Scots Tongue

Scotland Map
Purple Dot Scottish Pronunciation
Purple Dot Scottish Words
Purple Dot Scottish Given Names
Purple Dot Scottish Sayings
Purple Dot Scottish Family Names
Purple Dot Scottish Place Names
Warning This is an informal guide to the Scots tongue for the benefit of occasional visitors to Scotland or readers of Scottish literature. It makes no claims to be authoritative, complete or accurate.

Scottish Pronunciation

Major regions in Scotland (e.g. Aberdeen, Ayrshire, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife, Inverness) have their own distinct accents and dialect words. See, for example, the Glasgow Patter books by Michael Munro (Holmes McDougall, Glasgow). Many older words survive thanks to the poetry of Robert Burns and others. Only words in general use are included below. There are dictionaries of Scottish words; for example, see the Concise Scots Dictionary (Aberdeen University Press). The following web links may also be useful:

Sound/Word Pronunciation
ch This is an aspirated ‘k’ sound as in the German ‘ach’.
Gaelic This celtic language spoken in Scotland (‘Gàidhlig’) has a whole range of sounds that can be best learned by hearing them.
glottal stop In some areas of Scotland (e.g. Glasgow), the final ‘t’ of a word is not pronounced. Instead the throat is closed to cut the word off. Thus ‘bit’ might sound more like ‘bih’ (with a short and truncated vowel), or ‘water’ as ‘wa-er’.
-ing The final ‘g’ is often elided (e.g. ‘walking’ sounds like ‘walkin’).
Milngavie A town near Glasgow whose pronunciation is commonly used to confuse visitors (‘Mil-guy’ or ‘Mul-guy’).
qu This is silent in some proper names (e.g. Colquhoun = ‘Co-hoon’).
r This is rolled on the tongue.
stress The pattern of stress is usually that of English, but in some proper names the last syllable is stressed (e.g. Dun-bar, Dun-lop).
z This is silent in some proper names (e.g. Culzean = ‘Cul-ain’, Dalziel = ‘Dee-el’, Menzies = ‘Ming-is’).

Scottish Words

A visitor to Scotland is most likely to come across standard English pronounced in the local fashion. However Scotland has its own distinct language, with similar roots to English but also affinities to Scandinavian languages. Apart from the Scots Tongue, Scotland also claims a second language - Gaelic (which has affinities to Irish Gaelic, Welsh, ancient Cornish and Breton).

The following list gives sample Scottish words that a visitor or reader might come across, and is certainly not complete. Most words are likely to be used only in Scotland, but some are known to English speakers in general. The spelling of some words is unclear as the language is mostly spoken. Some words also have other meanings.

