A Wee Guide to Scottish Slang

Scotland is proud of being different, and when you visit on a trip to Scotland, you will hear it immediately in the accent, and the unusual words and expressions Scots use every day.

Some words are easy enough to understand. For example, any words ending in -n’t are transformed into Scottish slang by changing the final letter to Y. So, couldn’t, wouldn’t and shouldn’t become couldn’y, wouldn’y and shouldn’y. Similarly, words ending in -ow are moulded into Scottish by changing the last letter to O. So now becomes noo, cow becomes coo and brow becomes broo.A similar pattern emerges with -gh words like fright, night and right, which become fricht, nicht and richt. But remember, if the -ch appears in the middle or at the end of a word, Scottish people pronounce it like the “J” in Spanish, a rough sound pushed out from the back of your throat – nothing like the ch- in chair or the ch- in choreograph.

Other words are more difficult to guess, like feart, meaning scared, braw, meaning really good, andbairn for child. We also commonly say aye instead of yes, wee instead of small, ken instead of know and uch instead of oh. Aye, it’s getting a wee bit harder noo.

Then you’ve got words like caiket and mocket, both meaning dirty, and hacket, meaning ugly. Another favorite (or favourite, as the Scots would say) and most-used pieces of slang is mingin’ – a word with many uses, none of which are very complimentary. It can be used to describe poor weather, unpleasant food, a bad smell, a rude joke, a dirty hotel, someone who’s had too much to drink…the list is endless!

Here are a few more common favorites:

Hoachin’ = very busy

Hummin’ = smelly

Muckle = very big

Gowpin’ = very sore

Blether = to talk or gossip

Puggled = Breathless, tired out

Numptie = a fairly inoffensive name for someone who’s being a bit silly.

Many of the words commonly used in modern Scotland are borrowed from Scots, a 600-year-old language of Germanic origin. But it’s important to note that while some words can be heard all over the country, each region of our tiny nation has its own special way of speaking. And if you head to the north-east of the country, chances are you’ll be more confused than ever!

Up there, locals speak something called Doric. Some say it’s a dialect, others claim it’s a language in it’s own right, but one thing’s for sure – it’ll be unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.

The most common greeting in Aberdeen is Foos yer doos? And the literal translation is…how are your pigeons? The usual response to the question would be Peckin’ awa’, literally meaning, pecking away, but translating as fine, thanks!  But be warned, in Aberdeen the word fine can mean okay, glorious, delicious or gorgeous, depending on the context and the intonation.

Head even further north and you’ll start to see strange combinations of letters on the road signs and street names. This is Scottish Gaelic, the ancient language now spoken by around 60,000 people in the country. Very little Gaelic has made its way into general use, with one notable exception – and if you’re only going to learn one phrase during your trip to Scotland, this should be it. Sláinte Mhor, pronounced slan-jay-voh, means Good Health, otherwise known as…Cheers!

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