Scottish Sayings & Phrases (2023)

Scottish sayings and words, combined with that unmistakable accent, can often make English sound like an entirely different language when you're 'north of the border'.

There is no single language that has ever historically been spoken by all Scots.

In the southern areas, Lowland Scots traditionally was the norm.

Gaelic was spoken in central and northern areas.

The off-shore islands to the far north (Orkney Isles and Shetland Isles) spoke 'Norn' (a form of Old Norse).

Rogue words from this extinct language still pepper the speech of the people who live on the islands.

Scottish Sayings & Phrases (1)


Although the traditional Gaelic is still spoken in some areas, and today Scotland is moving towards becoming a fully dual-language country (English and Scots Gaelic),'Scottish English' is what is spoken by the majority of Scots.

To add to the intrigue, even in this there are many different dialects and variations of words depending on what city, or area, the speaker is from. It's all part of the mystery and charm of Scotland!

I grew up hearing many of these Scottish phrases and sayings at home. However, as my family had moved south (into England) when I was only a toddler, I didn't hear them at school, or anywhere else. I felt as though they were part of a 'secret language', one thatonly my family understood.

Even today, hearing a certain phrase orword brings memories flooding back!

Enjoy my collection of sayings, phrases and unique Scottish words (complete with English 'translations').

We hope they amuse youmore than theyconfuse you. Have fun!

My Nana's Scottish Sayings Take Me Back!

Scots are a practical, no-nonsense people with a down-to-earth attitude to life.

They're not given to flights of fancy, or to a lot of emotional angst...

... but they definitely have a deep spirituality, a lot of superstitions and a dry (sometimes wicked) sense of humor!

Many of the phrases on this page give you a peek at those.

My Nana (my moms' mom) used these Scottish sayings all the time.

Although she left this world and has been watching over us from Heaven for decades, as I type this I can hear her voice in my head.

Scottish Sayings & Phrases (2)

(Video) Gerard Butler Teaches You Scottish Slang | Vanity Fair

Here are a few of the Scottish sayings that I grew up hearing on a daily basis:

"Whit's fur ye'll no go past ye."

Thisone basically means 'whatever is meant to happen to you, will happen toyou"! It's the Scottish phrase I heard whenever I'd moan or complainabout not getting something (or someone!).

"You're a wee scunner!"

Thiswas usually said with a touch of impatience, as a fair translationwould be "You're a little whiner/nuisance". If I complained about beingbored, or was being whiny and difficult, this was the response I'd get.

"She's up to high doh"

This means "She's all worked up" or "She's got herself all riled up".

"A pritty face suits the dish-cloot"

IfI was fussing over what to wear, this Scottish saying was Nanas' stockanswer. Basically it means "A pretty face suits the dish-cloth".

I thinkthis probably still needs some more translation.... the general idea is'if you've got a pretty face, it doesn't matter what you're wearing'.Of course, it usually didn't help with my immediate problem ;o)

"Awa' an bile yer heid"

ThisScottish phrase is another one that needs a double-dose of translating!Simply putting it into English results in "Away and boil your head!" -which probably won't help you much.

What it means is somethingalong the lines of 'Get lost!' or 'Forget it!' - and it's usually saidto someone who is deemed to be talking rubbish, or wasting your time.

"Don't be a wee clipe!"

I'd hear this if I was telling tales on my sister (or anyone else!). It means "Don't be a little tell-tale!".

"Yer bum's oot the windae!"

(Video) COMMON SCOTTISH PHRASES

Anothercolorful Scottish saying, that definitely needs some explaining. DirectEnglish translation would be "Your bum is out the window", but that'sprobably not going to make you any the wiser.

So, the actual meaning ofthis phrase is something along the lines of 'You're talking rubbish(trash)', or 'You're not making any sense'. Believe me, I heard this onea few times!

"Yer arse and parsley!"

