How to talk Scots to Trump


© Stewart Bremner


Well, following last night’s 2-1 defeat at the hands (or feet) of the Croats, England are now out of the World Cup.  And today, what can the heartbroken people of England look forward to as a way of cheering them up?


A visit from US President Donald Trump, that’s what.


At least the English need to grit their teeth for barely more than a day.  Tomorrow evening, provided everything goes according to plan – i.e. Trump can refrain from grabbing the Queen by the pussy when he meets her at Windsor Castle – the most ignorant, obnoxious and morally bankrupt American Commander in Chief since James Buchanan will fly north of the border to Scotland and it’ll be the turn of the Scots to have to share their sovereign territory with the slobbering orange tyrant.  There, he’ll devote yet another wodge of his presidential time to playing golf, on one of his Scottish golf courses.  I suspect this is more likely to be Turnberry, as the breeze coming in from the offshore wind-turbines that Alex Salmond cheekily planted close to his course at Balmedie runs a serious risk of playing havoc with his combover.


Anti-Trump protests have been organised across the UK, with Scottish ones planned for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeenshire.  I look forward to seeing the placards that the multitudes of Scottish demonstrators will be carrying because (a) they will surely be highly derisive about President Chump and (b) they will no doubt draw heavily on the Scottish vernacular to be derisive.


To my mind, there is no language more suited to insulting people than the Scots one.  Ice-T once rapped: “Words thrillin’, so real they’re chillin’, the hit author / Getting’ louder than a gunshot…”  But Ice, if the words in question were abusive Scots ones, they’d not only be louder than a gunshot, they’d be louder than an atomic bomb-blast.


For example, I expect there will be signs and placards at the Scottish protests referring to Trump as an arsepiece, an arsepipe, a balloon, a bampot, a bawheid, a chugmerchant, a cockwomble, a diddy, a dobber, a dunderheid, a fanny, a fannybaws, a fud, a jobby, a lavvyheid, a numpty, a nyaff, a plaster, a poultice, a puddock, a roaster, a rocket, a shitgibbon, a spoon, a tadger, a toalie, a tool, a tube, a walloper, a wankstain, a weapon and, of course, my favourite abusive Scots noun, a bawbag, which strictly speaking translates as ‘scrotum’.


Bawbag has already been successfully deployed in the struggle against alt-right nincompoop demagogues, because a few years ago a group of protestors laid siege to then UKIP leader and now shameless-brownnosing-Trump-cheerleader Nigel Farage while he was visiting Edinburgh.  Chanting “Nigel, ye’re a bawbag!”, they forced Farage to take refuge in the Canon’s Gait bar on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, which in turn prompted a priceless tweet by comedian Frankie Boyle: “Nigel Farage tried to escape Scottish protesters by hiding in a pub. Which is like trying to hide from a lion by putting on a zebra costume.”


I hope that this weekend someone has an extra-big sign that not only calls Trump a bawbag, but prefaces it with some choice Scots adjectives too, i.e. declaring Trump a barkit, boakin, bowfin, clarty, doaty, foostie, glaikit, hackit, howlin, mawkit, mingin, reekin, sleekit bawbag.”


There are also some inventive and graphic Scots phrases for insulting people.  If anyone needs inspiration for what to write on their anti-Trump placard, here are my top ten:


Awaw an bile yer heid.”

Awaw an shite.”  (Or even better, “Awaw an take yer face fir a shite.”)

Hope yer next shite’s a hedgehog.”

Ye look like a dug lickin pish aff a nettle.”

Yer bum’s oot the windae.”

Yer da’s yer ma.”

Yer da sells Avon.”

Yer heid’s foo o mince.”

Yer ma’s got baws an yer da loves it.”

Ye’ve an arse like a bag o washin.”

Ye’ve a face like a meltit wellie.”


However, that’s not to say that English English – as opposed to Scots English – is incapable of mustering the vitriol necessary to deal with the horror-show that is Trump.  In fact, back in December 2015, when Trump still seemed like a buffoonish comedy candidate who had no chance of ever winning the presidency, I seem to remember someone tweeting a memorable insult that quoted lines from Henry IV, Part 1 by England’s greatest bard, William Shakespeare: “Trump’s a clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch, right?”


That 2015 tweeter was Scottish Conservative Party leader Ruth Davidson, whose boss Theresa May will be welcoming Trump to the UK today and will no doubt be kowtowing to him in the hope that, amid all the off-message humiliations and embarrassments he heaps upon her, he’ll grant her some sort of dubious post-Brexit US-UK trade deal; and whose Conservative colleague and Secretary of State for Scotland, the hapless David Mundell, has the job of greeting him / acting as his doormat in Scotland tomorrow.  So I expect to see the always principled, unyielding and truthful Ruth Davidson wielding a placard calling Trump a clay-brained guts, knotty-pated fool, etc., at one of Scotland’s anti-Trump protests this weekend.


© Stewart Bremner


The illustrations accompanying this post are by the graphic artist Stewart Bremner.  Free downloadable, printable versions of his anti-Trump designs are available here.  And to purchase other examples of his craft, please go here


Curiosities of my Colombo neighbourhood 12



This post is about collocations, for which the Cambridge Dictionary gives the following definition: “a word or phrase that is often used with another word or phrase, in a way that sounds correct to people who have spoken the language all their lives, but might not be expected from the meaning.”  Collocations can involve verbs and nouns, as in ‘do your homework’; or adjectives and nouns, as in ‘heated argument’, or verbs and adverbs, as in ‘rain heavily’.


If, like me, you’ve spent part of your working life teaching the English language to non-native speakers of it, you’ll appreciate the difficulty students often have getting their heads around collocations in English.  I seem to have spent hours explaining to people that you don’t ‘write your homework’ but ‘do’ it; that calling an angry exchange a ‘hot argument’ just doesn’t sound right; and that you can’t describe extreme precipitation as ‘raining painfully’.  Note that with all these mistakes, I fully understood the meaning the speaker was trying to convey.  (The last mistake cropped up when I was working in a school in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where, yes, it seemed to rain painfully every day.)


The problem is, we simply don’t put those particular words together to express those particular things.  It may well be that the reasons for certain collocations being right and other collocations being wrong are psychological, on the part of the listener, as much as they are linguistic, on the part of the language itself.  Also, it didn’t surprise me when I heard a language researcher claim one time that collocations are the biggest causes of mistakes in speaking and writing by high-level learners of English.


In literature, of course, the way in which a writer uses collocations can contribute greatly to his or her style.  Shunting together words that don’t normally collocate can add an inventive flourish to the prose.  However, if the results can be embarrassing if a writer overdoes it and the attempted collocation falls flat.  I still haven’t forgotten a sentence in an Anthony Burgess novel where a character ‘tramples’ a page with his ‘signature’ – ouch!  And I’ve read a review of Martin Amis’ 2012 novel Lionel Asbo – State of England, in which Amis is taken to task for the clumsiness of his writing – much of which is down to him trying to collocate words that have no business being collocated: for example, ‘Dawn sizzled…’, ‘unfallen eyes’ and ‘a heavy silence began to fuse and climb…’


Anyway, this is a prelude to saying that I recently noticed a mural painted on a wall outside a school on Colombo’s Duplication Road that makes heavy use of English collocations.  It pairs off various English verbs and adverbs so that the school-pupils receive a list of instructions about how to behave properly.  Some of the collocated verbs and adverbs work for me and some don’t.  I wonder if this is because the creator of the mural had mistaken ideas about what words collocate appropriately in English or if he or she simply stuck them together without knowing at all.  Or is it because these collocations have become acceptable in Sri Lankan English while it’s evolved apart from ‘standard’ English (whatever that is) over the years?  Or are they the result of literal translations from the local languages, Sinhala and Tamil?


By the way, I’m not trying to take a pop at Sri Lankan English here for being incorrect.  The dialect of English where I come from originally, Northern Ireland, has often been dismissed as being ungrammatical or uneducated or just plain incomprehensible, but I would absolutely defend people’s right to speak English that way.  And it contains some collocations of its own that would probably earn an arrest-warrant from the Standard-English Grammar Police: “It’s fierce hot,” “She’s a big age,” “The weather’s powerful today,” and so on.