Scottish Standard English
-a -ow (e.g. ‘arra’, ‘ra morra’)
a' all
Aberdonian of/from Aberdeen
aboot about
ae of
-ae ‘have’ as a suffix to a verb (widae = would have)
aebody anybody
agin against
aff off
Ah I
ain own
aglae awry
an' and
ane one
aroun around
Athol brose sweet oatmeal dessert
auld old
Auld Reekie nickname for Edinburgh
Auld Lang Syne a poem by Burns widely sung at New Year (literally ‘old long since’, sometimes incorrectly quoted as ‘for the sake of auld lang syne’)
aw all
awa away
awfu, awfy awfully
bahookie behind (buttocks)
bairn child
bampot (Glaswegian) headcast
bannock biscuit or scone
(The) Barras outdoor shopping market in Glasgow (‘The Barrows’)
bauchle worn-out shoe (literally), an old and dishevelled man (figuratively)
ba'heid, bawheid bald headed person
baw ball
bawbee an old penny
ben mountain
ben inside (e.g. ‘cam ben the hoose’)
besom broom (literally), difficult woman (figuratively)
bide stay
bidie-in live-in partner
bile boil (e.g. ‘Awa an bile yer heid!’ = ‘Get lost!’)
birl spin
blae blue
blaeberry bilberry
blether (idle) chatter
Blue Train Glasgow suburban train
boak vomit, retch
body person (e.g. ‘Whit's a body tae dae?’)
bogle phantom
bonnie, bonny beautiful
bonspiel (ice) curling tournament
bowf smell strongly
brae slope
braw fine
breeks trousers
bridie meat in pastry pie
broon brown (‘The Broons’ is a well-known cartoon from the Sunday Post newspaper)
brose broth (e.g. made using oatmeal)
bumfle bump or raised area (in cloth)
bunnet cap (bonnet)
burn stream
Burns Supper a traditional dinner to celebrate the birth of famous Scottish poet Robert Burns (25th January)
but and ben cottage
ca', caw call
ca'/caw canny be careful
caber a log used in the traditional game of ‘tossing the caber’
cam came
canny careful
cauld cold
caw drive, turn (e.g. rope, wheel)
chanty chamber pot
chiel fellow
chuckie pebble
chust (Highland) just
claes clothes
clarty dirty
claymore the traditional Scottish broad sword (‘Gaelic claidheamh mhor’ - great sword)
clegg horsefly
cloot cloth, clothing
clootie dumpling a pudding (like Christmas pudding) steamed in a cloth
close common stairwell in a tenement
Clockwork Orange nickname for the Glasgow underground due to the colour of the coaches
cludgie toilet
clype telltale
cock-a-leekie chicken and leek soup
coo cow
coorie hide, nestle
coorie doon cuddle down (to sleep)
cootie louse, nit
corbie raven, crow
coup, cowp tumble
couthy genial
crabbit ill-tempered
cratur creature (used jocularly for whisky)
craw crow
croft(er) small-scale farm(er)
crowdie curd cheese
cud could
Cullen Skink soup made with smoked haddock
cundie (Dundonian) drain at side of road
dae do
daunce dance (an old riposte: ‘Are ye dauncin? No it's just the way ah'm staunin.’)
deid dead
de'il devil
dod lump
dominie schoolmaster
donnert stunned
doo dove (or pigeon)
dook duck (in the sense of wetting - ‘dooking for apples’ is a Halloween game involving placing your face into a basin of water to retrieve a floating apple by biting on it)
doon down (‘doon the water’ is a trip down the Clyde)
Doric Abderdonian dialect
dram small quantity of whisky
drap, drappie drop
dreep drip (also used of dropping off a wall)
dreich miserable, cold and wet (weather)
drookit soaking wet
drouth(y) thirst(y)
dug dog
dunderheid idiot
Dundonian of/from Dundee
dunt bump
dunny room at bottom of tenement
dyke wall
ee, een eye, eyes
eechie ochie neither here nor there
een eyes
eejit idiot
efter after
erse arse
fae from
faimly family
fair somewhat (e.g. ‘fair taken wi’)
Fair (fortnight) traditional summer holiday period in Glasgow (the second two weeks of July, e.g. ‘where are ye gaun fur the Fair?’)
faither father
fankle (twisted) mess
fash bother (‘dinnae fash yersel’ = don't bother yourself)
feart afraid
ferm(er) farm(er)
first foot the first visitor in the New Year (who, for good luck, should be handsome and bring a gift such as a piece of coal)
firth estuary
footer fiddle, nuisance
footer about mess about
forby(e) besides
fower four
fowk folk
frae from
frein friend
fu' ful, drunk
fur for
fush fish
gae, gang go
gallus daring
(stupid) galoot idiot
gaun going
get het up become agitated
gey rather
girn complain, cry (e.g. of child)
glaikit stupid, glazed (expression)
Glaswegian of/from Glasgow
glaur mire
Glescae Glasgow
glen valley
gloaming dusk
gonny (are you) going to (e.g. ‘Gonny no shout sae loud?’)
gowk fool (e.g. ‘Hunty gowk’ refers to April Fool's Day)
greet weep
guddle fish with the hands (figuratively a mess)
guid good
guiser child who goes round the houses dressed up on Halloween (‘guisin’)
hae have
haggis pudding made from minced meat (offal) and oatmeal
haill whole
hame home
hauf half
haver talk nonsense
Havers! Nonsense!
haud hold (‘Haud yer wheesht!’ = ‘Shut up!’)
hauf half
haugh meadow by a river
