, but only mildly.

“Farm work was more seasonal then than now, and all sorts of people got casual work tattie-hoiking when they’d work alongside the yackers.

“Pit yackers (young, single, male) often had plenty of money and would hit the town on a Saturday night well-dressed in sharp suits.”

Mike Amos gets in touch to tell of Paul “Yacker” Pitman, who 25 years ago was scoring the goals that took Whitby Town to Wembley in the FA Vase final, where they beat North Ferriby 3-0, with Yacker getting one. Mike interviewed Yacker for the Northern League magazine and, naturally, the first question he asked him was about his nickname.

“I got it right back at infants’ school,” replied Mr Pitman. “Pitmen around Hartlepool were pit yackers. Me mam was mad. She called me Paul because you couldn’t shorten it into a nickname.”

But yackering was not confined only to those who worked in farm or mine. “My father, who grew up in Newcastle, used to talk about ‘pit yackers’ and ‘dock yackers’, and I am pretty sure that he was not being polite!” says Margaret Selmes. “Incidentally, he was a ‘newspaper yacker’ like yourself – in his youth, he spent a short time working at The North Star in Darlington and latterly working for the Newcastle Chronicle and Journal.”

So where does yackering come from? The Oxford English Dictionary reckons it is Australian slang for talking, and it is first used in the Sydney Slang Dictionary in 1882. Indeed, yacker.com.au is an Aussie mobile phone app over which lonely farmers can talk to each other.

“Yacker has helped me connect with another grower and discuss my question of how to bury barley and store it in the ground for tight seasons,” says a yacker from New South Wales.

However, the talking type of yackering seems to have little to do with the North East yacking which several people suggest comes from “working”. Chris Corbett sends in a learned definition that suggests a North-East dialect word “yark”, meaning a heavy blow at either coalface or soil, could be the ultimate derivation; other people have suggested that yackers hack away to earn their living.

Yacking on the farm or in the pit is fairly menial working – managers are not yackers – which is why it might be a little rude.

Being helpful, Paul Stretton has sent a map showing the tribes of the North East, whereby there are Geordies on Tyneside and Mackems in Sunderland; there are Poolies, or Monkey Hangers, in Hartlepool, and Smoggies on Teesside. County Durham is the home of Pit Yackers and North Yorkshire is dominated by Farm Yackers except on the east coast which is the stronghold of the Codheads.

This map omits the most mysterious of all tribes: the Sand Dancers of South Shields. Does anyone have a theory about how they came by their name?

  • Many thanks to everyone who has contributed on this important topic.