So let’s see.  Which of the mural’s collocations work?  ‘Dress smartly’?  Obviously.  ‘Save regularly’?  Yes.  ‘Eat sensibly’?  I suppose so.  ‘Act fearlessly’?  Well, that’s a bit dramatic and it would be exhausting to act fearlessly all the time, but I guess it’s acceptable.  ‘Sleep sufficiently’?  Hmmm…  ‘Plan orderly’?  No, sorry.


Some of these collocations sound downright odd, yet I can think of certain people to whom they would make perfect sense.  ‘Spend intelligently’ – did you hear that, Mr. Johnny Depp, the man who last year was reputed to be blowing two million dollars a month on wine, staff, security, a private jet and 14 residences?  ‘Think truthfully’, meanwhile, would be excellent advice for Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, David Davis and the other members of Britain’s Brexiting Conservative government, who are currently possessed by self-delusion on an epic scale about Britain’s prospects after it leaves the European Union.


And ‘walk humbly’?  Well, I’m not quite sure how you would physically do that.  But I would advise this man to at least give it a try.


© Disney Enterprises Inc

© Stefan Rousseau / From the Times

From CBN News


Yet another 25 Scots words that must not die


© Vanity Fair


My better half, Mrs Blood and Porridge, recently drew my attention to a Youtube video in which Gerard Butler, now a meaty big Hollywood action-movie star but once a humble wee lad from the Scottish town of Paisley, talked about his favourite lexical items in the Scots language.  These included words like ‘bawbags’ and ‘jobbies’ and phrases like “Yer bum’s oot the windae!” and “Haud yer wheesht!”  Come to think of it, Gerard was probably shouting all of these things last year when he read the reviews of his movie Geostorm.


(The script for Geostorm would actually have made more sense if it’d been written in Scots: “Och shite, they’ve jist drapt a muckle heat-jobbie on Hong Kong!”)


This, along with the fact that today is January 25th and tonight is Burns Night – annual celebration of the life and works of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national bard and one of literature’s greatest writers in the medium of Scots – has inspired me to list 25 more of my favourite Scots words and expressions.  Previous lists can be read here, here and here.


Awaw an’ bile yer heid (idiom) – basically, “Go away and boil your head.”  Or less elegantly still, “F**k off.”


Clamjamfry (n) – a troublesome, noisy, chaotic mob of people.


Clawbaws (n) – a derogatory term for a male who constantly has his hand down the front of his trousers, presumably playing with himself.  The suffix ‘baws’ is a popular one in Scots – see also fannybaws, believed to have originated in the Scottish TV comedy sketch-show Chewin’ the Fat (1999-2005) and being, according to the Urban Dictionary website, a “Glasgow word meaning stupid bastard”.


Fankle (n) – a confused tangle.  One reason why I gave up fishing as a kid was because I always managed to get my fishing line in a ‘fankle’.


Fash (n / v) – to do with annoyance.  “Dae fash yerself” means “Don’t get annoyed”, while “He’s in a right fash” means “He’s having a right strop.”  The word dates back to old French (and no doubt to the days of Scotland’s ‘Auld Alliance’ with France) and is related to the French verb fâcher, to be or make angry.


© Channel Four Films / PolyGram / Miramax


Gash (adv) – meaning badly, grimly, terribly.  ‘Gash’ is a word that got a new lease of life thanks to the success of Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting (1993) and its subsequent 1996 movie adaptation by Danny Boyle.  In the movie, Kevin McKidd’s Tommy shudderingly recounts how he once played a game of pool against Robert Carlyle’s psychotic Begbie: “…But Begbie is playing absolutely f**king gash…  He’s got a hangover so bad he can hardly hold the cue…”


Haar (n) – a weather-word and, like most weather-words in Scots, one that refers to crappy climatic conditions.  A ‘haar’ is a wet, clammy fog you might encounter along the coast.


Heid bummer (n) – the person in charge.


Hoachin (adj) – infested with or full of, as in: “The puir bairn’s hair wis hoachin wi nits.” The late A.A. Gill, born in Edinburgh and a notoriously snobby food-critic at the Sunday Times, once remarked during a diatribe about the awfulness of Scotland’s cuisine: “The place is hoaching with some of the best raw ingredients in the world, yet finding a scallop on a menu is like trying to go dogging in Riyadh.”  I assume that by dropping ‘hoachin’ into that sentence, Gill was trying to show his Scottish street-credibility even while he slammed the place.  It didn’t work.


Lug (n) – a well-known word for ear, ‘lug’ also appears in the compound adjective lang-luggit, referring to a nosy person who likes listening in on other people’s conversations; and in the phrase to nip someone’s lugs, meaning to irritate someone with constant nagging or meaningless chatter.


Messages (n) – shopping.  So ‘doing my messages’ means ‘doing my shopping’.


© Antony Spencer / E+ / Getty Images


Moonbroch (n) – a lovely astronomical term.  Historically, a broch was a round stone tower.  From that, a ‘moonbroch’ is the ghostly rainbow-like halo you see around the moon on a night when the moonlight refracts through ice crystals in the upper atmosphere.


Orraman (n) – an odd-job man able to turn his hand to a variety of tasks, very useful to have on a farm.   An ‘orraman’ figures in the lyrics of The Portree Kid, a spoof on the country-and-western classic Ghost Riders in the Sky, composed and sung by the legendary Scottish folk duo The Corries: “His sidekick was an orraman and oh but he was mean / He was called the Midnight Ploughboy and he came fae Aberdeen…


Plook (n) – the Scots equivalent of the English slang word ‘zit’, meaning a pus-filled pimple.  When I was at school, kids used to assure me that “evrae time ye eat a Mars Bar, ye get a plook”.  (Lawyers for Cadbury UK Limited please note – there is absolutely no scientific proof that this assertion is true.)


Poke (n) – a bag.  I think this must have been a common word in English generally at one point – see the expression ‘to buy a pig in a poke’.  However, I’ve only ever heard this word used in Scotland, in the context of fish-and-chip shops where customers might ask for ‘a poke o’ chips’.


Polis (n) – not a city-state in ancient Greece like Athens, Delphi, Rhodes or Sparta, but the Scots word for ‘police’.


Puddock (n) – a frog or toad.  A particularly ill-fated one appears in the 1930s poem The Puddock by John M. Caie, which ends with the lines: “A heron was hungry an’ needin’ tae sup / So he nabbit th’ puddock and gollup’t him up.”


© The Muppets Studio / Walt Disney


Skelp (n / v) – to slap or beat with your hand.  Not to be confused with the more fleeting but possibly sharper blow implied by the word skite.  Therefore, you might say, “Not only did the teacher skelp him on his lug but he skited him roond his legs wi the cane.”


Skrieve (v) – to write.


Sleekit (adj) – dangerously crafty and cunning, but with a deceptively charming exterior.  In the 1980s, I remember Scottish Labour Members of Parliament denouncing the SNP MP Jim Sillars for being ‘sleekit’.  However, for outright, concentrated ‘sleekitness’, the Labour Party outdid themselves later on when they invented Tony Blair.


Smeddum (n) – a flour or fine powder.  From that, it has also come to mean the kernel or unbreakable essence of something; and from that, to mean someone’s spirit, energy and drive.  It’s no doubt the third of these meanings that’s referenced by the title of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s short story Smeddum (1934), about a tough matriarch called Meg Menzies who works ‘like a big roan mare’ in the harsh environment of rural north-eastern Scotland.


Stowed oot (adj) – packed with people.  On many an occasion in my youth, I was turned away from a bar or club by a not-so-apologetic bouncer who told me, “Sorry pal, it’s awready stowed oot.”


Tablet (n) – not, in this post-Trainspotting era, a drugs reference but a type of Scottish confectionery.  According to my well-thumbed copy of the Collins Pocket Scots Dictionary, it’s “like a firmer version of fudge, made from butter, sugar and sometimes condensed milk.”


Tumshie (n) – a turnip.  By extension, if you call someone a tumshie-heid, you’re calling them a ‘turnip-head’, i.e. a moron.


Tattiebogle (n) – a scarecrow.  This quaint word is derived from the words tattie, meaning a potato, and bogle, meaning a ghost.  It implies the roughness of the Scottish soil compared with that of England, in that the ‘tattiebogle’ is more likely to be scaring craws or corbies away from a potato-patch than from a wheat-field.




