More than words: A guide to Scottish dialect

The use of certain words says a lot about an area’s history and people, writes Dani Garavelli. So do you know your cundies from your gundies and your dookers from your punders?

WHEN Bobby Hogg died in the Highlands at the age of 92 last week, the distinctive dialect of the Cromarty fisherfolk died with him. Hogg was the last fluent speaker of a version of our l­anguage which had its own unique words such as roodadoo (a heron) and belligut (a greedy person) and poetic turns of phrase.

The Cromarty dialect was particularly interesting because – even at its height – it was confined to such a small group of people, but Scotland is rich with dialects, which, while overlapping, all have their own distinctive expressions.

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Today Scotland on Sunday charts these dialects to create a linguistic map. To do so, we have ­divided the country into broad geographical areas, although some words can change between neighbouring towns, for example a seagull is a “scorrie” in Peterhead and a “pewlie” in Gardenstown, while words found in one dialect may also crop up in another. “There are often words shared ­between the South West and the Northern Isles going back to contact with Old Norse,” explains Chris Robinson, who is currently working on a new edition of the Concise Scots Dictionary.

“Words travel along the coastline. Old words, once shared, die out in some places and survive in others. Populations shift.”

The movement of travellers means that their words – such as “shan”, originally meaning “counterfeit”, pop up across the country (sometimes with slightly different interpretations).

Billy Kay, author of The Mither Tongue, says that he is constantly surprised to find words he assumed had died out have survived in one part of the country or another. ­Recently he discovered the word wappenschaw – a ­Germanic word for the muster of arms often held at the end of a clan gathering – was being used for a bowling competition in ­Ayrshire.

• Shetland

The Shetland dialect is a mix of the Scots dialect brought to the islands by lowlanders at the end of the 15th century and Norn, the Scandinavian language spoken there from approximately 800AD to the middle of the 18th century. Key features include the use of “to be” instead of “to have” as an auxiliary verb (“I’m written” as opposed to “I’ve written”) and the use of the word “thoo” or “do” for “you”, and “dat” or “at” for “that”, as in “Da dog at bet me” (The dog that bit me).

WORDS: Fin his breeks a burden – find a task too difficult; Gyaan ta da weemen – courting; Up in his/her cuddy – in high spirits; Aetin da bread o idlesaet – Lolling around doing nothing; Peerie – small; Tane fornenst da tidder – one against the other; Soothmouther – anyone not from Shetland.

• Orkney

Like Shetland, the Orcadian dialect is shot through with words of Norse origin.

WORDS: Koad – pillow; Dilder – shake, jostle “He dildered the bern aboot on his knee afore bed”; Sprett – split or burst – “Ah’m geen an sprett the erse o me breeks!”; Blide – (pronounced blyth) – happy, pleased. “Beuy, ah’m fair blide tae see thee”; Peedie – small; Rookle – pile or heap; Steer – mix-up or mess.

• North

Includes the whole of Caithness down the coast to the Black Isle. There is much about the Caithness dialect that is similar to the North-east of Scotland. For example, in Caithness, just as in the North-east, an “f” is used instead of a “wh”. Also, the “th” at the start of many words is lost so that “the, that, this and they” are pronounced “e, at, is and ey”. It is also common for the sound ee to replace a number of vowels such as ai, oo and u. For example, words such as been bone, heer hair and meen moon. The sound “ch” is softened to an “s” or “sh” as in shapel chapel or sheese cheese.

WORDS: Hippen – nappy; Deugin – stubborn; Dirdie-flicher – butterfly; Tangersome – quarrelsome; Gundy – toffee; Maa – herring gull; Drumoid – sad.

• North-east (or Doric)

The area down to Kincardineshire.

This dialect recently reached an international audience courtesy of Young MacGuffin in the Disney Pixar movie Brave, who is voiced by actor Kevin McKidd from Elgin. Celebrated in its own festival, its most notable features are, as in the North, the use of “f” rather than “wh”; “a” before “n” sometimes becomes “ee” – so ane (or yin) is een, nane is neen, lane is leen.

WORDS: Cappie – ice-cream cone; Ficher – play with your fingers; Fooge – play truant; Hallach, halliket or hallyrackit – obstreperous; Stewie-bap – floury roll; Louns and quines – lads and lassies. Dookers – swimsuit; Fairfochen – exhausted.

• Tayside

Angus/East Perthshire. In this rural area, one of Scotland’s richest for dialects, towns just a few miles apart can use entirely different words.