My nana would say this with a roll of her eyes whenever she doubted whatever it was I was trying to convince her of! It's another way to say "you're talking nonsense."

"I'm going to the pictures"

The 'Pictures' is the movie theater, and my Nana loved going to see a movie.

"I'm getting the messages"

Thisis one of the Scottish sayings that you might think doesn't needtranslating - but you'd be wrong! In this case, the 'messages' are notwhat you're probably thinking.

'Messages' are 'groceries' or otherthings that you'd get from the store. So, literally speaking thisScottish phrase means "I'm doing the (grocery) shopping".

"It's time to get your jags"

Thisisn't a phrase that any kid wants to hear! 'Jags' are vaccinations, soit means "It's time for your shots". Not fun, and guaranteed to send merunning in the opposite direction!

"I'm going ta skelp yer wee behind!"

TheEnglish version of this Scottish phrase would be "I'm going to smackyour little bottom" (bottom is 'butt' or 'rear' for those in the US).Didn't hear this one too much either, but can't say I NEVER heard it!

"They're flitting"

This translates to "They're moving house". 'Flit' is to 'move'... that one was easy, for once.

(Video) LEARN SCOTTISH SLANG

Hereare a couple more Scottish sayings that are pretty common, and althoughthey weren't used as often as the ones above, they deserve to beincluded....

"You're a long time deid"

Englishtranslation of this one is 'You're a long time dead', and if you'rethinking that's a pretty obvious statement but are still not sure whatit means, try this...

'Enjoy life, because once you're dead you're going tobe that way for a long time!' Not very uplifting, but true all thesame.

"A nod's as guid as a wink tae a blind horse"

Thisone was a challenge in terms of its' meaning! The English translationis 'A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse', but that's still a bitobscure.

The best I can come up with in terms of what it means isthis... 'If the horse is blind it doesn't matter whether you nod yourhead or wink your eye, he still won't see it'. Further translated it seems to mean 'try really hard to make your meaning clear!'.

I did have a visitor to the site email to tell me that the true meaning of this saying is 'no argument is going to change the mind of a stubborn person whose mind is made up'.

I haven't seen that translation given anywhere else, but maybe it's a viable alternative. This one is a challenge for sure :)

"Yer aff yer heid!"

Ifyou're starting to get a 'feel' for Scottish-English now, then thisScottish saying is pretty easy to understand. Translated it says "You'reoff your head!", meaning 'you're crazy'.

"Haud yer wheesht!"

Okay,you may need a little help with this one though. English translation is"Hold your tongue" or"Be quiet!". Strangelyenough I didn't hear this one too much. Of course, the fact that Nanas'hearing wasn't good may have been a factor there.

"Lang may yer lum reek"

Translatedthis Scottish saying becomes "Long may your chimney smoke" Loosely translated that means something like'May you live long and keep well', or 'May you have good fortune in the future'.Perhaps Mr Spock of Star Trek famesaid it even better "Live long and prosper" :o)

"Ah dinnae ken"

This one is short and simple, translates to "I don't know".

(Video) 10 SCOTTISH expressions and phrases | These phrases are AWESOME | Speak like a local!

"Guid gear comes in sma' bulk"

Another short one, basically it means "Good things come in small packages". Another variation of this is 'Guid gear goes in mickle bundles'

"Hell mend ye!"

Rough translation is "you'll get what you deserve!" I heard this a fair bit as a teen.


Scottish Words Can Be Just As Odd!

Scottish words and slang can be colorful, but it's also confusing, amusing or even sometimes downright 'strange'.

Scottish Sayings & Phrases (3)

Many of these words are common, others aren't used too often, but they're all great examples of Scottish-English at it's best.......