Caledonian culture war


© Channel Four Films / PolyGram Pictures


Many people may be puzzled by the title of this blog-entry.  After all, if you’re to believe the pronouncements of certain Scottish Labour Party heavyweights of yesteryear, there isn’t any culture in Scotland to have a war over.


George Galloway, one-time Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead and Glasgow Kelvin and now widely-known as a preening, egotistical jackanapes, once declared that no such thing as Scottish culture existed.  Supporting him in this assertion was George Robertson, former Labour MP for Hamilton South, former Secretary of State for Defence and now known by the socialistic, man-of-the-people title of Lord Robertson of Port Ellon, KT, GCMG, PC, FRSA, FRSE.  Comparing the campaign for Scottish independence unfavourably with similar campaigns in Flanders and Catalonia, he said that unlike the Flemish and Catalans the Scots have “no language or culture or any of that.”


Despite George and George applying their mighty intellects to the matter of Scottish culture and ascertaining once and for all that the very notion of it is as ridiculous and chimerical as the Loch Ness Monster, a few people have not yet seen reason.  For example, the Scottish National Party, which forms the current Scottish Government.  And Jackie Kay, the current Makar – i.e. Scottish poet laureate – for another.


Recently the SNP / Scottish government launched a scheme whereby the parents of every baby born in Scotland receive a ‘baby box’, a collection of items handy for those taking care of a bairn during its first few months of life: a blanket, bedding, play and changing mats, a towel, fleece, reusable nappy, sponge, thermometer and so on.  The boxes these come in can also double as cribs.  The idea originated in Finland, where the boxes / cribs are believed to have contributed to a fall in the number of cot deaths.


What has raised the ire of many a commentator – mostly, it must be said, of the same unionist / pro-British / anti-Scottish independence mindset as Messrs Galloway and Robertson – is the decision to include within these baby boxes a poem written by Kay called Welcome Wee One.


The poem begins, “O ma darlin wee one / At last you are here in the wurld / And wi’ aa your wisdom / Your een bricht as the stars…


That’s right.  The poem isn’t written in proper standard English, but in Scots – the Scottish dialect of English that some misguided souls believe to be a separate language, to constitute a separate Scottish linguistic culture.  No wonder people who agree with the two Georges are having seizures of rage just now.  The Scottish government is propagating Scottish culture, something that doesn’t, shouldn’t, can’t exist!


Okay, enough of the sarcasm.  From now on, I’m writing seriously.


Among the many tweeters and posters expressing their scorn at Kay’s poem was Ian Smart, self-styled ‘lefty lawyer’ and ‘Scottish Labour Party hack’, who dismissed her as “a woman from Bishopbriggs, writing doggerel.”  A reader posting below a report on the baby boxes in the Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, brought up the fact that Kay is of what used to be called ‘mixed parentage’ to question her right to pen the poem in the first place: “…Jackie Kay has produced Welcome Wee One in what is supposed to be local dialect…  according to her Wiki entry her father was Nigerian.  I wonder what she’s like at Igbo?”


© The Guardian


As far as this baby box / Welcome Wee One stushie is concerned, I find myself agreeing with the Scottish journalist Kenny Farquharson.  Writing in the Times a few days ago, he claimed the antipathy towards the poem and the Scottish government’s distribution of it in the baby boxes was down to the ‘Scottish cringe’.  This cringe is the commonly-held belief that any manifestation of Scottishness in Scottish people is something to be embarrassed by, something you need to shed and disown in order to get on in life.


In an article headlined SPEAK UP FOR SCOTTISHNESS AND BAN THE CRINGE, he observed how the cringe’s “symptoms were easy to spot: an involuntary shudder at the sound of a glottal stop; an onset of the vapours when confronted by a fluttering saltire; a pursing of the lips at any manifestation of Scottish working class culture.”


However, many Times readers didn’t share his opinion.  The comments thread below his article was soon ablaze with Farquharson-bashing (“really just a closet nationalist…” “he seems to have a chip on both shoulders…”) and with further Kay-bashing (“fake, rubbish art…” “the great majority of the recipients of the baby box will take one look at the poem and assign it to the recycle bin…”), Scots-language-bashing (“no one, in 21st century Scotland, would ever express themselves in this way…”), and Scottish-government-bashing (“the box and the poem are intent on branding babies Scottish the moment they gulp their first breath…”  “As a government, they are totally incompetent…”)  No wonder that a few days later Farquharson tweeted, “Have to say, I’m fair ferfochan at some of the responses to my Scottish cringe column.”  (‘Ferfochan’ is a northeast Scottish word meaning ‘tired’ or ‘troubled’.)


Well, I think the baby boxes are a good idea in any society that claims to be civilised and anyone railing against them is showing himself or herself up as a Grade-A mean-spirited numpty.  The people complaining about them containing a poem written in Scots seem ignorant of the fact that since the medieval era of Dunbar and Henryson, through Robert Burns to the present day, an awful lot of Scottish poetry has been written in Scots.  So what’s the big deal about this poem being written in it?


© The Herald


Regarding the argument that the Scottish government is playing identity politics, trying to ‘brand’ youngsters as Scottish so that, somehow, they’ll be more likely to vote for Scottish independence from the UK when they’re adults – I suspect that if the baby boxes had contained some Union-Jack-waving verse by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, the right-wing readers of the Times and Telegraph would have expressed less indignation.  It seems we’re now in the midst of a culture war, Scottish culture being aligned with the SNP and the Scottish independence movement at one end of the battlefield, and British culture aligned with unionism and the status quo at the other end.


Oh, and in response to one of Farquharson’s detractors at the Times – I’ve just spent the past fortnight in the Scottish Borders and I’ve heard plenty of people speak ‘in this way’.  (Although the word ‘een’, for ‘eyes’, does seem obsolete now.)


What I find astonishing about this is that Farquharson himself is a Unionist and often writes scathingly about the Scottish government and its long-term policy of achieving Scottish independence.  But the moment he attempts to show some reasonableness and writes favourably about a policy by that government, he’s torn apart by people who are supposedly on his own side.  (I should declare an interest here – I knew Kenny Farquharson, slightly, for a year or two when we were students at Aberdeen University in the early 1980s.  I don’t much agree with his politics, but I found him to be a decent bloke back then, full of Dundonian congeniality, and I’m sure he continues to be that way now.)




With all this yelling about the SNP / Scottish government using Scottish culture to play identity politics and further their agenda, you’d expect them to have established the post of Makar too.  After all, giving Scotland its own poet laureate is another way of separating it from the United Kingdom, which has long had its own national poet laureate.  But in fact the post was created by the previous regime at the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh, the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition – Unionist politicians to a man and woman.


And if you’re going to employ a Makar for Scotland and not have them write a short ode of welcome to its new-born citizens – why employ one at all?


Another 25 Scots words that must not die


Today is January 25th and this evening is Burns Night – commemorating the 257th anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s national bard and globally-loved ‘ploughman-poet’ Robert Burns.  And as usual, I’ll mark the occasion by listing 25 words and expressions that I like from the medium in which Burns wrote his poetry, the Scots language.  25 words and expressions that, despite the onslaught of modern-day standardised TV-friendly, IT-friendly English, still appear in speech and writing north of the border.




Bertie Auld (adj), as in “It’s Bertie Auld tonight!” – rhyming slang for ‘cauld’, the Scottish pronunciation of ‘cold’.  Bertie Auld was a Scottish footballer who played for Celtic, Hibernian, Dumbarton and Birmingham City and whose finest hour was surely his membership of the Lisbon Lions, the Celtic team that won the European Cup in 1967.  I first encountered this term when a character used it in an Irvine Welsh novella I was reading, contained in Welsh’s 1994 collection The Acid House and called A Smart C**t.  (Yes, Irvine is so hard-core that even his story titles have to be asterixed.)


Breenge (v) – to go, rush, dash.


Callant (n) – a lad or young man.  The Common Riding festival held annually in the Borders town of Jedburgh is called the Callant’s Festival.  Accordingly, the festival’s principal man is called the Callant.


Carlin (n) – an old woman, hag or witch.  Throughout Scotland there are stone circles, standing stones and odd rock formations that are known as carlin stones, presumably because people once linked them to the supernatural and imagined that witches would perform unsavoury rituals at them.




