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Speaking Scots

© BananastockMove over Irish-English … It’s time for Scottish- English week! Here is a guest blog post from Vikki Reilly on what it’s like to speak (or should I say weep) Scots.


I cannae help the way I speak. Well, I suppose that’s not really true, I’ll admit to having a ‘telephone voice’ like everyone else. (Which is deeper too. Funny that.) Still, even then, I often have to repeat myself, or correct people. (‘No, not Becky, Vikki … Vikki … with an i … Yer alright, it’s just ma accent.’ Oh, for a pound every time I have that conversation!)

I can help the way I write, though, but, when it’s allowed, I’ll slip into typing how I speak. It’s comfortable, it’s easier; my thoughts seem to make their way to my fingers faster and smoother. Not only that, but I feel people can catch my tone and meaning in a way that isn’t possible in Standard English; punctuation can only take you so far. I refuse to use those smiley faces (not that I criticise those who do!). And some Scots words just seem to mean the word more than the Standard English word. To me, anyway …

‘Did you see that film last night? I wis greetin’ ma eyes out by the end.’

To greet, in Scots, to cry, in Standard English. But to greet means the word so much better, don’t you think? It’s a more emotional word. I can see the tears streaking the cheeks and hear the gulpy breaths. It sounds, OK, I’ll say it, a wetter, snottier word. In a good way. To cry, though, I understand the word, I know what the word signifies, but it seems only that, a signifier, a functional word.

‘Nae offence, but I think he’s a bit glaikit.’

Glaikit, in Scots, gormless, in Standard English. Now, I like the word gormless. I think it expresses what it means very well, I can picture the blank expression, the shiny, empty eyes. But I also think it’s too affectionate and forgiving. What I like about glaikit is the harshness of its sound; you can really get stuck into the k in the middle. It emphasises the stupidity, and articulates the contempt, more effectively.

‘Ugh, that’s clarty.’

Clarty, in Scots, dirty, in Standard English. Like glaikit above, clarty has the harshness, the judgement that dirty doesn’t express. Dirty, to me, is far too polite! I also like how clarty can be made into a noun – a dirty person is a clart.

‘Shoogle it about a bit.’

Shoogle, in Scots, shake, in Standard English. And yet, shoogle is a more specific kind of shake: it’s the gentle shake you give your presents under the tree, or of a key in a difficult lock. It’s a less violent action, although it definitely doesn’t cut it as a rock ’n roll number … shoogle yer tail feather, anyone?

I realise there’s a fair chance I’m absolutely havering (another great one!) here. This is only how I think about language. Scots-English, to me, not only expresses the heart of me, but expresses more than just language, more than these letters on the page. These words, to me, they just sound right. Anyway, I need to stop bletherin’ now, as there is a word limit, and I could go on and on …

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Vikki Reilly


  • Great post Vikki, some great new words for me in there – and some I had heard in my Stirling year and clean forgotten!

    I love the fact that you write the way you speak. As well as conveying the meaning better, it means that when you message someone who knows you they actually hear YOUR voice and intonation as they read it. When you message me, even though we haven’t seen one another in five (or is it six? How can it be that long??) years, I can still hear your burr – something I think I would forget if you wrote in standard English.

    And I love “shoogle” – what a great word!

  • Vikki, this was really interesting! I think the Scots and the Irish have a similar way about expressing ourselves and it made me so happy to see the word clart in print – I was a messy wee girl and frequently was called a clart for getting chocolate on my clothes or ice-cream in my hair!

    I agree completely that some local words mean more than the standard English and glaikit was a really good example of this. In a way it’s much more specific than just calling someone gormless. My mother spent a good few hours teaching my English boyfriend the subtle differences between the words hallion and carn to describe someone unsavoury – I don’t know if I could make these distinctions in standard English!

    I really enjoyed reading this – thank you!

  • I think it’s great that you use the term ‘standard english’. If I’ve learned anything from this blog, it’s that this term is surely blurring into nonexistance!

    Great post!


  • Caroline – Jeezo, it will be six years this year! Cannae believe it …

    I had another moment last week with another great Scots word. I was chatting about a book with a new intern and described a character as ‘gallus’ – she had no idea what I was talking about, so I had to explain that it’s a gutsier, rawer, sexier version of cheeky …

    The funny thing is, that when I do my informal emails, I not only shove in some Scots-English, but all kinds of English. Some Americanisms, some ye olde English, some Victoriana, I’ve even taken to using some northern English expressions too … isn’t language grand?!

  • Vikki, I’m exactly the same – thanks to my Texan friends I shove “y’all” in everywhere, yesterday in a blog post I mentioned “the wagon I’m draggin'” and if I’ve been watching period drama my whole sentence structure changes in-keeping with Victorian, Regency or Shakespearian speech. And I still say “Am gan yem” when I’m going home – a hangover from 5 years living and working with the Geordies!

    As you and the other guest bloggers on here have said, some regional words have a meaning that is far more specific than their standard English translation, which is why they are so readily adopted by word lovers the likes of you and me! Similarly, the contractions and abbreviations within regional accents and dialects can make an ugly sentence melodic or a formal sentence seem personal…

    As someone who is constantly borrowing from other Englishes, my only concern is that I’m stealing something from another person’s identity, that I’ll cause offence to some by borrowing from their lexicon.

  • Great post, Vikki! It`s a double-interest for me as for the teacher of English. I`m giving these materials and information to my students and it really helps to understand the power of English Language. There are many accents and dialects in my country too (Uzbekistan) and it`s interesting to compare them to English.



  • Hi Vikki,

    I can identify completely with the accent difficulties. I’m an English teacher with the broadest possible Glaswegian accent and now I have a couple of years experience I’m not surprised when the faces of my students on the first day of class range from blank to utterly bewildered.