  • Auld - Old
  • Aye - Yes
  • Bahookie - Bottom/backside/butt
  • Backgreen - garden or back yard
  • Bairn - Baby or young child
  • Blether - Chatter-box
  • Boak- Gag or dry heave
  • Bonnie - Beautiful
  • Braw - Good or nice
  • Burn - Stream or creek
  • Canny - Careful, or sometimes clever
  • Chancer - Con-man, trickster
  • Clarty - Dirty or unkempt
  • Clatty - another word for dirty
  • Clipe - This means to 'tell on' someone, or 'snitch'
  • Chitter - Shiver
  • Coorie (in) - Snuggle (in)
  • Crabbit - Bad-tempered or grumpy
  • Dae - (pronounced 'day') Do
  • Dauner - (pronounced 'donna') Stroll or saunter
  • Dinnae - Don't
  • Drookit - Soaking wet
  • Eejit - Idiot
  • Flit or flitting - a move, or moving, as in moving house
  • Footer - Fidget (can be a verb or a noun)
  • Gi'es - give me
  • Gie'ing - giving
  • Girn - Complain or whine
  • Glaekit - Stupid
  • Glen - Valley
  • Greet - Cry
  • Guy - Very
  • Haud - Hold
  • Haver - Talk nonsense
  • Keek - Peek
  • Ken - Know
  • Laldie- a beating (also 'gie it laldie' basically means 'do it with energy')
  • Loch - Lake
  • Lum - Chimney
  • Noo - Now
  • Wee Nyaff - Littlenuisance (as in a person)
  • Och! - Oh!
  • Oxters - Armpits
  • Palings - Fencing.. as in specifically the type with vertical slats/rods
  • Patter - slick talk
  • Peely-wally - Pale or wan
  • Pettet-lip - pouty lip
  • Piece - Snack or sandwich
  • Pinkie - Little finger
  • A Poke - a paper bag for food
  • Scunner - Nuisance
  • Scunnered - Bored or fed-Up
  • Shooglie - shaky
  • Siangabbit - with an underbite
  • Skelp - Slap
  • Skyte - To slip or slide across a hard surface, or a glancing blow
  • A Skelping - A thrashing/beating
  • Sleekit - Sneaky
  • Slitter - Messy eater
  • Tattie - Potato
  • Tumshie (aka 'Neeps') - Turnip (or rutabaga in the US)
  • Wean - (pronounced Wayne) Child
  • Yersel - yourself
  • Yin - One
  • Yon - That

Some of the above words and phrases have been added, added to, or even amended in response to feedback and suggestions given by site visitors. You know who you are... and we thank you!


Learn More About The Scottish Language

What's on this page is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to speaking 'Scottish', but there are a couple of really great books that can take you further down the road of discovery.

Getting the grasp of an ancient language (which is still spoken today in some of the most northern parts of Scotland) is a thrill!

If you're planning to visit Scotland, or just want to know more about this fascinating country and language, you might like these:

Other Pages You Might Want To Check Out:

  • Scottish Names
  • Scottish Symbols
  • Scottish People
  1. Home
  2. Culture of Scotland
  3. Scottish Sayings

FAQs

What is a good Scottish greeting? ›

Useful Scots phrases
EnglishScots Leid (Scots)
Good morning (Morning greeting)Guid mornin
Good afternoon (Afternoon greeting)Guid efternuin
Good evening (Evening greeting)Guid evenin
Good nightGuid nicht
51 more rows

What is some Scottish slang? ›

Yer lookin' a bit peely wally – Meaning you look pale or ill. That's gee-in me the boak – A gross but classic Scottish expression one might use if something was making them feel sick! Gonny no dae that – Means please don't do that! Haud yer weesht – Is a not super polite way of saying 'be quiet'!

How do Scots say hello? ›

'Hello' in Scottish Gaelic

In Scottish Gaelic, you greet others with 'halò'! Pronounced hallo, this phrase has you covered for greeting passers-by if you visit a Gaelic-speaking community. Alternatively, you could say good morning which is 'madainn mhath', pronounced ma-ten-va.

