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A Scotticism is a phrase or word which is characteristic of dialects of the Scots language.[1]


Scotticisms are generally divided into two types:[2] covert Scotticisms, which generally go unnoticed as being particularly Scottish by those using them, and overt Scotticisms, usually used for stylistic effect, with those using them aware of their Scottish nature. Perhaps the most common covert Scotticism is the use of wee (meaning small or unimportant) as in "I'll just have a wee drink...". This adjective is used frequently in speech at all levels of society.[3]

An archetypal example of an overt Scotticism is "Och aye the noo", which translates as "Oh yes, just now". This phrase is often used in parody by non-Scots and although the phrases "Och aye" and "the noo" are in common use by Scots separately, they are rarely used together.[4] Other phrases of this sort include:

  • Hoots mon!
  • There's a moose loose aboot this hoose ("There's a mouse loose about this house"), a standard cliché highlighting Scots-language pronunciation
  • It's a braw, bricht, muinlicht nicht (a phrase popularised by the music hall entertainer Harry Lauder)
  • Lang may yer lum reek literally translates to "Long may your chimney smoke!",[5][full citation needed] signifying "may you live long"[6][7][8][9]
  • Help ma Bob![10][9] (well known from the comic strip character Oor Wullie)

Many leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, particularly David Hume, strove to excise Scotticisms from their writing in an attempt to make their work more accessible to an English and wider European audience. In the following passage, Hume's contemporary James Boswell pondered upon the reasons why the Scots and the English were not always mutually intelligible:[11]

It is thus that has arisen the greatest difference between English and Scots. Half the words are changed only a little, but the result of that is that a Scot is often not understood in England. I do not know the reason for it, but it is a matter of observation that although an Englishman often does not understand a Scot, it is rare that a Scot has trouble in understanding what an Englishman says... It is ridiculous to give the reason for it that a Scot is quicker than an Englishman and consequently cleverer in understanding everything. It is equally ridiculous to say that English is so musical that it charms the ears and lures men to understand it, while Scots shocks and disgusts by its harshness. I agree that English is much more agreeable than Scots, but I do not find that an acceptable solution for what we are trying to expound. The true reason for it is that books and public discourse in Scotland are in the English tongue.

Modern authorities agree that the Scots language was gradually eclipsed after the adoption of the Protestant English Bible during the Scottish Reformation and as a result of the later institutional dominance of southern English following the Union of the Crowns in 1603 and the Act of Union in 1707.[12][13][14] Scots Law was a notable exception in retaining much of its traditional terminology such as Act of Sederunt, sheriff-substitute, procurator fiscal, sasine, pursuer, interlocutor (court order) and messenger-at-arms. There is now a strong move in some quarters to restore the use of Scots.


Examples of Scotticisms in everyday use include:

  • Where do you stay? meaning "Where do you live?" Possible answer: "I stay in Dundee"
  • Whaur dae ye bide? meaning "Where do you live?" Possible answer: "I bide in Fife"
  • A dinna ken meaning "I don't know"
  • D'ye no ken? meaning "Don't you know?"
  • A'll see ye up the road meaning "I'll accompany you some of the way" (or meaning "I'll see you at home")
  • A'm gaun for the messages meaning "I'm going shopping for groceries."
  • A'm black-affronted meaning "I'm very embarrassed"
  • A'm droukit meaning "I'm soaked" (usually from rain)[15]
  • She's ages wi him meaning "She's the same age as him" [16]
  • Gie's a shot then! meaning "Let me have a turn now" or more literally "Give me a shot now" (for example, children playing)
  • Are ye thinking o flitting? meaning "Are you thinking of moving house?" (cognate to Norwegian flytte, to move [house]).
  • He's gaun his dinger ower it meaning "He's in a rage over it"
  • Ye're an awfu blether meaning "You're an awful gossip"
  • Ye're havering meaning "You're talking nonsense". Also Stop your havers![17]
  • A'll gie him laldie meaning "I'll give him a serious telling off"; also Gie it laldy! meaning "Give it everything you've got!"
  • A'm fair wabbit meaning "I'm feeling exhausted"[18]
  • A'll see ye Monday next meaning "I'll see you a week on Monday"[19]
  • A'm just after being tae the doctor's meaning "I've just been at the doctor's"
  • The nights are fair drawin in meaning "It's getting dark earlier at night"
  • It's my shy meaning "It's my throw-in" (when playing football)
  • He was sat on his hunkers meaning "He was squatting down"
  • Up to his oxters meaning "Up to his armpits"
  • A wis chittering at the bus stop meaning "I was shivering with cold at the bus stop"
  • Caw canny meaning "Go easy/Don't overdo it", as in Caw canny wi the butter, "Don't use up the butter"
  • Ye missed yersel last night meaning "You missed out on a good time last night" (by not being at the event, e.g. a party or football match)
  • Dinna fash yersel meaning "Don't get worked up/fussed" (orig. from French se fâcher)
  • What (are) ye efter? meaning "What are you looking for?" or (in pubs) "What will you have to drink?"
  • Aye, right! meaning "definitely not!" in sarcastic response to a question or to challenge a presumption
  • Gaun'ae no dae that? is an imperative meaning "Will you not do that!?" in response to receiving a fright, or being annoyed by a person's actions
  • Bye the/fur nou! meaning "goodbye, literally: 'goodbye for now'" as a way of saying goodbye.
  • It's oor ticht meaning "it's too tight".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-04-21. An idiom or mode of expression characteristic of Scots; esp. as used by a writer of English.
  2. ^ Aitken, A. J. "Scottish Accents and Dialects" in Trudgil, P. Language in the British Isles. 1984. p. 105–108
  3. ^ "Local Government and Regeneration Committee Benchmarking and Performance Measurement Seminar" (PDF). Scottish Parliament. 10 September 2012.
  4. ^ Betty Kirkpatrick (2006). The Concise Dictionary of Scottish Words and Phrase. Crombie Jardine. p. 94. ISBN 1-905102-88-7. often used humorously by non-Scots
  5. ^ Gordon Kenmuir, Scottish National
  6. ^ McAlpine, Fraser. "25 Scottish Sayings That Will Get You Through Life". BBC America.
  7. ^ Kemsley, Roderick; Platt, Christopher (June 7, 2013). Dwelling with Architecture. Routledge. ISBN 978-1136260926 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Deveraux, Jude; Barnett, Jill; Dawson, Geralyn; Binder, Pam; Cabot, Patricia (December 28, 2000). A Season in the Highlands. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780743403412 – via Google Books.
  9. ^ a b "16 forgotten phrases you'll only know if you're from Scotland". 23 July 2019.
  10. ^ "Dictionary of the Scots Language:: SND :: help".
  11. ^ F A Pottle (ed.), Boswell In Holland, Heinemann 1952, pp.160-1
  12. ^ R McCrum, W Cran, R MacNeil, The Story of English, London 1986, pp.143-4
  13. ^ D Murison, The Guid Scots Tongue, Edinburgh 1977, pp.5-6
  14. ^ B Kay, The Mither Tongue, Collins 1988, Ch.5
  15. ^ "Dictionary of the Scots Language:: SND :: drouk".
  16. ^ "Dictionary of the Scots Language:: SND :: snds101".
  17. ^ Eleanor Atkinson, Greyfriars Bobby
  18. ^ "Dictionary of the Scots Language:: SND :: wabbit".
  19. ^ "Dictionary of the Scots Language:: SND :: next".