Favourite Scots words, D-F

 

From en.wikipedia.org

 

This evening is Burns Night, marking the 261st anniversary of the birth of Scotland’s greatest poet, and one-time ploughman, Robert Burns.

 

In a normal, pandemic-free year, children in schools the length and breadth of Scotland would have spent the past few days standing in front of their classmates and teachers reciting Burns’ poems.  Those poems, of course, were written in the Scots language; so this must be the only time in the year when kids can come out with certain Scots words in the classroom without their teachers correcting them: “Actually, that’s not what we say in proper English…”

 

In fact, lately, Scots has been getting attention that has nothing to do with tonight being Burns night.  Scots-language poetess Miss PunnyPennie has won herself tens of thousands of fans in recent months with her tweets and YouTube videos, in which she recites her poems and discusses a different Scots word each day.  Those fans include author Neil Gaiman, comedienne Janey Godley and actor Michael Sheen.

 

Unfortunately, she’s also had to put up with a lot of negativity.  She was the subject of a condescending and mocking piece published recently in the Sunday Times, which added insult to injury by calling her a blatherskite (‘ill-informed loudmouth’) in its headline.  More seriously, she’s received much trolling on twitter.  For instance, political ūber-chancer George Galloway – currently trying to reinvent himself as a diehard British nationalist in a bid to get elected to the Scottish parliament – tweeted something derogatory about her, in the process exposing her to potential abuse from his nutjob twitter followers.

 

Actually, Scots seems to have become part of the culture wars being waged in Scotland at the moment.  Pro-United Kingdom, anti-Scottish independence zealots like Galloway hate the idea that Scottish people might have their own language because it contradicts their narrative that everyone on the island of Great Britain is one people and culturally the same.  Hence, much online protestation (by people whose profiles are slathered with Union Jacks) that Scots is just ‘an accent’ or ‘slang’ or ‘a made-up language’ or ‘normal English with spelling mistakes’.

 

From cheezburger.com

 

Anyhow, as promised, here’s my next selection of favourite Scots words, those starting with the letters ‘D’, ‘E’ and ‘F’.

 

Dander (n/v) – stroll.  Over the centuries, a lot of Scots words made their way across the Irish Sea to the north of Ireland, where I spent the first 11 years of my life, and the delightful word dander is one of them.  I heard as many Northern Irish folk announce that they were ‘goin’ fir a dander’ as I heard Scottish folk announce it later, after my family had moved to Scotland.

 

Deasil (adv) – a Gaelic-derived word that means ‘clockwise’.  It’s a less well-known counterpart to the Scots word widdershins, meaning ‘anti-clockwise’.   I suspect the latter word is better known because it figures heavily in witchcraft and there’s been at least one journal of ‘Magick, ancient and modern’ with ‘Widdershins’ as its title.

 

Deave (v) – to bore and sicken someone with endless blather.  For example, “Thon Belfast singer-songwriter fellah Van Morrison is fair deavin’ me wi his coronavirus conspiracies.”

 

Dicht (n/v) – wipe.  Many a dirty-faced youngster, or clarty-faced bairn, in Scotland has heard their mother order them, ‘Gie yer a face a dicht’.

 

Doonhamer (n) – a person from Dumfries, the main town in southwest Scotland.  For many years, I had only ever seen this word in print, not heard anyone say it, and I’d always misread it as ‘Doom-hammer’, which made me think Dumfries’ inhabitants must be the most heavy-metal people on the planet.  But then, disappointingly, I realised how the word was properly spelt.  Also, I discovered that the word comes from how Dumfries folk refer to their hometown whilst in the more populous parts of Scotland up north, for example, in the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.  They call it doon hame, i.e. ‘down home’.

 

Dook (n/v) – the act of immersing yourself in water.  Thus, the traditional Halloween game involving retrieving apples from a basin of water using your mouth, not your hands, is known in Scotland as dookin’ fir apples.