Dunt (n / v) – a heavy but dull-sounding blow.  The word appears in an old Scottish saying, “Words are but wind, but dunts are the devil,” which I guess is a version of “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you.”


Eejit (n) – idiot.  Inevitably, in 2008, when Dundonian poet Matthew Fitt got around to translating Roald Dahl’s 1980 children’s book The Twits into Scots, he retitled it… The Eejits.


Flyte (v) – to trade insults in the form of verse.  This combative literary tradition can be found in Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures, but flyting was made an art-form in 15th / 16th-century Scotland by poets like William Dunbar, Walter Kennedy and Sir David Lyndsay.  There’s a poetic account of one flyting contest between Dunbar and Kennedy that’s called, unsurprisingly, The Flyting of Dumbar and Kennedie and consists of 28 stanzas of anti-Kennedy abuse penned by Dunbar and another 41 stanzas of Kennedy sticking it back to Dunbar.  According to Wikipedia, this work contains “the earliest recorded use of the word ‘shit’ as a personal insult.”  Thus, flyting was the Scottish Middle-Ages literary equivalent of two rappers dissing each other in their ‘rhymes’; and Dunbar and Kennedy were the Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls of their day.


Gallus (adj) – a word that’s probably used by one or two Glaswegians when describing themselves, meaning bold, cheeky, reckless, show-offy and irrepressible.  However, the online Collins Dictionary tells me that gallus is derived from the word ‘gallows’ and it originally meant ‘fit for the gallows’.  Which is appropriate in a way.  On a few occasions I’ve tried to have a quiet, reflective pint in a Glaswegian pub, only to have my space invaded and my meditation disrupted by a would-be gallus local wanting to entertain me with his amazing patter.  With the result that I’d have liked to see that gallus Glaswegian strung up on a gallows.




Gloaming (n) – The period after sunset but before it gets completely dark.  It inspired the famous 1911 song Roamin’ in the Gloamin’, written and performed by Sir Harry Lauder.  The song’s chorus goes: “Roamin’ in the gloamin’ on the bonnie banks o’ Clyde / Roamin’ in the gloamin’ wi ma lassie by ma side!”  There’s also a song by Radiohead called The Gloaming, found on their 2003 album Hail to the Thief, which you’ll be surprised to hear is a wee bit less jaunty than the Harry Lauder song.


Guddle (n) – a confused mess (similar to a ‘muddle’).  Guddle also exists in Scots as a verb and means to catch a fish with your bare hands, using the mysterious technique of tickling the fish’s belly.


Harled (adj) – a harled building has had its external stonework covered in a mixture of lime and gravel, giving it a roughcast coating that protects it against the worst of the Scottish elements.  Famous harled buildings include Stirling Castle and Aberdeenshire’s Crathes Castle.


Hirple (v) – to hobble or limp.


Howk (v) – to dig, rake or poke around in.  Once upon a time, the activity of manually picking potatoes out of the ground was called tattiehowking.  A more abusive derivation is binhowker, meaning someone who has to find sustenance by rummaging in other people’s bins.


Jakey (n) – a down-at-heels, worse-for-wear vagrant with an alcohol dependency – the alcohol in question usually being Buckfast Tonic Wine or Carlsberg Special Brew.  The Scottish-based, English-born bestselling author J.K. Rowling is sometimes referred to as Jakey Rowling by Scottish-independence enthusiasts, irritated at her high-profile support for Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom.


(c) The Sun


Janny (n) – a janitor.


Kent yer faither! (idiom) – (I) knew your father!  In other words, “Don’t give yourself airs and graces because I know you’re from humble stock, same as the rest of us.”  I’ve never heard anyone use this as a putdown, but I’ve heard folk complain about the ‘kent-yer-faither syndrome’ in Scotland, i.e. Scotland’s a place where if you manage to improve yourself and be a success, you have deal with a bunch of jealous, moaning gits trying to cut you down to size.


Makar (n) – a poet or bard.  In 2004, the Scottish Parliament established the post of ‘Scots Makar’, i.e. a national bard or poet laureate.  The post has been occupied by the late Edwin Morgan and, since 2011, by Liz Lochhead.


(c) STV


Rammy (n) – a fight or brawl.  A stairheid rammy is a brawl that breaks out among the womenfolk in the staircases and on the landings of Scotland’s urban tenement buildings.  During the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, stairhead rammies took place in Scotland’s TV studios too.  A television debate between then-SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont was described afterwards by journalist Ruth Wishart as “a right good stairheid rammy” that “made strong men avert their eyes”.


Scooby (n), as in “I havenae a Scooby” – rhyming slang for ‘clue’, as in “I haven’t a clue.”  Scooby refers to Scooby Doo, the famous American TV cartoon dog who accompanied some ‘meddling kids’, without whose investigations many, many, many criminals “would have gotten away with it.”


Shilpit (adj) – thin, pale and weak-looking.




Spurtle (n) – a long wooden utensil once used in Scottish cooking, sometimes a spatula for turning over oatcakes, sometimes a stick for stirring porridge.  I can’t recall the name of the story it was in, but I vividly remember reading a description of a sheep’s carcass lying on a Scottish hillside with its four stiff legs “sticking up like spurtles”.


Thrawn (adj) – stubborn, obstinate and bloody-minded, inclined to do the opposite of what everyone urges you to do.  However, there’s a macabre short story called Thrawn Janet by Robert Louis Stevenson, in which the word has a different meaning – ‘twisted’ or ‘deformed’.  The title character is described as having “her neck thrawn, and her heid on ae side, like a body that has been hangit


Trews (n) – tartan trousers, once worn by Scotland’s southern regiments and regarded as a traditional garment of the country’s Lowlands (although in reality, like kilts, trews originated in the Highlands).  I’ve heard it said that trews were the prototype for the tartan plus-fours that golfers used to wear.  Scotland’s ebullient, publicity-loving former First Minister Alex Salmond had a fondness for trews and was pictured wearing them on several occasions.  Although looking at those pictures now, I think that even the world’s biggest Salmond-admirer would have to admit that Alex Salmond + trews = sight for sore eyes.


(c) The Daily Record


Vennel (n) – an alleyway or narrow lane.  See also wynd and close.


Winch (v) – to be romantically involved with someone; though I’ve heard it used in more graphic situations where it clearly meant ‘get off with’ or ‘stick your tongue down the throat of’ someone.  Winch is a verb that seems to add some effort to the act of getting romantically acquainted – it makes it sound like it requires heavy lifting.  Yes, if you’re going to winch someone, you’re going to have to grit your teeth and shed some sweat.


(c) Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc


James Bond in Scots


(c) Eon Productions


I have at least one seriously silly thought every day and I’ve decided to share today’s seriously silly thought with you.  What would the titles of all the James Bond movies sound like if they’d been formulated not in Standard English, but in Scots?  Well, maybe like this:


Dr No                                                             Dr Naw

From Russia with Love                               Frae Russia wi Winchin’

Goldfinger                                                    Gauld Pinkie

Thunderball                                                  Thunner Baw

You Only Live Twice                                    Ye Onie Bide Twa Times

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service                On the High Heid-Yin’s Secret Service

Diamonds are Forever                                 Diamonds are Firiver

Live and Let Die                                            Bide an’ Let Dee

The Man with the Golden Gun                    The Gadgie wi the Gaulden Gun

The Spy Who Loved Me                               The Spy Whae Winched Me

Moonraker                                                     Moon Howker

For Your Eyes Only                                      Fir Yer Een Onie

Octopussy                                                      Octo-Fannie

A View to a Kill                                              A Shuftey tae a Malky

The Living Daylights                                     The Bidin’ Daylichts

Licence to Kill                                                Licence tae Malky


(c) Eon Productions


Goldeneye                                                      Gaulden Ee

Tomorrow Never Dies                                  The Morra Nivir Dees

The World is not Enough                             The Wirld isnae Eneuch

Die Another Day                                            Dee Anither Day

Casino Royale                                                Ceilidh-Hoose Royale

Quantum of Solace                                       Smeddum o Solace

Skyfall                                                             Sky Cowp

Spectre                                                           Bogle


All right, some poetic licence – as opposed to a licence to kill – has been deployed here.  Certain Scots words I used because I liked the sound of them, not because they captured the exact shade of meaning.


