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.” (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bawbag) 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.
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 www.doricdictionary.com 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.