 

Douce (adj) – quiet, demure, civilised, prim.  My hometown of Peebles is frequently described as douce.  However, that’s by outsiders, short-term visitors and travellers passing through, who’ve never been inside the public bar of the Crown Hotel on Peebles High Street on a Saturday night.

 

From unsplash.com / © Eilis Garvey

 

Dreich (adj) – dreary or tedious, especially with regard to wet, dismal weather.  A very Presbyterian-sounding adjective that, inevitably, is much used in Scotland.

 

Drookit (adj) – soaking wet.  How children often are on Halloween after dookin’ fir apples.

 

Drouth (n) – a thirst.  Many an epic drinking session has started when someone declared that they had a drouth and then herded the company into a pub to rectify matters.  Its adjectival form is drouthy and 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, Stirling and Largs.

 

From Tripadvisor / © Drouthy Neebors, Largs

 

Dunt (n / v) – a heavy but dull-sounding blow.  It figures in the old 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.”

 

Dux (n) – the star pupil in a school.

 

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.  Actually, there’s a lot of other Scots words in the D-F category that mean ‘idiot’.  See also dafty, diddy, doughball and dunderheid.

 

© Itchy Coo

 

Eeksiepeeksie (adj/adv) – equal, equally, evenly balanced.  A quaint term that was recently the subject of one of Miss PunniePenny’s ‘Scots word of the day’ tweets.

 

Fankle (n/v) – tangle.  I’ve heard the English plea to someone to calm down, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist!” rephrased in Scots as “Dinna get yer knickers in a fankle!”

 

Fantoosh (adj) – fancy, over-elaborate, a bit too glammed-up.

 

Fash (v) – to anger or annoy, commonly heard in the phrase “Dinna fash yerself”.  Like a number of Scots words, this is derived from Old French, from the ancestor of the modern French verb ‘fâcher’.

 

Feart (adj) – scared.  During my college days in Aberdeen in the 1980s, on more than one occasion, I had to walk away from a potential confrontation with Aberdeen Football Club soccer casuals. the juvenile designer football hooligans who seemed to infest the city at the time.  And I’d have the scornful demand thrown after me: “Are ye feart tae fight?!”  Meanwhile, a person who gets frightened easily is a feartie.

 

Fitba (n) – football.

 

Flit (n/v) – the act of moving, or 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 moving house swiftly and secretly to avoid paying overdue rent-money.

 

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.

 

Footer (v) – to fumble clumsily.  I remember reading a Scottish ‘coming of age’ story – though I can’t recall its title or author – in which the inexperienced hero footered haplessly with a young lady’s bra-clasp.

 

Favourite Scots words starting with ‘G’, ‘H’ and ‘I’ will be coming soon.

 

From unsplash.com / © Illya Vjestica

Favourite Scots words, A-C

 

From the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

 

Today, November 30th, is Saint Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland.  To mark it, I’d like to post something about a favourite topic of mine, the Scots language.  And yes, the way that non-Gaelic and non-posh Scots have spoken for centuries has been classified as a language, a separate one from ‘standard’ English, by organisations like the EU and linguistic resources like Ethnologue.

 

Sadly, I think that Scots is now living on borrowed time.  It’s not likely to expire due to the disapproval of educators who dismiss it as a debased dialect (or accent) of standard English and regard it as the ‘wrong’ way to speak, although their hostility certainly didn’t help its status in the past.  No, the fatal damage to Scots has probably been inflicted by television, exposing Scottish kids to a non-stop diet of southern-England programming and conditioning them to speak in Eastenders-style Mockney or, worse, in bland, soulless ‘Estuary English’.

 

Personally, I love listening to and reading Scots.  Here are my favourite Scots words starting with the letters ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ that I’d be sad to see slip into linguistic extinction.  Most of the definitions given come from my heavily used copy of the Collins Pocket Scots Dictionary.