How do Scots say cheers? ›

There are so different ways to say “cheers” in many countries all over the world, however, in Scotland, it's Slàinte Mhath! Irish or Scots Gaelic? The term Slàinte Mhath (Pronounced Slanj-a-va) is actually both Irish and Scots Gaelic.

What is the Scottish word for beautiful? ›

Bonnie – Good

This cheerful Scottish word means 'beautiful' – an indispensable phrase for those exploring the beautiful landscapes of Scotland.

How do Scottish say thank you? ›

Tìoraidh ma-tha!
...
March - Thanks and goodbye.
Thank you
EnglishGaelicListen
Thank you (plural/ formal)Tapadh leibhPlay MP3 file
1 more row

What's the official motto of Scotland? ›

'Nemo me impune lacessit' or 'No one provokes me with impunity' is Scotland's national motto.

How do Scottish say good morning? ›

Good morning. Madainn mhath. Heidh, a Mhàiri!

What is Scottish slang for girl? ›

A lass is a girl. Your Scottish folk dance teacher might announce, "Lads line up on that side, lasses on this side!" Lass is an old-fashioned way to say "young girl," and it's more common in parts of Britain than in the US.

What is the Scottish word for darling? ›

Acushla comes from the Irish Gaelic cuisle, which can mean "darling" but more literally means "pulse" or "vein." It's an adaptation of the Irish Gaelic a cuisle ("oh darling"). Cuisle was sometimes also paired with ma to give us macushla ("my darling"), as well as our next term of endearment....

How do Scottish say goodbye? ›

In Scottish Gaelic, to say "Goodbye," you can say "mar sin leat" which should be pronounced as "mar shin lat." Note that this is an informal way of saying "farewell."

Is Och Aye noo offensive? ›

“Och aye the noo!”

This is one of those Scottish phrases that can be heard in countless parodies aimed at poking fun at the Scots' dialect and accent. Its direct English translation is “Oh yes, just now”. And, while some Scots may chuckle along with you, it is considered quite offensive by others.

How do you say yes in Scottish? ›

You can say “aye” (yes) or “nae” (no).

How do you say crazy in Scottish? ›

Rocket (Rocket) Scottish slang for crazy.

What does Slainte Mhor mean? ›

slàinte mhòr "great health" which is also used as a Jacobite toast with the alternative meaning of "health to Marion", Marion (Mòr) being a Jacobite code name for Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

What is the toast in Outlander? ›

After Jenny lightens the tension, McGibberish stands up and makes a great toast: “Here's to a long life, and a merry one; a quick death, and an easy one; a pretty girl, and an honest one; a stiff whiskey, and another one.” I'm going to remember that for my next Russian family dinner.

Do Scottish people say Dinna fash? ›

The Scots phrase “dinna fash” has the meaning of “don't fret,” “don't stress,” or “don't worry.” This phrase is common in Scotland, with most generations using the expression and understanding its meaning. However, you won't find many people using outside of Scotland and in some areas of Ireland.

What is a cool Scottish name? ›

Along with Flora and Hector, other Scottish baby names popular far beyond Edinburgh include Esme, Elsie, Evan, Fiona, Graham, Logan, Lennox, and Maxwell. Blair, Cameron, Finley, and Rory are popular Scottish names that work for either gender.

What do Scots call babies? ›

Bairn is a Scottish or Northern English word for child.

What is the most Scottish last name? ›

Note: Correction 25 September 2014
PositionNameNumber
1SMITH2273
2BROWN1659
3WILSON1539
4THOMSON1373
46 more rows

What is a Goonie in Scotland? ›

Goonie – Nightgown. Gubbed – A broken device “it's gubbed”, Your footbal team lost “we got gubbed”

How do you talk like a Scottish person? ›

How to Do a Scottish Accent | Accent Training - YouTube

Why do Glaswegians say but? ›

Finishing our sentences with 'but'

An immediate marker for the rest of Scotland as to where we're all from, Glaswegians use the 'sentence-final' but (as it's known) to help reinforce the sentence.

