Kirsty McLuckie on the varying home-related terms and dialects

In last week’s column I referred to a council refuse centre as a “cowp”, not realising that the Lowland Scots word is not universally understood.
Picture: 4th Life PhotographyPicture: 4th Life Photography
Picture: 4th Life Photography

Reactions to the term from readers ranged from bemusement to questioning my age – apparently it is an antiquated term – to accusations of West Coast bias. “I only know what a cowp is because my dad is from Paisley”, argued one.

It got me thinking about the differences in all sorts of words related to our homes which can vary according to our age, background and location.

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My father, Edinburgh born and bred, refers to a kitchen countertop as a bunker, for instance.

My mother, originally from Yorkshire, calls the lane behind a row of houses a ginnel, whereas my Scouse husband would argue it is a jigger. I might say snicket or vennel.

The term “close”, to mean a tenement stairway, often has to be explained to non-Scots unused to that kind of property.

Even when we move house the differences appear. North of the Border, we might say we are flitting, which wouldn’t necessarily be understood down south.

But it isn’t just different dialects that cause our words to diverge. When it comes to the room in your home in which you relax, there is absolutely no geographical consensus.

Living room, sitting room, drawing room, lounge, front room, even TV room might all refer to the same place, but while your choice of word doesn’t reveal your location, it might shine a light on your age or upbringing.

A survey by John Lewis found that younger people are likely to call it the living room, which may reflect the changing way our homes are laid out, with the move towards open-plan meaning we do a lot more than “sitting” in the same space.

Drawing room is apparently only for the very posh, or those who don’t mind – or perhaps relish – being considered so.

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If you are between 35 and 54, it is most likely to be the lounge, whereas the more working class you are the more likely you are to call it the front room.

I’m not sure that the American term snug has ever really caught on here. People I interview about their homes will occasionally use it to describe a small second sitting room, but always seem to do so apologetically.

What you sit on – whether it is a sofa, settee or couch – is another debatable decision, and don’t get me started on the moniker chosen for the room set aside for bodily functions. If you are worried about revealing your origins, best cross your legs and not mention it at all.

Then there are the words peculiar to each family.

Everyone has their own way of referring to a TV remote control – the doofer, the clicker, the dooberry firkin or whatever.

In our house, we’ve come to refer to the utility room as the “ute”, which caused no problems at all until an Australian came to stay.

To an Aussie, a ute is a utility vehicle, so when told to help himself to a beer from the fridge in the ute, he was found wandering thirstily on the driveway in the dark, looking for a truck.

Perhaps we should have just left one for him on the bunker.

- Kirsty McLuckie is property editor at The Scotsman

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