    I once put on an RP accent for a class and they asked me why I don’t speak like that all the time. I explained that that’s not how I speak and as advanced students they should be able to understand a wide variety of accents as the vast majority of English which they will hear outside the classroom will not be with RP. They also have the advantage that if they can understand me (which they can after a couple of classes) they can understand just about anyone.

    What I do have to do sometimes is point out the difference between my pronunciation and the standard e.g. Girl, which for me has two syllables (gi-rul) and there isn’t much difference between my “six” and my “sex” which is always a source of hilarity for the kids.

    Glaikit’s magic innit? And the best insult I think I’ve ever heard was “Shut it, clatty ankles!” (I’d pronuonce it as written here). Also, “scunnered” rates highly on my list of Scots words which don’t translate easily.

  • To follow on from the six vs sex point, and to steer the conversation in a completely different direction, I read this in the ‘Sic!’ section of Michael Quinion’s most recent newsletter (16th January 2010):

    Your Freudian slip is showing: a medical item on the Times Web site dated 9 January pleased Pete Jones because of a delightful error in
    spelling: “Viagra takes half an hour to work and the effects last
    for only four hours. Cialis takes 15 minutes to work and the
    effects last thirty-sex hours.”

    See for yourself.

  • Caroline – Speaking on behalf of all Scottish people (hahahahahaha!) I would say, pepper yer speech with as many Scots words as you like! I definitely don’t feel as if you would be stealing anything, it’s spreading the joy more than anything!

    Funnily enough though, a word I used to use a lot I don’t like to use as much because it was hijacked a bit by the media and turned into something nasty and judgemental…the word chav. I’m not sure if its origins are entirely Scottish as I was told it was an old gypsy word and it was just an informal word for person (like guy…). But I had been saying it since I was wee….

    Joe – I don’t know how you could’ve kept up RP for a whole class! It’s interesting though – we obviously still need more regional accents out in the world!

  • We have ‘scunnered’ in Norn Iron as well – only it’s more like ‘scundered’ and it can mean either really fed up with someone or something “I’m that scundered with this ironing I’m away for a cup of tea” or it can mean really embarrassed “Aye did you see me coming out of the toilets with me skirt tucked into me knickers? Pure scundered, hi!”

    Are either of the Scots translations close?

  • Yeah, that’s how I would use them. Like a knackered, but with fed up in it too. It can also mean puzzled too, like a crossword can scunner ye…

  • Vikki,
    I didn’t mean to give the impression that I spoke RP for the whole class, only a few sentences but they we’re genuinely surprised why I didn’t speak like that all the time.

    I had always wondered where the scots word for child “wean” (pronounced wayne) comes from. I was in Norn Iron and heard people talking about yous uns, us uns, them uns, the big uns and yes you’ve guessed it …the wee uns. “Bairn” is used on the east cost and wean is only used on the east which has had more contact with Norn Iron. Another mystery solved.

  • Haha! Yes, Joe, it would’ve been quite an effort if you had! Apologies for misreading…

    I’d like to know about a particular word too. I think it’s east coast, but I’ve had loads pf people from the east coast know nothing about it when I’ve said it, and that’s the term Collie Buckie for a piggyback ride. I have never said piggyback in my life, but lately, I’ve been getting a lot of raised eyebrows when I say collie buckie. Does anyone know where it came from?

  • Vikki, We used to use clarty as in “are you going to a clarty party” when we were getting dressed up to go out. That is from the north east of England. My students sometimes find my accent, not that I think I have much of a one, a bit of a puzzle.

  • Hmmm a collie buckie’s a new one on me but it comes up a lot on Google. I’d call it a coaxy. I can’t imagine where either might come from.

    When my dad used to put me on his shoulders it would be called a “shoodery” – “Da, gonny geez a shoodery?”

    Is your armpit your “oaxter”? I’d like to find out if any of these words (not “shooder”, obviously) have roots in Gaelic. I’m off to find a Gaelic dictionary…

  • Kay – Interesting that your use is the total opposite of how it’s used in Scotland!

    Joe – I’ve never heard of shoodery. It’s lovely though. I always called it a high shoulder, which I think is the standard term (?)

    I love oxter as well. My mum taught me to sing (to the verse melody of Magic Moments) “I’ll never forget the smell of your sweat from under your oxters” And if you sing it in a genteel way it causes guffaws galore when you’re wee!

  • Very interesting. It’s weird, you know, I’ve lived in Scotland for the best part of 20 years and I’ve never lost my south of England accent. I do, though, tend to use Scots vocabulary. I must sound very strange saying, “I ken what ye mean, I was pure scunnered and all” in my Dorset brogue.

  • There seems to be a mix up of terms here. Some of the language you’re talking about is Scots which is not Scottish Standard English.

    There is a difference!

    Nowadays though there are few, if any, people who only speak Scots. It’s more like a mixture of the two languages that runs closer to one or the other (usually SSE spoken with elements of Scots). Both have been diluted to some degree by the other.

    It was only when the ruling elite decided Scots was a ‘language of the peasants’ that English became more common and evolved in Scotland as Scottish Standard English. That notion, and it’s integration into the minds of the population and establishment, is the reason why a lot of us were told to “speak properly” in the classroom.

  • I’m writing a research paper about Scotland and this helped me a lot with the different language then in the united states!
    thanks alot!

  • Glaikit’ is a fabulous word, when I hear him I can just imagine a glaiket type standing in front of me.
    I have been away from Scotland and live abroad for over thirty years, and i still have very strong accent. When people ask me to speak in English, they just look at me as if I am speaking another language.

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