What is the motto of Edinburgh? ›

The text on the banner conveys the city's Latin motto: Nisi Dominus Frustra, meaning 'Except the Lord in vain'. It's a shortened version of a line from Psalm 127: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain".

What is the motto of Edinburgh Castle? ›

Above the entrance, you will see the Scottish national motto, “nemo me impune lacessit”, which means “no one provokes me without impunity”.

What does it say above Edinburgh Castle? ›

The Stone of Destiny is an ancient symbol of Scotland's monarchy, used for centuries in the inauguration of its kings.

How do the Scottish say you're welcome? ›

you're welcome - ´s e ur beatha - shey oor behah.

How do you say you're welcome in Scotland? ›

Fáilte (Irish pronunciation: [ˈfˠaːlʲtʲə]), Fàilte (Scottish Gaelic: [ˈfaːltʲə]) or Failt (Manx: [ˈfaːlʲtʃ]) is a word meaning "welcome".

What are characteristics of Scottish people? ›

Historically Scots are brave, stubborn, and courageous. Still true. Practical and down-to-earth. One side of our personality is very grounded and matter-of-fact.

What do the Scottish call their wife? ›

Scottish Word: Erse.

What do the Scottish call their parents? ›

Family words in Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)
familyteaghlach (family/household) muinntir (family/relatives) clann (children)
parentspàrantan
fatherathair / dadaidh
mothermàthair / mamaidh
26 more rows

How do you say friend in Scottish? ›

How to say "Friend" in Irish Gaelic - YouTube

What is Scottish for sweetheart? ›

This word is a Scots variant of 'joy', and can mean a sweetheart or lover, or be a term of endearment akin to 'dear' or 'darling'.

How do you say love in Scottish slang? ›

Scottish Gaelic terms of endearment
  1. mo ghràdh - my love.
  2. mo chridhe - my heart.
  3. mo leannan - my lover, my sweetheart.
  4. m'eudail - my darling, my dear.
  5. a thasgaidh - my darling, my dear.

What is heart in Scottish? ›

cridhe. More Scots Gaelic words for heart. chridhe.

What is a Scottish blessing? ›

Traditional Scottish blessing. May there always be work for your hands to do. May your purse always hold a coin or two. May the sun always shine upon your window pane, may a rainbow be certain to follow each rain. May the hand of a friend always be near to you.

What do Scottish people say when they toast? ›

The traditional Scottish Gaelic toast when raising a glass to say 'cheers' is Slàinte mhath which is pronounced slan-ge-var.

Why do the Scottish say Ken? ›

"When a Scottish Highlander asks if you 'ken,' they are explicitly asking if you 'know. ' It can blend together into the words that precede and follow, since it's often used in phrases like 'I didn't know,' or as they're spoken in conversational Scottish, 'I dinna ken'."

What is Dinna fash mean? ›

Dinna fash don't be troubled/bothered. Fash is from Old French fascher 'to annoy, weary'. The term was also commonly extended to mean 'afflicted', and Robert Burns uses the term with such a meaning in Holy Willie's Prayer: 'At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust.

What does lum reek mean? ›

"Lang May Yer Lum Reek" A Scottish expression meaning literally "Long May Your Chimney Smoke" which is a long used phrase in Scotland wishing you all the best for your future.

What are Scottish insults? ›

We take a look at some very Scottish insults, let us know if we've missed any off the list:
  • Awa' n bile yer heid - Get lost.
  • Bampot - Idiot.
  • Boggin - foul-smelling.
  • Bowfin - unpleasant.
  • Clipe “Don't be a wee clipe” - tattle-tale, snitch.
  • Doaty - Stupid, simple.
  • Dobber - Idiot, jerk.
  • Doolally - Not the full shilling.
10 Mar 2016

What does BRAW mean in Scottish? ›

Definition of braw

1 chiefly Scotland : good, fine. 2 chiefly Scotland : well dressed.

