It’s a Scottish term, d’ya ken?

In our latest blog post, Philip Welsby explores some useful Scottish vocabulary… 

Some of us have had the misfortune to have been born and bred in England and have had the good fortune to end up living and breeding (two out of four daughters) in Scotland, but one drawback is that we have had to learn to understand and communicate using the local vernacular. This at times is difficult but worthwhile as there are many words or expressions of value that are not heard much, if at all in England. As a Sassenach (a Saxon man) I became aware of many useful words or expressions.

There are several medical symptoms that receive more poetic descriptions in Scotland. Dry boke is nausea or retching without vomiting and the“wet boke” is vomiting. Peely-walley is to be unwell, usually without focal symptoms or signs. A dwalm is a swoon, a faint that is perceived to be non-serious faint by the patient particularly in Northeast Scotland. Fair wabbit is to be tired, exhausted. The derivation is uncertain. Perhaps rabbits get tired as well they might be given their breeding habits. Fusionless is saplessness with total lack of  motivation whereas to be scunnered is to be shattered, unwell with  additional feelings of unwellness. An oxter is an armpit: ‘The waft of an autumnal Scottish breeze over your thighs, under your oxters or across your belly button can be as refreshing for the mind as it is for the body.’” Apparently. A recently arrived medical colleague, a hospital doctor, told a rural patient to go to the X-ray department “It’s not far away” only to be nonplussed by a question “Fairy boots?”  in English translation “Where abouts?” To be ravelled is to be confused, tangled, or perplexed. To be out of kilter is to be unbalanced, not a Scottish man in a state of undress.

Other useful terms include Hooching, meaning numerous: “Hooching with midges.” A loon is a young male, possibly a rascal, or a servant; a Quean or quine is an attractive young woman (Northeast Scotland). D’ya ken strictly should mean “Do you know”, as in the song “D’ye ken John Peel” an English huntsman who was the subject of the nineteenth century song. In Aberdeen D’ye ken is often used to conclude a statement, a verbal equivalent of a full stop. A Laird is a landowner. Canny means to be shrewd, having good judgement. An adjective that, if used by an Englishman, should almost routinely precedes “Scotsman.” To “do my messages” is to go shopping. To swither is to be uncertain about a course of action. A brae is the slope of a hill. Breeks is the term for trousers of breeches, possibly derived from the Latin braccae that were worn by the ancient Celts. Breeches are similar to plus fours with an extra 2 inches of material to fold over the knee that provide a wider, baggier fit.

There is confusion between Scottish, Scotch, and Scots. Scottish is mostly used as an adjective to be followed by a noun “the Scottish people” or a standalone noun “the Scottish.”The Scotch” is a bit old fashioned and they would prefer to be known as Scottish.  Scotch is also a stand-alone noun meaning whisky, or is a verb indicating prevention or putting an end to something. Hence most Scottish people would prefer to scotch the term Scotch when referring to them.

A dram is a measure of whisky. Not to be confused with a nip that seems to mean an amount smaller than a dram although I suspect that both in practice mean a good measure. In Aberdeen, if taken too regularly, drams or nips of whisky, can lead to zirhozziz.

Outwith is one of the most useful Scottishisms, being much more forceful than the English without. “This is outwith my abilities” is far more forceful than the additionally ambiguous “Without my abilities”.

Finally be aware that “F…ing”. In Glasgow should not be interpreted as an expletive but rather as a warning that a noun is to follow.

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