The Scots language. Something that comes naturally to us, but completely bewilders others when they hear us speak.
Lots of people (including many Scots) don’t realise that ‘Scots’ is a distinctly separate entity from English – more than just an accent or regional dialect. Just like many languages, there are types that vary both in level and in the time period that they are from. Ancient Greek differs substantially from the Greek that they speak in Athens today, for example. Acts of the first Scottish Parliament were in Auld Scots, and it was something that I had to read as part of my degree.
Unlike back then, the Scots we speak today is irrevocably tied up in English. The roots of many words are the same or similar, and it’s overwhelmingly a spoken language rather than one that would be written down. I’d be hard pressed to even spell half of the things correctly, and there’s no real formal standardisation that I’m aware of.
As I read recently, it’s probably the case that Scots speak a mash of Scots to each other, but English to others, automatically. It’s why it feels so good to chat to a fellow Scot when you’ve been abroad for a while… The patterns and words you use are completely different when you know the other person will understand you. If you’re not convinced, get even the most ‘well-spoken’ Glaswegian drunk with a group of pals and you’ll see how quickly things change.
That said, a lot of the words seem to fall out of common parlance, especially amongst those that consider themselves to be middle class, or who go through higher education. If you are constantly measured by your ability to use precise (and correct) language – whether in academia, personal life, or an increasingly globalised workplace – Scots gets pushed to the back of your mind. Some words are dismissed (wrongly) as being nothing more than an accent, or as an improper bastardisation of English… like ‘hoose’, ‘heid’, ‘widnae’, ‘naw’, ‘aye’, or ‘haun’… whilst others simply become a chore to have to explain to people.
For me, having spent a lot of time out of Scotland over the past year, and even more time around non Scots, I’ve found myself wondering about these words; the words that I remember fondly from when I was younger. Scots words often fill gaps where English just can’t adequately express how you feel at certain times, and often have a deep emotional connection as a result. The more I am away from home, the more maintaining a cultural connection is important, and the more I want to make sure these words don’t just slip away.
So, as a result, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to bring more Scots back into my everyday vocabulary. Part of the whole problem has been that because these words just seem so natural, it’s not always easy to identify which words are actually Scots… or until you realise that you have been avoiding them instinctively around people who won’t be familiar with them.
To help jog the memory, I’ve started reading some books that are written in varying degrees of Scots, and been noting down some of the words that I remember and want to use more. I’ve listed them below, but haven’t bothered with those that are obvious due to their proximity to English, or that are widely known outside of Scotland (wee for small, gie for give, etc).
The definitions are my own. You should know that by their nature it’s hard to articulate exactly the feelings behind the words, or when you would use them, but it should give a good idea.
Birl – Spin around. Like ‘geez a birly‘ – where an adult would pick up a kid by the arms and spin them around really fast. Or when you are birling around at a ceilidh – a traditional Scottish party.
Bosie – This is really a Doric word – a dialect of Scots used in the North East of the country, so not all that common down in Glasgow where I’m from. However, it’s such a great word that I’d be a dafty not to include it. Imagine a hug. Nice, aye? Now imagine having one of your favourite people in the world wrap you up in their arms whilst wearing a huge fleece jumper. That’s a bosie. Warm, safe, and affectionate; the best kind of hug you’ll ever get.
Breeks – Trousers. ‘Yer breeks are fallin’ doon!‘.
Canny – Careful, smart, cunning. Being clever about how you act. ‘He was aye canny wae how he spent his cash.‘ Like him or not, Alex Salmond was often described as being a canny politician, due to the clever strategies he used to get what he really wanted from the Westminster Government.
Clype – To tell on somebody/dob them in/snitch on them. Both the act and the person. ‘Don’t clype on yer brother‘, or ‘she’s a wee clype‘. Not a good thing.
Coorie – Cuddle up, snuggle in. A warm, affectionate word. I associate this with a mouse coorying in to blankets for some reason. ‘Come here and coorie in tae me‘. Should note that this isn’t a sexual thing.
Crabbit – This is fairly well known, but it’s still great. It means to be in a bad (or ‘crabby’) mood. ‘Stoap bein so crabbit‘, ‘he’s just a crabbit faced git‘.
Dreep – Means ‘drip’, but I always knew this in relation to a certain way of lowering yourself down off of a wall, to avoid hurting yourself. You’d ‘dreep’ down till you were hanging off by your fingers to reduce the distance to the bottom from your feet. ‘Ahll huv tae dreep ower it‘.
Dreich – This is a great word, which gets used a lot. Probably unsurprisingly, given what it refers to. It describes the weather, and is for when it’s raining, but more than that; painting a picture of a day where it seems like everything is grey: the sky, the buildings… everything.
Drookit – Soaking wet. Completely drenched. Almost always due to the rain, or if it’s snowed and then melted… Usually in reference to your clothes when you literally couldn’t be any wetter.
Fankle – All tied up in a knot, like a tangled mess. ‘The cord’s aw fanklet‘.
Gallus – Daring, confident, bold, cheeky. I always imagine somebody doing something with a knowing grin on their face. It’s usually used in a positive rather than negative way. Being gallus isn’t a bad thing. Even if somebody is a bit of a ‘gallus prick‘. My pal Kerry loves this word.
Guddle – A mess. ‘He’s got himself aw in a guddle‘.
Keich – Not to be confused with the egg pie ‘quiche’, although if you dislike quiche, you could well describe it as keich. Keich means crap. ‘Hahahah you’ve got bird keich on ye!‘.
Lug – Ear. Often heard when a parent is threatening to give their kid a smack for doing something cheeky. ‘I’m gonnae skelp yer lug!‘.
Scunnered – Completely fed up, done in. When you’ve had enough and can’t be bothered with something or someone anymore. This word is great for when you’re really at the end of your tether, and nothing else quite expresses it adequately.
Swatch – If you hear something akin to ‘Haw, geez a swatch!‘ whilst traversing the streets of Glasgow, never fear. It does not mean that the other party wants to nick your over-priced designer watch from you. Rather, it means they want to have a look at whatever you’re looking at at the time.
Wheech – Onamatopaeic, in that it sounds like what it is when you say it. The only way I can explain this is through an example: ‘Just wheech it over the wall. Naebdae’ll know!‘.
Wheesht – A command to be quiet, to shooosht. When somebody keeps talking after you’ve said to stop, it’d be fair do’s to say: ‘Wheesht!‘. Also used in different ways though, like to tell someone to ‘Haud yer wheesht.’
There’s endless amounts more, but these are some of the best. If you’re Scottish, we should definitely make more of an effort to retain these words. Don’t be a walloper; they’re too expressive to let go.
For a bit more on Scots, check out this great post.