For example, I know that the Scots noun ‘pinkie’ refers to your little finger only, not to any old finger; and the verb ‘bide’ means ‘live’ as in ‘reside’, not ‘live’ as in simply ‘be alive’.  Also, I don’t know of any direct Scots equivalent of ‘Her Majesty’; so for the title of the sixth Bond movie (the only one to show 007 wearing a kilt) I used the term ‘high heid yin’, which means the boss, the person in charge of an organisation.  Although if you believe the rumours about what people living near Balmoral Castle — which since 1852 has been the Royal Family’s private residence in Scotland — call the Queen and her kin, maybe ‘the auld German wifie’ would have sufficed.  As for Ceilidh-Hoose Royale, well, that’s me being really daft.


Incidentally, by penning this post, I risk incurring the wrath of fulminating wee columnist John Macleod, who in the most recent Scottish edition of the Mail on Sunday lambasted the fad for translating literary works — especially works for children — into the Scots tongue.  He cited one of Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, The Black Island, as an example of the horrors that happen — in 2013 Susan Rennie had the temerity to translate it, as The Derk Isle, into the frightful devil’s gobbledygook that is Scots.  As the learned Macleod knows, Tintin should only be read in the civilised eloquence of Hergé’s native Standard English.


Anyway, I’m sure this man would approve…




By the way — happy belated 85th birthday, you grumpy auld bugger.


Imaginary minced oaths


(c) NBC


A few weeks ago, somehow, I found myself talking to a group of Sri Lankan people about a feature of the English language that’s often heard but rarely discussed: the minced oath.


A minced oath is a non-offensive utterance that’s substituted for an offensive one.  It’s sometimes an innocuous word with an innocuous meaning that happens to sound like the thing it’s replacing.  For example, rather that shout ‘Shit!’ when you swing a hammer, miss the top of the nail you’re aiming for and squash your finger instead, you shout ‘Sugar!’  Or instead of shouting ‘Damn!’, you shout ‘Dash!’  Sometimes, though, the minced oath is a word that only exists as a minced oath – like the word ‘heck’, used as a replacement for ‘hell’, as in “What the heck is going on?”


Often, minced oaths have been used so frequently and for so long that they’ve acquired their own distinct personalities.  Is anyone who comes out with the mild exclamation ‘Gosh!’ aware that they’re using it as a substitute for ‘God!’?


For my money, the King of Minced Oaths was the great American character actor Slim Pickens, who became typecast playing brawny, not-very-bright cowboys in Western movies.  I seem to remember Pickens in many an old Western spluttering, in a broad Texan accent, “Aw, shoot and darn it, you doggone son-of-a-gun!”  (Which in its X-rated version would be, “Aw, shit and damn it, you goddamned son-of-a-bitch!”)


But I suspect that many minced oaths are now living on borrowed time because – in the UK at least – we seem to inhabit a social and linguistic environment where it’s increasingly okay to use the real thing.  People seem to swear more commonly and openly than they used to.  At the same time, most of the old minced oaths that were once acceptable substitutes for swear words sound a bit lame now.  Any lad using ‘Dash!’ or ‘Gosh!’ in a modern playground would probably be viewed by his peers as something of a pansy.  (If they could figure out what he was talking about in the first place.)


The phenomenon of swearing puts writers of TV and radio drama (and historically of literature too) in a quandary.  What do they do when they want to accurately depict the real world – in whose homes, workplaces and schools many folk now swear non-stop, rather than shilly-shally around with minced oaths?  Do they bite the bullet and use real swear words, at the risk of offending those many viewers and listeners (and historically, readers) who still find such language offensive?  Or should they avoid using words that may cause offence and pretend that all people speak like Sunday-school teachers?


One solution has been to invent your own swear words, which will express the heated emotions your characters are feeling without upsetting people who object to bad language – in other words, to use imaginary minced oaths.  To illustrate this, I will now give you half-a-dozen of my favourite made-up swear words that have already been tried and tested in TV, films and literature and, presumably, are acceptable for use in polite company.


(c) The Daily Telegraph



An invented substitute for the F-word, ‘fug’ appeared in the 1948 World War II novel The Naked and the Dead, written by the late, great American writer Norman Mailer.  Warned by his publishers that the dialogue of his soldier-characters couldn’t be too realistic – even though in the real world, hard-pressed soldiers in a combat zone would be spewing the F-word endlessly – Mailer ended up having them say things like ‘Fug you!’ and ‘Fugging hell!’


It must have stuck in Mailer’s craw – and Mailer had a big craw for things to get stuck in – when, later, he was introduced to the celebrated writer and wit Dorothy Parker and she exclaimed, “So you’re the man who can’t spell f*ck!”



In 1970s British TV sitcoms nobody swore.  In Her Majesty’s Prison Service, however, everybody swore.  Thus, writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais had a dilemma when they devised their classic 1970s prison-set sitcom Porridge – which they solved by having their characters spout imaginary swear words.  “Naff off, you nerk!” Norman Stanley Fletcher, the convict hero of Porridge played by Ronnie Barker, would often snap at irritating prison warders and fellow cons.


‘Naff’ and ‘nerk’ soon became popular in 1970s school playgrounds, as little children believed they were real words of abuse.  (I know I did.)  They were also adopted by another group with an uncertain grasp of reality, the Royal Family.  On one famous occasion, prying photographers were bluntly told to “Naff off” by Princess Anne.



Actually, ‘feck’ is a genuine minced oath in the Irish-English dialect.  However, it became famous in Britain in the 1990s when it was used as a non-offensive substitute for ‘f*ck’ in Father Ted, the much-loved sitcom about three less-than-devout priests assigned to a backward Irish island.  Indeed, many people now probably believe that ‘feck’ was invented by Father Ted’s creators, Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews.


(c) Hat Trick Productions / Channel 4 


Despite its innocuousness, the word caused controversy for B*witched, the briefly popular, river-dancing Irish girl-band managed by Louis Walsh.  Interviewed on TV, one B*witched-member exclaimed “Feck off!” and provoked complaints from hard-of-hearing viewers who thought she’d said something else.



Doctor Evil, the super-villain in Mike Myers’ Austin Powers spoof-spy movies, was clearly a linguistic prude.  Even in his foulest moods, he unfailingly eschewed the F-word and used the non-rude ‘frick’ instead.


Actually, ‘frick’ is like ‘feck’.  Although thanks to the Myers movies many people assume it’s an invented minced oath, it has its roots in real, dialectic English.  According to the online Urban Dictionary, it comes from Southern and Midwestern American English and dates back to the 1930s.  I’ve even read claims that ‘frick’ is derived from the surname of the industrialist and chairman of the Carnegie Steel Corporation Henry Clay Frick who, because of his brutal approach to labour relations in the late 19th century, was once dubbed ‘the most hated man in America’.


Incidentally, although Doctor Evil was a paragon of good verbal manners, Myers messed up elsewhere on the salty-language front.  Misjudging the naughtiness of a certain British colloquialism – thinking it was purely a funny word when some people found it genuinely distasteful – he called the second Austin Powers movie The Spy Who Shagged Me.



Language changes with the passage of time, so science fiction writers have often assumed that the future will see new rude words.  Some examples of these include ‘Frak!’ (from the TV sci-fi show Battlestar Galactica), ‘Frell!’ (from another TV show, Farscape) and ‘Drokk!’ (a favourite of the imposing Judge Dredd in the sci-fi comic 2000AD).


However, the supreme futuristic swear word is ‘smeg’, used by the characters of TV sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf.  Writers Rob Grant and Doug Naylor have always insisted that ‘smeg’ was the product of their imaginations and wasn’t inspired by smegma, possibly the least appealing secretion produced by the male human body.  But somehow, I don’t believe them.




25 more Scots words that must not die


In my previous post I mentioned two men with the surname Burns: Robert Burns, the famous 18th-century Scottish poet, and Montgomery Burns, the infamous 21st-century billionaire owner of Springfield Nuclear Power Station in The Simpsons.  This has reminded me that back on January 25th, to celebrate Burns Night – which is held in honour of Robert Burns, not Monty – I posted an article called 25 Scots Words That Must Not Die.  At the time I promised I would write an article about 25 more Scots words that mustn’t die, either.


