The demise of dialect: ‘Scran’ and ‘cob’ revealed as fastest-dying regional terms

Regional dialects are on the decline across the UK, with the South West term ‘ansum’, the North East’s ‘scran’ and the East Midlands’ ‘cob’ most at threat of dying out, a new study has revealed.

AI and analytics leader, SAS, analysed 100 popular regional terms from different local authorities across the UK using the Google Books search tool, to establish what terms may fall out of use based on the usage of each word from 1919 to 2019.

Distinctive dialects such as ‘Cockney’, ‘Brummie’ and South Yorkshire all have well-known phrases such as ‘chuffed’, ‘ey up’ and ‘duck and dive’ - but what will happen to them over time as a more widespread digital dialect evolves?

The word ‘Ansum’ - meaning ‘nice’ or ‘top notch’ - derives from Cornwall and is the likeliest word to die out from the English Language according to SAS’ study. Despite being a popular word choice in the 1900s it has seen a 97% decline in usage.

One of the UK’s most debated words is ‘cob’ - a bread roll which is also known as a ‘teacake’ in West Yorkshire and ‘roll’ in the North - has declined across the UK by 55%. Similarly, ‘grand’, another well-known term, has also seen a steep decline of 67% over the last century.

The research reveals that the North East, South East and South West are most in danger of losing some of their regional terms. These terms and some of their subtle differences may not be recognised by digital services like Siri and Alexa, which might impact unique localisms long term.

RegionRegional termDefinition% difference
South WestAnsumTop-notch-98%
North EastScranFood-96%
YorkshireThoileUnwilling to pay-95%
North EastParkyFussy-84%
South WestBelveSing loudly-82%
South EastLiggleThe act of carrying something too big-75%
South EastSing smallPut up with less than was expected-68%
North EastGrandGreat-68%
East MidlandsBostinVery good-60%
East MidlandsCobBread roll-55%

Iain Brown, Head of Data Science at SAS Northern Europe, said:

“The UK’s regional dialects have such a richness and uniqueness that some localisms are well known in certain parts of the country, but as the research suggests they also are vulnerable to falling out of use in the face of a broader digital language reflecting more widespread use of online services.

Natural Language Processing (NLP) is a branch of AI and comprises many different techniques for interpreting human language, helping to break down language into shorter elements to understand relationships between them and how they work together to create meaning.

“NLP can be used to document languages and dialects that are specific to a region or at risk of ‘dying out’. Through speech recognition and transcription tools, our regional nuances can be preserved in digital formats. And NLP-powered language learning can also help in teaching ‘endangered’ languages and dialects to new generations.”

Readers can find the full research here.


SAS looked at 100 regional terms from across the UK’s local authorities and used Google Books NGram Viewer to find out:

-        How these terms have changed in usage from 1919 to 2019.
-        The average percentage difference in usage over the last 100 years.

Data correct as of February 2024.

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