In the North-East of England, where I live, the word "howwa" is used to mean "that thing".

It is pronounced like "shower" and could be used in the following contexts:

Can't you get it to work? Pass the howwa here.


I was trying to find the pub but it was an hour before I found the howwa!

or even about a person:

He's the howwa who sold me the car.

Although I hear it regularly, I have no idea where it comes from. Any ideas?

  • Where in the North-East? – Brad Dec 21 '13 at 16:33
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    I'm from Sunderland and it's definitely more Sunderland-Durham way than Sunderland-Newcastle. I can't seem to find an explanation anywhere! – Ste Dec 21 '13 at 16:37
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    I only know howa as Geordie for away (with various context-specific meanings including "Hurry up!", "Well done!", "Come in!" etc.). – FumbleFingers Dec 21 '13 at 16:38
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    Some examples of usage on a Sunderland football forum: readytogo.net/smb/search/978735/… – Ste Dec 21 '13 at 16:45
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    It may well only be spoken, but spoken words will have an etymology too, no? – Ste Dec 24 '13 at 14:21

I couldn't find much about howwa in the way of etymology or even a definition (but I'll keep looking), and suspect the word is much older, but the oldest references I could find on the Sunderland Message Boards at readytogo.net are from 2010. Here's four referring to things or people:

anar man.. I was so excited at making a joke the howa backfired :eek:

Berek, May 17, 2010


super cup football for me la!! thrashed ivvry howwa aswell

concourseboy, Jun 15, 2010


Never heard of the howa la.

woollyback, Sep 13, 2010


Some howwa should gan write SMB in the sand :lol: go on man Derg

super sleeves, Sep 28, 2010


  • Thanks @Hugo. It's definitely much older - I've been hearing it since growing up in the eighties. Appreciate your endeavours to crack it, as always. – Ste Dec 24 '13 at 15:58

Ok, I shall not profess that the following is a definitive answer to your question, but it is an educated speculation. This word corresponds very much with a classical Arabic lexeme, both in its meaning and pronunciation as it is evident by your reference to ‘shower’ (And I mean according to the British accent, which I assume you speak, and hear howwa uttered in). The Arabic lexeme, still used today as well, is howa (هو). While it means ‘he,’ it can also mean ‘this thing’ or ‘that thing,’ because Arabic is a gender-based language. This means that, in Arabic be it used classically or colloquially, you can refer to a ‘thing’ as ‘he’ if it is recognized by Arabic native speakers as ‘male.’

While this sounds a little off, there is ample etymological evidence that some European words could be traced to Arabic due to the cultural permeation in Medieval times, enabled by then Moslem Spain. Prime examples of loan words are ‘rice,’ ‘potato,’ ‘cotton,’ and ‘tomato,’ yet the source language is often a matter of uncertainty. One word surely adopted from Arabic is ‘Saracen,’ meaning a ‘Moslem,’ during the time of Crusades, as it was used by poets such as Jeffery Chaucer. It fact, this word represents an ethnicity, and not a religion; yet, since the Moslem leader Saladin was a Circassian (شركسي), there is a very high probability the word ‘Saracen’ accordingly was adopted to refer to Moslems in general.

To answer your question directly: I think, based on similar cases, the word in question could be traced to Arabic roots. If you are interested in this subject, I highly recommend reading:

1) The Matter of Araby in Medieval England. By Dorothee Metlitzki 2) The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage. By Maria Rosa Menocal.

I hope this participation can at least open possibilities of further research for you.

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