Here now is that sequel.


Bawbag (n) – literally a scrotum, but normally, to quote the online Urban Dictionary site, bawbag is used as “a derogatory name given to one who is annoying, useless or just plain stupid.”  (  Thus, when United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage steamed into Edinburgh last May in a bid to raise UKIP’s profile north of the border, he ended up besieged inside the Canon’s Gait pub on the Royal Mile by a horde of anti-racism protestors who chanted: “Nigel, ye’re a bawbag.  Nigel, ye’re a bawbag.  Na, na, na, hey!”


(c) The Huffington Post


Bide (v) – to live.  Derived from this verb is the compound noun bidie-hame, which technically refers to a partner whom the speaker is living with but isn’t actually married to.  However, I’ve heard married men describe their wives – wives who aren’t in formal employment and spend their time doing housework – as bidie-hames too.  In fact, in the 1980s, when one of the most popular programmes on British television was Minder, the comedy-drama series about a lovable pair of Cockney spivs played by George Cole and Dennis Waterman, Minder was helpfully subtitled into Scots to help Scottish people understand the impenetrable London accents of its characters.  Whenever George Cole referred to his wife as ‘Her Indoors’, this was translated in the subtitles as ‘the Bidie Hame’.  Alright, I made that last bit up.  You can dream, though.


Blether (v) – to talk or chatter.  Journalist, editor and Rupert Murdoch’s one-time right-hand-man Andrew Neil used this word a lot while he was editor-in-chief at Scotsman publications.  He was forever fulminating against Scotland’s blethering classes – the equivalent of the ‘chattering classes’ in England who were so despised at the time by London’s right-wing press, i.e. left-leaning middle-class people who spent their time holding dinner parties, drinking Chardonnay and indulging in airy-fairy political discussion about how Britain should have a written constitution, proportional representation and devolution.  Then, however, Neil started working for the BBC in London and suddenly all his references to ‘blethering’ ceased.


(c) BBC


Bourach (n) – sometimes a mound or hillock, but more commonly a mess or muddle.  Like midden, then, it’s a vital word when you have to bawl out a teenager about the state of his or her bedroom.


Chib (n/v) – a knife, or to stab someone.  Considering the popularity in modern times of wearing Highland dress at Scottish weddings, and considering the custom of having a ceremonial sgian-dhu (i.e. dagger) tucked down the side of the hose (i.e. socks) in said Highland dress, and considering the amount of alcohol consumed at such affairs, it’s amazing that Scottish weddings don’t see more chibbing than they do.


Clarty (adj) – dirty.  A dirty person, meanwhile, is often called a clart.  And a pre-pubescent boy who avoids soap, shampoo, showers and clean socks and underwear, like Pig Pen used to do in the Charlie Brown comic strips, would undoubtedly be described in Scotland as a wee clart.




Cloots (n) – a plural noun meaning hooves (and having nothing to do with Anacharsis Cloots, the Prussian nobleman who became a leading figure in the French Revolution).  By extension, Cloots came to be a nickname for the world’s most famous possessor of a pair of hooves, Auld Nick, a.k.a. the Devil.  In his poem Address to the Deil, Robert Burns not only mocks Auld Nick but brags that, despite his wild and wanton behaviour in this present life, he’ll escape the fiend’s clutches and avoid going to hell.


“An’ now, auld Cloots, I ken ye’re thinkin,

A certain bardie’s rantin, drinkin,

Some luckless hour will send him linkin

To your black pit;

But faith! he’ll turn a corner jinkin

An’ cheat ye yet.”


Clype (n) – a contemptible sub-species of schoolchild, i.e. the type who’s always running to the teachers and telling tales on his or her schoolmates.


Colliebuckie (n) – a piggy-back.  Yes, Scottish playgrounds once echoed with cries of “Gie’s a colliebuckie!”  (And yes, I’m getting misty-eyed with nostalgia now.)


Drouth (n) – a thirst.  Many an epic drinking session has started when someone declared that they had “a right drouth” and then herded the company into a pub to rectify matters.  Tam O’Shanter, perhaps Burns’ most famous poem, begins with an evocation of the boozing that happens when “drouthy neebors, neebors meet.”  Indeed, Drouthy Neebors has become a popular pub-name in Scotland and there are, or at least have been, Drouthy Neebors serving alcohol in Edinburgh, St Andrews and Stirling.


Flit (v) – to move house.  Commonly used in Scotland, this verb has had success in the English language generally, as is evidenced by the use of moonlight flit to describe the act of moving house swiftly and secretly to avoid paying overdue rent-money.


Glaikit (adj) – silly, foolish, thoughtless.  Like a lot of Scots vocabulary, there’s a wonderful, near-onomatopoeic quality to this word.  You hear those two syllables, ‘glai-kit’, and immediately you begin to visualise a blank face, a dull pair of eyes, an expression that indicates zero intelligence.  Yes, it’s that man Nigel Farage again.


Hackit (adj) – ugly.  Thus, if the third and final instalment of Sergio Leone’s epic Dollars trilogy of 1960s spaghetti westerns was ever remade and relocated in Scotland, it presumably wouldn’t be called The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  It’d be called The Braw, the Shite an’ the Hackit.


(c) Warner Bros


Hoor (n) – literally a prostitute, but generally a very nasty, abusive term for a woman.  Indeed, for sheer horribleness, nothing can compare with this word.  Uttered with its long vowel sound and its rolled ‘r’, it feels far more insulting than the plain old standard-English word ‘whore’.  On the other hand, the phrase ya hoor is merely an exclamation of surprise.  I remember sitting in a cinema in Edinburgh in 1999 and seeing The Matrix for the first time.  At the moment when Carrie Ann Moss sprang upwards, froze in mid-air, and the camera rotated around her in an early and unexpected display of the cinematic technique known as ‘flo-mo’, there was a stunned silence in the auditorium.  Apart from one guy in the row behind me, who promptly exclaimed: “Ya hoor!”


Jings! (exclamation) – another exclamation of surprise, though one more acceptable in polite company than ya hoor!  I don’t think I know anyone under the age of fifty who goes “Jings!” nowadays.  However, it’s still used by the eternally-juvenile, dungaree-wearing ragamuffin Oor Wullie, who’s the star of the Sunday Post newspaper’s comic-strip pages.  See also crivvens! and help ma boab!


(c) D.C. Thomson


Merle (n) – a blackbird.  For that reason, whenever someone mentions the name Meryl Streep, the first image that forms in my head is not the acclaimed and world-famous star of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Sophie’s Choice, Plenty, Out of Africa and The Iron Lady, but a big, noisy, dark-feathered, flappy-winged bird.  I understand that ‘merle’ is also the French word for ‘blackbird’, so presumably it’s another example of the linguistic legacy of the Auld Alliance that once existed between Scotland and France.


Neep (n) – a turnip.  Hence in the 1970s kids’ TV show Wurzel Gummidge, Billy Connolly played a turnip-headed Scottish scarecrow called ‘Bogle MacNeep’.  Turnips and potatoes together on a plate are, of course, known as neeps an’ tatties.  I have an American friend who tells me that whenever I talk about neeps an’ tatties, it sounds like I’m describing something extremely lewd and filthy.  Goodness!  Or better still, jings!




Oxster (n) – an armpit. Dundonian poet Matthew Fitt deployed this word when he wrote the Scots-language translation of the new Asterix-the-Gaul book, Asterix and the Picts.  In the original French text, Asterix’s hulking sidekick Obelisk made a joke about ‘oysters’.  Fitt converted it into a joke about armpits to make it more Scottish-friendly.  As you do.


Peely-wally (adj) – pale and ill-looking.  That’s why in Solo, the new James Bond novel written by William Boyd, there’s a bit where an injured Bond is scolded by May, his formidable old Scottish housekeeper, for looking “awfy peely-wally”.


Quine (n) – a girl or young woman.  This is commonly used in North-East Scotland, where boys and young men are also described as loons, so you hear a lot there about quines an’ loons.  In the early 1990s, a group of Scottish feminists, including the journalist Lesley Riddich, started up a magazine called Harpies and Quines – harpy being a word commonly used in Scotland to describe a grumpy, ill-tempered and mean-minded woman.  The famous high-society magazine Harpers and Queen failed to see the joke and attempted to sue them.




