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This Guide to Scottish Sayings and Slang Will Have You Drinking With the Locals in No Time

Scotland Languages Culture
by Damien Bannock Katie Scott Aiton Apr 1, 2022

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

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

  • Aye, right

    Translation: Ok
    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

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