WORDS: Baffies – slippers; Cundie – drain; Punders – underpants; Moich – disgusting; Tekel – awesome; Dub – puddle.

• East Central

Includes Fife, the Lothians, the little bit of Perthshire south of the Tay, Kinross and Clackman-nanshire.

WORDS: Bairn – child; Bawchles – slippers; Doo’s Cleckin – two children, one boy and one girl; Foggie Bummer – bumblebee; Clash bag – a gossip; Gadgie – a ned/chav; Shottie – look-out

• West Central

Dumbarton, Renfrew, Lanark, North Ayrshire as far as the River Doon. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the language of this region began to split sharply between city and non-city. In North Ayrshire and Lanark, people continue to use traditional Scots words such as awa, braw, ken, nicht, muckle (away, fine, know, night, great/much) and, throughout the region, forms such as abin, gid, shae, pair and yin (above, good, shoe, poor and one) are commonplace.

WORDS: Tawnle – bonfire; Cludgie – toilet; Ginger – any fizzy drink; Lumber – date; Wean – child; stoat-up – when in a football the match is restarting after the ref has stopped for an injury and the ball is bounced between players of the opposing sides; Gallus – self-confident to the point of cheeky.

• South West

South Ayrshire, Wigtown, Kirkcudbright, west and mid Dumfriesshire and Galloway. The dialect of this region shows influence coming in from further north, and West Central, and there has been some influence from Irish migrants, principally around Stranraer and Wigtown. In Nithsdale people traditionally said blaa and craa instead of blaw and craw (blow and crow) and through most of the region dialect speakers use pronunciations such as “gyid, min, shin” (good, moon, shoes). It is common to hear certain things in the dialect contracted in speech. For example, “in the”, “on the”, and “at the” become i’e, o’e, etc, as for example i’e toun or i’e mornin (in the town and in the morning).

WORDS: Crowbogle – a scarecrow; Jawhole – a drain; Ken – you know; Ha neck – how embarrassing; Mintit – something good; Funnered – full up; Speir – inquire

• Borders

Sometimes Southern Scots has been called the “yow and mey dialect” because of the different vowel sounds its speakers make in comparison with the other dialects of Scots. Whereas most speakers of Scots would say “you”, a person from this region would say “yow”. They say now and down rather than “noo” and “doon”. In Hawick, people traditionally spoke a distinct dialect known as Teri talk.

WORDS: Emmock – ant; Mauckie – bluebottle; Shive – slice (as in bread); Watergaw – a rainbow on the point of disappearing; Splairgit – spattered; Fooky-meat – a pastry; Yett – gate; Steek – shut

• Highlands & Islands

Highland English or Highland and Island English is the variety of Scottish English spoken by many in the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides. It is more strongly influenced by Gaelic than other forms of Scots.

WORDS: Bodach – Gaelic word for an old man; Skimler – a parasite or scrounge (from the Gaelic word Sgimilear); Bothan – a hut, often an illegal drinking den; Ferry-louper – an incomer to the islands; Sassenach – derogatory word for a Lowland Scot or English person; Deoch-an-dorus – one for the road.

• Glasgow

The Glasgow dialect – often known as the Patter – was popularised by Stanley Baxter in his Parliamo Glasgow sketches and by shows such as Rab C Nesbitt and Chewing the Fat.

WORDS: Clatty – dirty; Hoachin – full; Ya dancer – that’s great; Mingin – disgusting; Scunnered – exhausted; Coupon – face; Bahookie – bum; Pure – really.

• Edinburgh

The Edinburgh dialect was popularised by Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting. Many of its words are derived from the Romany language.

WORDS: Radge – a mad person; Barry – good/fantastic; Chorie – steal; Lowie – money; Deek – look; Likesay - you know; Scoobied – clueless; to tan – to consume (as in “I tanned ten beers last night”).

• Dundee

The best known characteristic of Dundonian is the “eh” sound as in the sentence Eh hud meh eh on a peh (I had my eye on a pie). Many of Dundee’s words are related to the jute industry, which flourished in the city during the 19th century.

WORDS: Fleg – a fright; Kettle-biler – an unemployed man (from the days when all the women worked at the jute mills); Buster – chips and peas; Plenny – a pavement; Shorers – swimming baths; Ingins – onions; Barkit – dirty; Fairdegook – a scaredy cat. «