Scotland may be small, but it is home to a large variety of languages, including, but not limited to, Gaelic, Glasgow patter, Doric, and Shetlandic. Of course, most travelers are strangers to these Scottish regional tongues, and luckily for them, English is very much the vernacular of choice in most places. But that does not mean that visitors to Scotland are out of the woods — the Scottish slang, the Scottish idioms, and the colorful sayings used by the locals may be just as confusing as a foreign language.
This guide to Scottish slang and expressions will help understand some of what the locals are saying while in Scotland. It even includes some very good tips to decipher, and even adopt, the legendary difficult-to-understand accent.
- Scottish slang phrases and how to pronounce them
- Funny Scottish sayings you’ll need to understand the locals
- Scottish language tips to help you blend in
Scottish slang phrases and how to pronounce them
That’s pure manky/mankin/mingin/boggin
Translation: That’s not nice
Give it laldy!
Pronounciation: Gie it laldy!
Meaning: Give it your all!
Explanation: Laldy is a Scottish term for a thrashing, or for doing something with a lot of vigor.
It gives me the boke
Meaning: It makes me sick / It makes me want to vomit
Explanation: Boke is a Scottish term to describe intense disgust. It can also be spelled bloak.
Keep your head!
Pronounciation: Keep yer heid!
Meaning: Keep calm!
Shut your gob!
Pronounciation: Shut yer gub!
Meaning: Be quiet!
I don’t know
Pronounciation: Ah dinnae ken
My head is mince
Pronounciation: Ma heid’s mince
Meaning: I’m confused
You’re off your face
Pronounciation: Yer oot yer face
Meaning: You’re drunk
He’s doing his dinger
Meaning: He’s ranting / losing his temper / getting angry
You’re off your head.
Pronounciation: Yer aff yer heid
Meaning: You’re crazy
You’re a numpty ballbag
Pronounciation: Yer a numpty bawbag
Meaning: You’re an idiot
Explanation: Numpty is Scottish slang for a stupid person. Ballbag should be self-explanatory. Numpty ballbag is a common Scottish insult.
Who’s that galoot?
Meaning: Who’s that idiot?
Explanation: Galoot is a Scottish insult that describe a person who’s both stupid and clumsy-looking.
Funny Scottish sayings you’ll need to understand the locals
Haud ma chips a’v dropped the wean
Translation: Hold my chips, I’ve dropped my baby
Meaning: I’m sorry, I was not paying attention to what you were saying
Dinnae teach yer Granny tae suck eggs!
Translation: Don’t teach your Grandma to suck eggs!
Meaning: Don’t tell me/someone how to do such and such
He’s like a dug lickin pish aff a nettle
Translation: He’s like a dog licking urine off a nettle
Meaning: He is very upset
I could eat the scabby heid aff a wean
Translation: I could eat a child’s head covered in scabs
Meaning: I am hungry
Tatties o’wer the side
Translation: Potatoes are over the side of the boat
Meaning: Something’s gone wrong
He’s got paralysis of the galluses
Translation: He has paralysis of the trousers
Meaning: He’s lazy
Yer erse is oot the windae
Translation: Your arse is out the window
Meaning: You’re out of luck / you’re talking nonsense
They’ve a face like a skelpit erse
Translation: They’ve a face like a skelpit arse
Meaning: That person has a red face
Explanation: To skelp is a Scotland-specific term that means ‘to smack’ or ‘to slap’. Skelpit the past form of the verb.
If patter wis water you’d droon
Translation: If your conversation was water you would drown
Meaning: You talk too much
Explanation: Patter is a colloquial Scottish term for slang, jargon, chat, conversation, etc.
Is the cat deid?
Translation: Is the cat dead?
Meaning: Your trousers are too short
Scottish language tips to help you blend in
Don’t ask who Ken and Barry are
Ken and Barry are not two incredibly popular men that everyone in Scotland is friends with.
- Ken = know
For example: “I dinnae ken” means “I don’t know.”
- Barry = good
For example: “I went to Glasgow, it was fucking Barry.”
Erase yes from your vocabulary.
Instead, use “aye” (pronounced “I”).
Go to the “chippy” (fish and chip shop) prepared
- In the chippy, supper means “with chips”
- Morning rolls are a big deal. A link roll is a sausage in a roll, a roll on sausage is a square sausage on a roll, and a sausage roll is a sausage pastry
Swear a lot
Try peppering your speech with swear words at a ratio of roughly 2:1 non-swears to swears.
Read between the lines
Moan fur a wee drink
Translation: Let’s go for a small drink
Meaning: Let’s down eight pints in three hours
Did ye aye?
Translation: Did you really?
Meaning: I don’t believe a word of what you’re saying
Meaning: You’re full of shit
It’s a loch, not a lake
And its pronounced “laak” with the “K” sounding very guttural, like you’re clearing your throat a little.
It’s whisky, not Scotch
And it’s spelled whisky, not whiskey.
Scottish-up your vocabulary
- Small = Wee
- Shopping = Messages
- Car = Motor
- Girl = Lassie, hen
- Bonnie = pretty, attractive
- Remember = Mind
- Cool = Sound
Understand the importance of the accent
- Remember to roll your Rs. Practice with the words purple and murder.
- Don’t pronounce your Ts. Any self-respecting Scot would never dream of uttering (u-erring) a “T” in the middle of a word. See “butter” (bu-er) and “water” (Wa-er).
- Replace your nots with naes. For example:
Can’t = Cannae
Don’t = Dinnae
Won’t = Willnae
Shouldn’t = Shouldnae