 

Agley (adv) – wrong, askew.  The saying, ‘The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ (which provided John Steinbeck with the title of his second-most famous novel) is an anglicised version of lines from the poem To a Mouse by Scotland’s greatest bard Robert Burns: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”

 

Aiblins (adv) – perhaps.  The late, great Glaswegian writer Alasdair Gray borrowed this word for the surname of the title character in his short story Aiblins, which appeared in the collection The Ends of Our Tethers (2003).  This is about a creative writing professor being tormented by an eccentric student called Aiblins who is, perhaps, a literary genius or is, perhaps, just a fraud.

 

Avizandum (noun) – a word in Scots law meaning, to quote the Collins Pocket Scots Dictionary, ‘a judge’s or court’s consideration of a case before giving judgement’.  Avizandum is also the name of a bookshop on Edinburgh’s Candlemaker Row specialising in texts for Scottish lawyers and law students.  Not being a lawyer, I’ve never had cause to go into Avizandum-the-shop, but I do think it’s the most majestically titled bookstore in Scotland.

 

 

Bairn (n) – a baby or young child.  I once saw an episode of Star Trek (the original series) in which Scotty lamented, 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, either.

 

Bahookie (n) – rump, bum, backside, ass or, to use its widely-deployed-in-Scotland variant, arse.

 

Bampot (n) – a foolish, stupid or crazy person.  During the documentary Big Banana Feet (1976), about Billy Connolly doing a stand-up tour of Ireland, Connolly responds to a heckler with the gruff and memorable putdown, “F**king bampot!”

 

Bawbag (n) – literally a scrotum, but normally, to quote the online Urban Dictionary site, ‘a derogatory name given to one who is annoying, useless or just plain stupid.’  Thus, when former United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage steamed into Edinburgh in May 2013 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!”

 

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.

 

Bide (v) – to live.  Derived from this verb is the compound noun bidie-hame, which refers to a partner whom the speaker is living with but isn’t actually married to.

 

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 the English 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, devolution, etc.  Then, however, Neil started working for the BBC in London and suddenly all his references to blethering ceased.

 

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.  In his stream-of-consciousness novel 1982 Janine, Alasdair Gray – him again – represents the main character throwing up simply by printing the word BOAK across the page in huge letters.

 

From pinterest.co.uk

 

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.  It has thus fallen upon the alternative Scots adjective bowffin’ to describe the olfactory impact of such things as manure, sewage, rotten eggs, mouldy cheese, used socks, on-heat billy goats, old hippies, etc.

 

Breenge (v) – to go, rush, dash.

 

Bourach (n) – sometimes a mound or hillock, but more commonly a mess or muddle.  Charmingly, this has recently evolved into the term clusterbourach (inspired by the less ceremonious ‘clusterf*ck’), which Scottish politicians have used to describe the absolute hash that the London government is making of the Brexit process.

 

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.

 

Carnaptious (adj) – grumpy, bad-tempered or irritable.  For example, “Thon Belfast singer-songwriter Van Morrison is a right carnaptious auld c**t.”  There’s a lot of carnaptiousness in Scotland and another common adjective for it is crabbit.

 

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.

 

Chitter (v) – nothing to do with the sound that birds make, this means to shiver.

 

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.

 

Cleek (v) – to hook, catch or capture.  It’s also a noun denoting a large type of hook, especially the gaffe used by fishermen, and poachers, when landing fish.  At least once, in my hometown next to the salmon-populated River Tweed, a cleek has also been used as an offensive weapon.

 

From en.wikipedia.org

 

Cloots (n) – a plural noun meaning hooves.  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.  Scottish playgrounds once echoed with cries of “Gie’s a colliebuckie!”

 

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.

 

Cowpt (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 coachload of his mates.  As the coach was driving away from the farm, someone on board spotted a cowpt 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 cowpt 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.

 

I’ll return to this topic in this blog and cover further letters of the alphabet.

 

© Viz Unicorn Entertainment / Brent Walker