Shoogly (adj) – wobbly.  To hang on a shoogly peg means to be in dodgy, precarious or dire circumstances.  For example, since the Liberal Democrat party formed a coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010, the peg that their electoral fortunes have hung on has been a shoogly one indeed.


Skoosh (n / v) – a squirt or spray of liquid.  A commonly heard exchange in Scottish pubs: “Dae ye want water in yer whisky?”  “Aye, but just a wee skoosh.”




Sook (n) – nothing to do with an Arabic marketplace or commercial district, a sook is a person who grovels to, and sucks up to, those in authority.  The term is commonly used for school pupils who suck up to their teachers.  However, in his book Scots – The Mither Tongue, Billy Kay identifies the first great sook in history as being James Boswell, the companion, biographer and toady of Dr Samuel Johnson, who was perfectly happy to pander to the Doctor’s brazen anti-Scottish prejudices even though he was Scottish himself.  (“I do indeed come from Scotland,” he whined when he first met Johnson.  “But I cannot help it.”  To which the Doctor snorted contemptuously, “That, sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.”)


Spaver (n): a trouser zip or fly.  (Another Scots word with a similar meaning is ballop.)  The Doric Dictionary at provides this eye-watering example sentence: “Help, mither, av nipped ma tadger in ma spaver!”


Tod (n) – a fox.  James Robertson (who, like Matthew Fitt, does a lot of this stuff) once translated Roald Dahl’s children’s book Fantastic Mr Fox into Scots, where it sported the more Caledonian-friendly title Sleekit Mr Tod.


(c) Itchy Coo


It’s possible that the future will see a post called Yet More 25 Scots Words That Must Not Die.


25 Scots words that must not die


This evening is Burns Night, marking the 255th anniversary of the birth of Alloway ploughman-poet Robert Burns.  During the past few days, no doubt, children in schools the length and breadth of Scotland have stood in front of their classmates and teachers reciting Burns’ poems.  Those poems, of course, were written in Scots; so this must be the only time in the year when kids can come out with certain Scots-language words in the classroom without their teachers correcting them: “Actually, that’s not what we say in proper English…”


However, it’s not teachers’ disapproval that looks likely to do for the Scots language – and it has been classified as a language, a separate one from ‘standard’ English, by organisations like the EU and linguistic websites like Ethnologue (  It’s more probable that the death-blow will be delivered by television, exposing Scottish kids to a non-stop diet of London-based soap operas where manically-depressed, faux-Cockney, shaven-headed petty criminals shout at their family members and tell them to ‘shaddup’.


Maybe a decade or two from now, everyone north of the border will be talking, if not in Eastenders-style Mockney, then in a bland, soulless ‘Estuary English’.  That’s the glottal-stop-ridden vernacular that is sometimes adopted by wealthy politicians during public speeches – Tony Blair, for example, when he was attempting to sound what Nu-Labour strategists thought was ‘street’; or George Osborne, when he wants to show that despite his inherited millions he can speak oik, just like 99.9 percent of the British electorate do.


Personally, I love listening to and reading Scots.  Here are 25 of my favourite Scots words, which I would be very sad to see slip into linguistic extinction.  Most of the definitions given come from my heavily-used copy of the Collins Pocket Scots Dictionary.


Bairn (n) – a baby or young child.  Actually, the other night, I was watching an episode of Star Trek – the original series – and I heard Scottie lament, after Mr Spock had burned out his engines in some ill-advised space manoeuvre, “Och, ma poor wee bairns!”  So I guess this Scots word is safe until the 23rd century at least.  Also, ‘the Bairns’ is the nickname of Falkirk Football Club, so it shouldn’t be dying out in Falkirk anytime soon.  As you head towards Glasgow, though, I think more folk refer to their young offspring as ‘weans’.


From startrek,com


Bampot (n) – a foolish, stupid or crazy person.  In the 1970s, this word became the height of cool among me and my mates when we saw Big Banana Feet, the documentary about Billy Connolly doing a stand-up tour of Ireland, and we heard Connolly respond to a heckler with the gruff putdown, “F**king bampot.”


Boak (v / n) – to vomit / vomit, or something unpleasant enough to make you want to vomit.  One of those Scots words that convey their meaning with a near-onomatopoeic brilliance.  For example: “Hae ye seen the new Richard Curtis film?”  “Aye.  It wis a load o’ boak.”  In his sort-of-stream-of-consciousness novel 1982 Janine, Alasdair Gray represents the main character throwing up simply by printing the word BOAK across the page in huge letters.


Bowffin (adj) – smelling strongly and unpleasantly.  Once upon a time, ‘mingin’ was the favoured Scots adjective for ‘smelly’.  Now, however, ‘mingin’ seems to have packed its bags, left home and become a standard UK-wide slang word – with a slight change of meaning, so that it denotes ugliness instead.  (“See that Miley Cyrus?  She’s a right minger.”)  Thus, it has fallen upon the alternative Scots adjective ‘bowffin’ to describe the odour of such things as manure, sewage, rotten eggs, mouldy cheese, old socks, certain species of orchids, on-heat male goats, hippies, etc.


Carnaptious (adj) – grumpy, bad-tempered or irritable, as in “Thon Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight is a carnaptious auld bugger.”  This is another Scots word that somehow feels like it’s onomatopoeic even though it isn’t.


Corbie (n) – a crow or raven.  The knowledgeable Australian musician / singer / writer Nick Cave uses this word at the beginning of his gothic novel And the Ass Saw the Angel, which has a couple of ‘sly corbies’ circling in the sky above the dying hero.




Cowpit (adj) – overturned, fallen-over.  Often used to describe sheep when they fall onto their backs, can’t get up again and run the risk of breaking their spines.  Around where I live, there’s a story of a young farmer who was about to get married and, just before his stag party in Edinburgh, was collected at his farmhouse by a coach-load of his mates.  As the coach was driving away from the farm, someone on board spotted a ‘cowpit ewe’ in one of the fields.  Jocularly, the young farmer told the coach-driver to manoeuvre the vehicle off the road, into the field and across to the spot where the unfortunate beast was on its back, which he did.  The young farmer got out and put the cowpit ewe on its feet again; but meanwhile all the other sheep in the field, seeing the coach and not knowing the difference between it and a tractor carrying a load of hay, flocked around it expecting to be fed.  That left the stag-party and their transport marooned amidst a sea of woolly white fleeces.


Dreich (adj) – dreary or tedious, especially in regard to wet, dismal weather.  A Presbyterian-sounding adjective that, needless to say, is heavily used in Scotland.


Haver (v) – to talk nonsense.  This is word is essential for understanding the end of the first verse of the Proclaimers’ song 500 Miles, which goes: “And if I haver, yeah, I know I’m gonnae be, I’m gonnae be the man who’s havering to you.”


Haud yer wheesht! (exclamation) – be quiet!  Incidentally, Haud Yer Wheesht was also the name of a rather good folk band that operated in Edinburgh in the late 1990s, headed by Jimmy the Bagpiper who used to busk around St Giles’ Cathedral.  (If you were familiar with Edinburgh at the time, he was the one who dressed up like Mel Gibson in Braveheart.)


Hochmagandy (n) – a jocular or poetic word for sexual intercourse, for recreation, not procreation, between people who are not married to each other.  Unsurprisingly, Robert Burns was familiar with this saucy noun, as indicated by the final lines of his poem The Holy Fair:


‘There’s some are fou o’ love divine,

There’s some are fou o’ brandy,

An’ mony jobs that day begin,

May end in hochmagandy…’


Hoolet (n) – an owl.  This charming Scots word, like a number of others, is derived from the French language, where the word is ‘hulotte’.  (A historical example of Scots-borrowing-from-French is ‘gardyloo!’  This was the cry given by people in the densely built-up tenements of 18th century Edinburgh when they emptied their buckets out of their windows.  This supposedly comes from the French, ‘Gardez l’eau!’ which means, ‘Watch out, water!’  Though in the Edinburgh context a more accurate meaning might have been, ‘Watch oot or ye’ll get pish an’ shite dumped aw ower yer heid!’)


Jobbie (n) – a turd.  A word much loved by Billy Connolly, as in his routine about the mechanism that expels faecal matter from underneath airplane toilets, the ‘jobbie-wheecher’.  (‘Wheech’ – to remove something quickly and suddenly.)


