I was reading a Harry Potter book the other day and one of the characters, Nymphadora Tonks, greets Harry by saying "Wotcher, Harry".

What is "Wotcher"?


Theory 1: It's a contraction of "what are you up to" or "what are you doing". Basically, the last part (up to/doing) is completely dropped, and the rest is smushed together.

Theory 2: it's short for "what cheer", purportedly 17th century slang for "what's up".



The MSN Encarta dictionary and freedictionary.com support Martha's second theory that wotcher is contraction of "what cheer". It is a slang (U.K.) that means the same as hello. It should be noted that it is not clear whether the slang is still in use anywhere in the U.K.

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    Links to Urban dictionary make me sad. – Noldorin Nov 8 '10 at 22:26
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    Sorry, Noldorin, it's what I could find that was succinct and to the point. In this case, it even tends to agree with the more, um, reputable sources. – Marthaª Nov 8 '10 at 22:31
  • @Bruno Rothgiesser, thanks for the additional information in the edit. – Marthaª Nov 9 '10 at 14:42
  • Small note, I think this is used in Australia as well as the UK. – ZoFreX Sep 23 '14 at 15:22
  • "...it is not clear whether the slang is still in use anywhere in the U.K." Anecdotal I know, but I remember my uncle saying this about 20 years ago. Further, the character Andy (Mackenzie Crook) from the recent BBC series Detectorists uses the greeting on at least 2 occasions, one being in S02E02 around the 19:30 mark. So it does seem to remain in use, though from my experience not particularly common. – Mike Chamberlain Mar 3 '18 at 12:31



A colloquial greeting.


'Wotcher' is so strongly associated with the south of England, and especially London, that it is often assumed to be Cockney Rhyming Slang. Some commentators have attempted to find tortured rhymes for the extended 'wotcher cock' slang form - 'what's your clock?', 'watch your back' etc. In fact, 'wotcher' long predates CRS and is a contraction of the earlier greeting phrase 'what cheer?'. In that form, it became part of the everyday English language in the early Middle Ages.

Please read the related phrases.org.uk page for more info.

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    Let me clarify this, from first-hand experience. You are highly unlikely to hear any Englishman saying "wotcher", even in London, unless you go to certain parts of the East End. I can't remember last time I heard it! – Noldorin Nov 8 '10 at 22:25
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    @Noldorin - I use it (if that helps). I'm from Hampshire which is in the south of England. – ukayer Feb 14 '11 at 8:38
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    @Noldorin: I never actually lived in London itself, but I was brought up in Crawley and have been living back there for the past decade (it's a "new town" with strong "sarf London" roots). So even if I'm not a "life-long Londoner", I'm probably a "longer-life near-Londoner" than you. Only 4-5 years back I had a crew of 40-something builders working on my roof for many weeks. They were certainly prone to shout "Wotcher, mate!" to anyone passing in the street that they recognised. I think these sort of greetings take a long time to disappear completely, because they're shouted and heard by all – FumbleFingers Feb 20 '12 at 15:41
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    @Noldorin - plain to see it's you that is arrogant. I grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne (Wey aye) and wotcher was definitely not unknown to me. Particularly in the form "Wotcher, mate!". "How bonnie lad" was certainly more common being local dialect, but I suspect that wotcher survived and was perpetuated through comics such as Beezer. – Leo Nov 23 '12 at 19:57
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    I think it's clear that 'Wotcher' is still well known in the UK because Rowling uses it and everyone understands it. I haven't heard any huge outcry here about 'What is this strange word that Hagrid uses?' – Mynamite May 11 '13 at 21:56

As reported by others, "wotcher" (or, as I've seen elsewhere, "watcha") is a greeting that has been used for a long time in the UK. It is certainly still in use in North Kent, though in a rather more middle-class accent than in the East End.

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Two observations:

  1. The very first word of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and

  2. I distinctly remember when the Brit soap opera "Eastenders" was introduced in the US, the host of the show explained what the term meant, because it was used in the show's dialog and American audiences needed to be educated about it. As an aside, British readers might be amused to know that PBS, which aired the series in America, was torn about whether to run the show with subtitles, as the East End accents (and some words like Nick Cotton's use of "blancmange") were difficult for Americans to process.

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