What does Wee Barra mean? ›

In Glasgow-speak a 'Wee Barra' is usually used to refer to a small person who people like, Bobby Collins might not have been liked by all, and certainly not by all opponents or opposition fans. But he was the type of player you wanted on your team.

What is Scottish slang for a soft drink? ›

Ginger. A fizzy drink; sometimes Scotland's favourite, Irn Bru, but the term can be used for any fizzy juice. 2. Sláinte.

What words can't Scottish pronounce? ›

We asked a group of linguists to try and pronounce these Scottish...
  • BUCCLEUCH. /bəkluː/ (book-loo) ...
  • PENICUIK. /pɛnɪkʊk/ (penny-cook) ...
  • TEUCHTER. /tʃuːxtər/ (chew-chter) ...
  • LANG MAY YER LUM REEK. /laŋ mɛj jə lʌm ri:k/ (this is pronounced pretty much as it's written, but do you have any clue what it means?) ...
  • MILNGAVIE. ...
  • BLETHER.
31 Mar 2017

Is Och Aye noo offensive? ›

“Och aye the noo!”

This is one of those Scottish phrases that can be heard in countless parodies aimed at poking fun at the Scots' dialect and accent. Its direct English translation is “Oh yes, just now”. And, while some Scots may chuckle along with you, it is considered quite offensive by others.

How do Scottish people say no? ›

You can say “aye” (yes) or “nae” (no).

How do you say fun in Scottish? ›

translations fun
  1. spòrs. noun feminine. en enjoyment or amusement. +1 definitions. en.wiktionary.org.
  2. dibhearsan. noun masculine. en playful, often noisy, activity. en.wiktionary2016.
  3. fealla-dhà noun masculine. en enjoyment or amusement. en.wiktionary2016.

How do Scots pronounce Edinburgh? ›

How to pronounce Edinburgh? - YouTube

What is the Scottish word for home? ›

Taigh. It is probable not surprising that many of our cottages include the word Taigh (also Tigh) which is Gaelic for 'house'. They often refer to the original owner or resident.

What is Dinna fash mean? ›

Dinna fash don't be troubled/bothered. Fash is from Old French fascher 'to annoy, weary'. The term was also commonly extended to mean 'afflicted', and Robert Burns uses the term with such a meaning in Holy Willie's Prayer: 'At times I'm fash'd wi' fleshly lust.

How do Scottish say goodbye? ›

In Scottish Gaelic, to say "Goodbye," you can say "mar sin leat" which should be pronounced as "mar shin lat." Note that this is an informal way of saying "farewell."

What is the Scottish word for wife? ›

Scottish Word: Erse.

Why do Scots say Ken? ›

"When a Scottish Highlander asks if you 'ken,' they are explicitly asking if you 'know. ' It can blend together into the words that precede and follow, since it's often used in phrases like 'I didn't know,' or as they're spoken in conversational Scottish, 'I dinna ken'."

What is a Scottish term of endearment? ›

Endearments for lovers and friends

mo ghràdh - my love. mo chridhe - my heart. mo leannan - my lover, my sweetheart. m'eudail - my darling, my dear. a thasgaidh - my darling, my dear.

What is a Scottish kiss? ›

Glasgow kiss (plural Glasgow kisses) (Britain, euphemistic, humorous) A sharp, sudden headbutt to the nose, usually resulting in a broken nose.

What do the Scottish call their parents? ›

Family words in Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)
Scottish Gaelic (Gàidhlig)
familyteaghlach (family/household) muinntir (family/relatives) clann (children)
parentspàrantan
fatherathair / dadaidh
mothermàthair / mamaidh
26 more rows

Why do Scots say hen? ›

Dictionaries of the Scots Language (DSL) lists many terms of endearment and “hen” seems to be common the length and breadth of the country. It is listed, almost as an afterthought, in the entry for “hen”: “Used as a term of endearment or familiarity for a girl or woman”.

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