Four Dinners raised an interesting idea in comments and I thought I’d elaborate.
In the same way an actor, or a good one at least, has to be able to convey a dozen different meanings by saying “no” in different tones, a professional northerner (in England) has to be able to convey different meanings when saying “ey up.”
To get it wrong can result in an unplanned trip to see the maxillofacial surgeon.
As Four Dinners pointed out “ey up” can mean: what’s the matter? But it’s really how you say it that gives it this meaning. And not just how you say it, but the facial expression too.
If you were to arrive at the factory gates one morning to unlock and found that someone had smashed the padlock off you might squint a little, shift your eyes slighty to the left, and say “aaay uuup?”
This is kind of like saying “what’s the matter?” but more along the lines of “has some fucker emptied the place?” The idea is basically the same.
“Ey up” can also be used as a greeting. When this is done the voice is slightly higher pitched than usual and the tone a little brighter. A smile will always accompany this.
Subtle nuances, which are practically impossible to describe here, can tell you if this greeting is a general hello or a “how are you?”
And that’s another matter of choice. Four Dinners also point out that people say how are you by simply asking “howdo?”
You’re more likely to greet a stranger with “howdo” than “ey up” when walking the dog. The latter (and you should look at that link) is kind of reserved for those you know. It’s just like the French say “salut” to friends and “bonjour” in a more formal context.
And here’s the sting in the tail.
If “ey up” is said sharply, it means a person has taken offence to something and is often a sign of impending violence from either party. If you’re ina pub at the time, it might be a good idea to watch out for flying pint pots.
Thanks to Four Dinners for the inspiration.