Useful Scottish words are alive and well. Try them out!
Here's a fascinating list of authentic words the Scots use. And a completely separate list of Gaelic words. Gin ye daur, hae a keek at them. Dinna be blate - or aabody will jalouse ye’re a gype. (Hey, how am I doing here? Of course Scots is a language, not just an accent.)
How do the Scots speak?
So, if you've read the Scottish accent page - and you know you should - you will have jaloused (worked out) that everyone in Scotland speaks English, but the Lowland Scots language varies.
At its ‘mildest’, it’s basically English with a certain accent and perhaps the odd Scots word. On the other hand, you can also hear 'dense' forms of Scots with a lot of unfamiliar Scottish words and different pronunciation.
Here’s a kind of representative sample of Scottish words. Even some of the words given here would be unfamiliar to, say, someone from the Central Belt of Scotland, especially if they came from a middle-class aspirational background or had gone, say, to a posh Edinburgh school.
But, hey, personally, I’d certainly use them when talking to northern friends or family, and occasionally perhaps just to annoy other Scots - or even my own children - who may be in danger of losing their linguistic heritage. Only joking about that. (I think.)
Scots borrows widely from other European languages. I sometimes say ‘Dinna fash yersel’ – don’t worry or put yourself to bother – from the French facher: to upset.
Or if I am hot I might say I was ‘fair plottin’ from middle Dutch ploten: meaning – wait for it – to remove wool or skin by immersion in boiling water.
I might keek instead of look – also prob. Dutch: kjiken.
Or I might buy something at a roup – originally from Old Norse raupa – to shout out. You’d call it an auction. But each generation in Scotland loses more words……
The other element of Scots is that sometimes it sounds ‘different’ even when using ‘standard English’ words in characteristically Scottish constructions – for example ‘doing (or going) the messages’ is getting the shopping or ‘I’ll see you the length of the bus stop’ – I’ll go with you as far as the bus stop.
Scots therefore is not just a matter of a different accent and a unfamiliar vocabulary of Scottish words. Sometimes the way we put together the sentence can vary from 'standard English'.
OK, here goes with a list of some Scottish words (starting below the picture of the Waterstones bookshop window in Aberdeen) – but can you trust a loon (boy) from the depths of North-East Scotland to come up with a wee Scots glossary?
(Pictured here) I love this. Some great Scottish words in this display on the window of Waterstones the bookshop in Aberdeen (very much in the heartland of 'proper' Scots language).
Translated roughly as 'With Scotland's biggest selection of children's books and a good number of Scottish writers discoursing on everything from wicked wretches to days of old - and (from) cooking to pictures.'
Some Scots words
For some Gaelic words, see further down the page…..
Scots, (bolded) with English definitions:
chap (v or n) knock or beat (as in chappit tatties – mashed potatoes) Note this isn’t the same as chap, informally meaning a man in English. For that I would say chiel.
dachle (v) hesitate, dawdle or ‘take your time’ (cf swither, below).
douce (adj) sweet or pleasant. Sometimes also respectable.
gey (adj) very. So the dance The Gay Gordons is really the Gey Gordons – meaning the pretty damned impressive and scary Gordons.
dreich (adj) dull. Of weather – or tourism conference speakers.
graip (n) garden fork (eg for lifting tatties – potatoes). You’ve never heard this? My dad never called a garden fork anything else.
loup (v or n) jump. So, loup the cuddy – leap the donkey – is really leapfrog.
orra (adj) (either) dirty or spare. You still see adverts in the farming press for an orraman – a handyman. Presumably a handyman with dirty clothes would be an orra orraman. (I love this word!)
scunner (n or v) nuisance or irritation. I was so scunnered trying to line up this set of words that I almost gave up. But you’re worth it.
shoogly (adj) unsteady. ‘My job’s on a shoogly peg.’ – ‘I have an uncertain future at work.’
skelp (v or n) slap, as in a skelp on the lug (or the erse) – a slap on the ear (or the behind).
skite (v) slip ‘Haud ma airm. Affa skitey flairs.’ – ‘Hold my arm. Very slippery floors’. (I overheard this in a shopping mall in Elgin recently!)
stravaig (v) wander or sometimes go off on a ploy. Oddly enough there’s a moment in the movie Mary Poppins, (the Julie Andrews one) when the children are told to ‘stop stravaiging about’. While we would pronounce stra-vaig-in, there the nanny says stravidging.
swack (adj) supple, fit. Not to be confused with...
swick (n & v) to cheat, swindle.
sweirt (adj) unwilling, reluctant. ‘Swiert tae pert wi siller.’ Unwilling to part with (silver) ie money.
swither (v) to be uncertain or hesitant, especially between two options. I was swithering about this word list – make it long or short? I’ve gone for quite short, but, wait, there’s more below. Dachle a while…..
Gaelic place names and landscape features
(Pictured here) In the heart of the Cairngorms. Pinkish granite hereabouts but theses are really the ‘blue/grey stones’ in Gaelic.
The traveller in the Highlands (and in other parts of Scotland) will frequently encounter Gaelic place names, some specific, others turning up as, for example, prefixes or parts of many place names.
Here are some examples of Gaelic words which occur (often as part of road signs) in many parts of Scotland – though mostly in the Highlands, naturally, as the homeland of the Gaelic language – the oldest of Scottish words.
Full disclosure: I have to let you know that I am a native Scots speaker, not a native Gaelic speaker - my knowledge of the language mainly confined to place-name elements. But here goes anyway....
Gaelic place name elements, with English translation
aber, abhairriver mouth or confluence – so, Inverness is the mouth of the River Ness
achadh field. Common Gaelic prefix – Achnasheen – the fairy field or Achanshellach – the field of the willows
ard, aird high point – Ardnamurchan – the point of storms
allt burn (in Scots), stream or river (in English)
beag small, so Ardbeg is the small high point
bealach pass – most famously in Wester Ross’s Bealach na Ba – the pass of the cattle.
caol, caolasa (sea) straight or inlet, usually ‘Anglicised’ to Kyle and common on western seaboard maps.
(Pictured here) Kyle of Tongue, Sutherland, with - on the skyline - Ben Loyal (Gaelic Beinn Laghail - law or lawful mountain. Possibly.)
drum, druim ridge – so Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness is a ridge by a bridge. (Isn’t it?)
garbh rough. Garve is also a small community west of Inverness.
gorm blue or bluey-grey (cf Cairngorms ‘blue stones’)
kin, ken (ceann) head – so many Kin suffixes, such as Kinlochleven – head of Loch Leven, Kinlochard – etc. Also Kinnaird, my son’s name. I translate this loosely as ‘head of a high place’ or ‘chief executive’ but so far, no luck.
meall round hill. As a place name prefix often anglicised to ‘Mel-‘
ros, ross promontory or moorland
tigh house. Tighnabruach – the house by the bank.
uig bay. Also specific place name on Skye.
uisge water. I like ‘each-uisge’ water horse – spooky Gaelic name for Loch Ness Monster or kelpie. Ho-hum. It’s likely that river names: Esk, Usk, Ugie etc are related to this.
More Scottish place name elements
In case you think this is all north of Scotland stuff, if you take a look at any Ordnance Survey map of the South of Scotland you’l find lots more place names and landscape features – typically Scottish words.
cauld – a weir or dam.
cleuch – a gorge, ravine or (sometimes) a cliff.
fauld – a fold or small enclosed piece of ground for cultivation.
hope – a small enclosed valley or hollow among the hills.
heugh – crag, cliff, or steep bank above a river.
howe – as above, a hollow.
kip – a jutting point on a hill, or the peak itself.
knowe – a knoll, small hill.
rig – ridge or high ground or narrow hill, or narrow strip of land.
shiel – a hut or small house, (or summer pasture with a shepherd’s hut).
shaw – a small wood or thicket.
steel – a steep bank or spur of a hill ridge.
syke – a marshy hollow, often with stream (or do I mean 'burn'?)
More on how we speak on the Scottish accent page.