A demonstration of the importance of local lingo:
Scottish Man: Show me your puppies.
Me: Well, okay…
Flips through photos of my adorable puppies.
Me: Aren’t they cute?
Scottish Man: Rolls eyes and laughs. Your dogs are cute but I meant your boobs.
Why didn’t anyone tell me that puppies means boobs? So this is why understanding slang is essential to your survival. I don’t believe “puppies” is a purely Scottish term but I do know it’s frequently used, and understanding the local vernacular would have been quite helpful in that scenario.
Given that I’ve had multiple Scottish friends throughout my life, I felt certain I wouldn’t have too much trouble with the Scottish accents while planning my move to Edinburgh. But I barely even stopped to consider this whole unfamiliar vocabulary.
The Scottish tongue captured my heart ten years ago on a family vacation through Scotland.
You see? Here I am, 12 years old, a young giantess, most likely reminiscing about a recent encounter with a cute Scottish boy. Actually, he may not have even been cute. But already, at such a young age, beautiful accents had embarrassing power over me.
Even then, I felt that there was something quite disarming and unique about Scotland. Rocky cliffs and misty lochs may come to mind when I remember my home away from home, but the people make the country, and the language and the people help define one another; so to understand a language is to better understand an entire culture.
Given the Outlander craze, and my own appreciation for the country, I thought I’d honor Scotland with a wee tutorial.
With the help of some Scottish friends and one gregarious train conductor, I give you: The Scottish Vocabulary. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it will ideally get you started.
For any of you hoping to travel to this alluring land, I hope you have wonderful adventures – and I hope this mini guide helps you understand the country’s kind, sarcastic, hospitable, proud people.
First, we have to get back to basics:
Many of you are probably familiar with these terms, but I’d be remiss not to include them.
Aye = yes
Wee = small
Ken = to know
Blubbering = crying
Barry = good
Cheesing = happy/smiling
Bonnie = pretty
Lassie/Laddie = girl/boy
Braw = good
Bairn = baby
Mingin = horrible/dirty
Expressions in conversation:
Used while serving food: Is that you? = Is that enough/are you finished?
That’s me = That’s enough/I’m finished
Another alternative: Is that you? = How are you? (Or, to be more Scottish about it, “How are you getting on?”)
Aye that’s me, is that you? = I’m fine, how are you?
Pure = really
For example, “he’s pure cheesing” = he is really happy
Dead = a lot
Proper = genuine
Some of these are used throughout the UK as well.
Swear words / Inappropriate phrases
Some of you may be offended, in which case just skip to the end. Honestly though, these are so important to know!
Okay, worst one first:
Whereas most people in the US consider this a particularly harsh, extreme swear word, it’s fairly commonly used throughout Scotland. I’d also like to point out that the “c” word can actually be a compliment!
For example, “You’re a good c*nt” actually means, “you’re a good guy.” (I promise it’s true, I’m not trying to get you into trouble).
It’s used negatively as well, so just pay attention to context clues.
Shite = shit
Pretty self-explanatory. However, it’s important to note that “shite” is nearly always bad, but “shit,” as in, “that’s great shit!” is, well, great.
Chuckter = countryside folk
Try not to laugh while saying that.
Am ah gettin’ ma hole? = Are we going to have sex?
I actually first discovered the reference to “your hole” via a Frightened Rabbit song. Listen to it enough and you’ll fall in love too.
Fanny = pussy
Fanny baws = pussy balls
This one doesn’t make much sense but there you have it.
Fuck ye dain? = What the fuck are you doing?
Bawbag = scrotum
Around two years ago, Scotland held a competition to name a mild hurricane. Someone submitted “bawbag,” and they actually printed it, not knowing it meant scrotum. Whoops. What can ye do, eh?
Bawheed = ball head
Dobber = dick (particularly used in Glasgow)
I just realized this is the longest section. I don’t know if that says more about me or Scotland. Moving on…
Heed = head
Doug = dog
Oot = out
Aboot = about
Aff = off (“aff yer heed”)
Cannae = cannot
Doon = down
I assure you, compiling this list was as much of an education for me as it may have been for you. And if I were to say any of this out loud, I’d sound absurd, and would hate to butcher the beautiful accent. Besides, I may know some phrases here and there, but I will never truly speak Scottish. I do, however, have a profound appreciation for the culture and its people, and hope you do as well!