heavy dark beer
heid head
heid bummer head person
Help ma Boab! Goodness gracious!
hen vocative term for a woman (e.g. ‘It's aw richt, hen’), or a general term of endearment for anyone
hert(y) heart(y)
het heated (also ‘it’ of someone chosen in a children's game)
Hielan Highland
high heidyin high-up person in organisation
hing hang (‘hingin oot the windae’ is street-watching from one's window)
hirple limp
Hogmanay New Year's Eve
hoor whore
hoose house
Hoots! Well then!
hough shank of meat
howk dig (tattie howkin is digging for potatoes)
howf(f) inn
howk dig
huv have
-icht -ight (e.g. nicht, richt)
ilka every
intae into
-it -ed (e.g. ‘wantit’ = ‘wanted’)
ither other
jalouse guess
Jessie a cowardly or weak-willed male (e.g. ‘Ye're just a big Jessie!’)
Jimmy, Jock generic term for a man (e.g. ‘Hey there, Jimmy!’)
jine join
Jings! Gosh!
jist just
keech exrement
keek look
ken know
kirk church
lad o' pairts talented man
laddie boy
laldie/laldy thrashing (‘gie it laldie’ = give it all your energies)
Lake of Menteith the only lake in Scotland, all others being called lochs
lang long
lassie girl
len lend
loch lake
loon (Aberdonian) boy
loup leap
lug ear
lum chimney (e.g. ‘lang may your lum reek’ = may you always be prosperous enough to have coal)
ma my
mair more
maist most
mak make
maroclous (Glaswegian, ‘miraculous’) very drunk
maun must
maw mother
merrit married
messages shopping
micht(y) might(y)
Michty me! Goodness gracious!
midden rubbish heap
mind remember (e.g. ‘dae ye mind him?’)
mingin smelly
mither mother
mon vocative term for a man (e.g. ‘Whit're ye daeing, mon?’)
Mon! My!
mony many
moose mouse
mooth mouth
muir moor
-na, -nae ‘no’, or ‘not’ as a suffix to a verb (dinna = don't, wisnae = wasn't)
neep turnip
ne'er never
Ne'erday New Year's Day
neuk corner
no not (e.g. ‘it's no hot’)
(the) noo now (e.g. ‘Ah'm gaun oot the noo’)
o of
Och! Well!
Och aye the noo! Well then!
-ocht -ought (e.g. bocht, thocht)
ony any
oor our
oot(side) out(side)
Orcadian from Orkney
ower over, rather
oxter armpit
palaver fuss
pairt part (‘a lad o pairts’ = someone of significance)
paralytic very drunk
paw father
pech pant
peely-wally pale
pibroch music for the bagpipes
piece slide of bread with jam, etc.
polis police
puddin pudding
puggle tire out (e.g. ‘fair puggled’ = ‘rather worn out’)
pun(d) pound (money, weight)
ra the (e.g. ‘ra nicht’ = tonight)
rammy noisy fight
rid red
sae so
sair sore (‘a sair fecht’ = ‘a sore fight’ means something problematic)
sang song
Sassenach an Englishman (‘Saxon’)
scratcher bed
scunner nuisance (‘fair scunnered’ = quite vexed)
see consider (e.g. ‘see they computers’, prior to making some negative remark)
see in the bells wait up until midnight on New Years Eve (when the bells are rung)
sees give (e.g. ‘sees us a len ae yer newspaper’)
-sel -self (e.g. ‘hissel’ = ‘himself’)
semmit vest (undergarment)
sgian dubh a knife often worn decoratively with Highland dress (Gaelic for ‘black knife’)
shoogle/shoogly shake/shaky
shoot the craw go
skirl wailing sound (of bagpipes)
skite skip (off a surface, e.g. skiting stones off water), smack
skivvy servant
Slàinte! (Gaelic) Cheers!, Your Health!
slater woodlouse
sma small
smeddum dust, spirit
smirr fine rain (noun and verb)
snaw snow
snell very cold (weather)
Special a commercial beer
sparra sparrow
spurtle wooden spoon
stan/staun stand
stank drain
stane stone
staun stand
stoat, stot bounce (heavy rain is said to stoat off the ground)
stoater stunning woman
stoshious (Glaswegian, spelling?) very drunk
stook bundle of hay or straw
stookie a uselessly immobile person (e.g. ‘dinnae stan aroun like a stookie’, i.e. like a stook)
stoor dust
stooshie/stushe commotion
stowed out packed full
stramash commotion
stravaig wander about
-t -ed
tae to
tak take
Tartan a commercial beer
tattie potato
telt told
Teuchter Highlander (often pejorative)
thae/they that/those (e.g. ‘see they computers’)
thegither together
thirl bind, pierce
thole endure
thon that
thrawn perverse
toon/toun town
toty tiny
(Edinburgh) Trades traditional summer holiday period in Edinburgh (the first two weeks of July)
trauchle trouble
trews trousers
tumshie turnip (figuratively a useless person)
twa two
verra very
wabbit pale and weak (as after illness or exertion)
wain child
wally china? (a ‘wally dug’ is a china dog book-end)
wan one
watter water (Glaswegians traditionally went ‘doon the watter’, i.e. the Clyde, for their holidays)
wean child
wee small
Wee Free Free Church of Scotland
wee heavy strong beer (barley wine)
wersh tasteless, bitter
wha who
wham whom
whaur where
wheech whiz
wheen lot
Wheesht! Quiet!
whit what
wi with
wid, wud would
wifie (old) woman
windae window
wis/wus was
wrang wrong (an old pun: ‘is that a cake or am ah wrang?’ = ‘a meringue’)
wull will
ye you
yer your
yin one