(c) Daily Telegraph


Jouk (v) – to duck or dodge.  A nice story I’ve heard is that this word found its way to the American south.  There, a ‘juke joint’ became a roughhouse dancing venue where people had to keep jouking this way and that to avoid punches, bottles, etc., thrown on the dance floor.  In turn, this led to the machines that played records of the music you heard at such places being called jukeboxes.


Keek (v) – to peep or glance at something.  The derivative ‘keeker’ refers not, as you might expect, to a peeping Tom, but to a black eye.


Lum (n) – a chimney.  A while back, the Guardian reviewed a collection of short stories by Alasdair Gray and the reviewer complained about the number of typos in the book.  He cited as an example ‘Edinburgh lums’, which he assumed was a misprint of ‘Edinburgh slums’.  But no, Gray was actually referring to the smoky chimneys of the Scottish capital.


Midden (n) – a dunghill.  A word often employed by Scottish parents while they complain about the condition of their teenage kids’ bedrooms.  Also, at one point, the celebrated British sci-fi comic 2000 AD featured a character who was a futuristic Scottish bounty hunter with a gruesomely mutated visage: his name was Middenface McNulty.




Neb (n) – a nose, beak or projecting point.  Once upon a time, ladies of a certain age had to put up with uncomplimentary remarks about ‘nebs’ whenever they stuck their Barry Manilow records on the household stereo.


Nippie sweetie (n) – an irritable sharp-tongued person.  This is usually applied to the female of the species, and currently Scotland’s leading example of a nippie sweetie is the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.  Actually, in a recent televised debate between Sturgeon and Alastair Carmichael, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Carmichael discovered that she wasn’t particularly sweet and she delivered considerably more than a nip.


Numpty (n) – a stupid person.  To me, though, a numpty is more than that – it’s a preposterous, pompous person who is also stupid.  In In the Loop, the movie spin-off from the satirical TV show The Thick of It, the preposterous, pompous politician played by Tom Hollander becomes a laughing stock when the wall of his constituency office collapses.  Jamie MacDonald, the ferocious Motherwell-born spin doctor played by Paul Higgins, taunts him about ‘Wallgate’ by calling him ‘Humpty Numpty’.


(c) BBC


Pisht (adj) – drunk.  Just as the Eskimos are said to have a hundred words for snow, there must be at least a hundred words in Scots for being inebriated.  (See also ‘arsed’, ‘bevied’, ‘bleezin’, ‘blootered’, ‘buckled’, ‘fou’, ‘gubbered’, ‘hingin’, ‘minced’, ‘mingin’, ‘miraculous’, ‘miracked’, ‘mortal’, ‘reekin’, ‘reelin’, ‘steamboats’, ‘steamin’, ‘stocious’, ‘wellied’, etc.)  Which I suppose is a tragic reflection on the state of the Scottish psyche.  Now excuse me while I pour myself another dram.


Scunnered (adj) – sickened or disgusted.  During the 1980s and 1990s, this word was commonly used in Scotland on the mornings following general elections, when it became clear that a majority of people in Scotland had voted for the Labour Party and a majority of people in the south of England had voted for the Conservatives.  Guess who ended up ruling Scotland each time?


Smirr (n) – a drizzly rain falling in small drops.  A sad, ghostly word that perfectly describes the sad, ghostly semi-rain that seems to envelop the Scottish landscape… well, 365 days of the year.


Stramash (n) – a disorderly commotion or argument.  A word popularised by the Scottish TV commentator Arthur Montford, he of the extravagantly checked jackets, who would rarely let a football match go by without referring to some sort of ‘stramash’ breaking out in the penalty box.




Widdershins (adv) – anti-clockwise.  I like this word because of its spooky connotations.  In olden times, to perform something ‘widdershins’ was to do it in the opposite way from how it was naturally done, which was to invite bad luck.  This gave the word occult overtones too.


Very soon I will print a list of 25 more Scots words that must not die.


We go over there, we don’t speak their language, we don’t take their jobs


(c) The Economist


LANGUAGE CRISIS IN SCHOOLS AS MIGRANTS FLOOD IN!  So barked the front page of yesterday’s Daily Mail.


On January 1st, 2014, journalists were encamped at Heathrow Airport, awaiting the arrival of zillions of Romanian and Bulgarian benefit cheats and petty-criminals.  These, the Daily Mail and the other usual suspects in the Britain’s right-wing tabloid press had assured us, were about to invade British soil like a giant swarm of sprinting, slavering, mad-eyed zombies from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, now that EU restrictions on the movement of Romanian and Bulgarian nationals had been lifted.  But despite the dire predictions, nothing much happened.


However, a day later, while even right-wing newspapers like the Daily Telegraph were printing bemused articles with headlines along the lines of ROMANIAN-BULGARIAN INVASION? WHAT? WHERE?, the Daily Mail refused to be diverted.  It was still on a mission to convince us that we’re being swamped by evil foreigners and we’re all going to die.


(I should be more specific and say that the LANGUAGE CRISIS IN SCHOOLS headline was on the front of the Scottish Daily Mail and may not have appeared in the English one – I know that the Daily Mails north and south of the border sometimes vary in their sensationalist, everything’s-going-to-hell-and-those-leftie / European / Muslim / gay / etc-bastards-are-to-blame headlines.  The other day, for instance, the English Daily Mail’s front page ranted about immigration, again, with claims that ENGLAND was now a CROWDED ISLE, the most crowded one in Europe.  I assume this particular headline didn’t appear on newspaper racks up here for fear of offending Scottish sensibilities.  Actually, a more appropriate headline might have been DAILY MAIL HACKS TOO THICK TO UNDERSTAND BASIC BRITISH GEOGRAPHY.)


Anyway, this particular thrust against immigrants that the Daily Mail and others of its ilk have made many times – the idea that British schools are being overloaded with foreign children who don’t speak English to an adequate degree – has always puzzled me.  I would have thought that having a sizeable number of children in the British education system who are fluent in a foreign language, their first language, was a cause for celebration.  The trick then would be to make sure that their English was up to scratch by the time they left education, so that when they entered the job market they were bilingual.  I can’t imagine any other way that British schools could produce pupils who are bilingual – certainly not now, when the powers-that-be seem to have all but given up on encouraging indigenous British pupils to learn foreign languages to a usable level.


There seems to be an assumption among British educators, parents and pupils that there’s no need to learn foreign languages today because English has become universal.  It’s now, everywhere, the lingua franca of tourism, business, diplomacy and science.  No doubt that’s why, during my travels in various countries, I have generally found Britons, and Americans, and other native English-speakers, to be embarrassingly bad at learning the local lingos and at being able to communicate without coming across to the local people as impatient, blustering and gesticulating morons.


(I’m terrible at languages too, by the way, and I include myself in that sorry category.  Although after spending three years living in a rundown apartment building in downtown Tunis, my French did become proficient in certain topic-areas – in complaining to my landlord about blocked toilets, about leaking ceilings, about exploding light-bulbs, about malfunctioning water heaters and so.  In fact, when it came to discussing household maintenance and repair, I’d turned into quite a francophone.)


This complacency among native English-speakers about the supremacy of their language in a globalised world is unwise considering the rapidly growing number of people who speak English excellently as a second language – in addition to being fluent in their own language.  To quote the British linguist David Graddol, who in 2006 published a booklet of research into the future of the English language and English-language-learning entitled English Next: “We are now nearing the end of the period where native speakers can bask in their privileged knowledge of the global lingua franca.”


Indeed, in the international jobs market, among multinationals, NGOs, cross-border charities and other international agencies, there’s no doubt that a person with a good command of English and fluency in another language is more desirable as an employee than a person – some Briton or American – who speaks English and nothing else.


In the same booklet, David Graddol has this to say about immigrant families: “About 1 in 10 children in the UK already speak a language other than English at home.  Too often this is seen as an educational and social problem rather than a cultural and economic resource.”  It’s about time that Britain’s powerful Little Englander lobby, as exemplified by the Daily Mail, stopped yapping about the negatives of having immigrant children in the country and starting exploring the positives of it.  In a generation or two, those immigrant kids might be the only section of the British population who have a half-decent chance of finding work in the global jobs market.


You can, incidentally, download English Next here: