© 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.