Scottish Sayings

Here are a very few examples of sayings:

Saying Meaning
A wee thing amuses the bairns simple people are amused by simple things
Guid things come in sma bulk just because something is small doesn't mean it's of little value
Here's tae us, wha's like us, gey few an they're aw deid (with variants on this) a toast in jest, claiming that few others are like us
It taks a lang spoon tae sup wi' the de'il keep your distance when dealing with evil things
It's a sair fecht that's too bad, that's life
Ne'er cast a cloot til May be oot do not discard clothing until May (month or blossom) is out
Tak tent o time ere time taks tent of thee take care of how you spend your time before you eventually die

Scottish Given Names

Some Scottish given (first) names derive from the Gaelic, some from other settlers' languages (e.g. English, Scandinavian). Here are some common examples:

Forename Equivalent
Alasdair English ‘Alastair’ or ‘Alexander’
Andra English ‘Andrew’
Calum English ‘Malcolm’
Christina Gaelic ‘Cairistiona’
Dauvit English ‘David’
Donald Gaelic ‘Domhnal’
Dougal/Dugal Gaelic ‘Dugall’, English ‘Dugald’
Duncan Gaelic ‘Donnchadh’
Fergus Gaelic ‘Fearghus’
Fiona Gaelic ‘Fionnuala’
Flora Gaelic ‘Floraidh’
Hendrie English ‘Henry’
Iain English ‘Ian’
Kenneth Gaelic ‘Coinneach’
Kirsten English ‘Christine’
Lachlan Gaelic ‘Lachlann’
Mairead English ‘Marion’
Maìri English ‘Mary’
Morag English ‘Marion’
Niall English ‘Neil’
Rab/Rabbie English ‘Robert’
Seumas English ‘James’
Tam English ‘Tom’

Scottish Family Names

Scottish family names (surnames) often have the prefix ‘Mac' or ‘Mc' meaning ‘son of'. Telephone directories and the like often list these together; it can be hard to remember if someone is ‘MacLean' or ‘McLean', for example. Some family names derive from Scottish towns (e.g. Cowie, Glasgow, Stirling). Here are a very few examples of Scottish surnames (apart from the ‘Mac/Mc' forms):

Surname
Baird
Blair
Buchanan
Campbell
Ferguson
Fraser
Gilmore/Gilmour
Muir
Scott
Stewart/Stuart
Wylie

Scottish Place Names

Place names in Scotland often have common prefixes, many derived from Gaelic or Norse. Ordinary words like ‘ben' and ‘glen' also appear frequently in names.

Prefix Meaning
Aber- at the mouth of a river
Ard- promontory, height
Auchen- field
Auchter- top of
Cambus- where a twisting river passes
Dal- meadow
Drum- ridge
Dun- hill or fort
Inch- island
Inver- at the mouth of a river
Kil- cell of a saint, churchyard
Kin- head
Kinloch- at the head of a lake
Kirk- church, fort
Knock, Nock hillock
Strath- river valley


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Last Update: 17th February 2014
URL: http://www.cs.stir.ac.uk/~kjt/general/scots.html