During a visit to Scotland, you might hear words and phrases that are most definitely not standard English; a combination of local dialects, auld Scots and gaelic. Here’s a fun look at some Scottish vernacular, which will have you ‘blethering’ like a local in no time!
- Slàinte mhath! (pronounced slan-ja vah)
Sometimes shortened to “slàinte!” this is a Gaelic toast used widely even by non-speakers of Gaelic, especially when drinking whisky. It means good health.
You’re visiting in May and decide to check out the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. Your Scottish neighbour passes you a dram of whisky and exclaims, “Slàinte mhath!”, to which you respond, “Slàinte!”
- Dinna fash yersel’!
To “fash” means to trouble, bother, or annoy. So, “dinna fash” means “don’t worry!”
You take a wrong turning whilst driving through the Scottish Borders on your way to Melrose Abbey and stop to ask a local for directions. On realising you are going the wrong way, she reassures, “dinna fash, you can take the back road and the scenery is beautiful!”
- Champit neeps and tatties
Champit tatties are mashed neeps and tatties, or mashed swede and potatoes. These are one of the traditional accompaniments to haggis in a Burns Supper.
The Big Burns Supper in Dumfries has really interested you and you head to the south of Scotland to join in. As you sit down to dine and the address to the haggis concludes, your waitress asks you, “would you like champit neeps and tatties wi’ that?”
“Crivvens” is a mild exclamation of surprise or shock.
Driving through Glencoe (feeling a bit like James Bond, where ‘Skyfall’ was filmed!) you turn to your wife and say, “Crivvens, I’d heard Glencoe was very scenic, but I didn’t realise it would be so spectacular!”
- Teuchter (pronounced chooCH-ter)
This word is generally understood to refer to a person from a rural area. It can also be used as an adjective to indicate that a thing or a place is typical of, or popular with, people from the Highlands.
You watch the first half of the Camanachd Cup in Newtonmore on your way north and ask your mate Andrew if he ever played, to which he replies, “Nope, shinty’s really a teuchter game and I grew up in Edinburgh.”
A but-and-ben is a type of old fashioned rural cottage consisting of two rooms, usually a kitchen & living room.
Planning your summer visit to the Edinburgh festivals, your friend Fiona asks if you’d like to spend a weekend out of the city buzz at her but-and-ben in the Highlands.
A spurtle is a wooden stick used for stirring porridge, rather like a wooden spoon with no bowl on it. It is designed for constant stirring, which prevents the porridge from becoming lumpy.
The porridge you eat at the World Porridge Making Championships in Carrbridge is so delicious and creamy that you ask the chef how he made it and he shows you his spurtle.
- Simmer dim
The simmer dim is the night-long twilight found in Orkney and Shetland in midsummer, when dusk runs more or less into dawn and it is never truly dark.
You’re confused when the Club Secretary at the challenging 9 hole golf course, South Ronaldsay on Orkney, offers you an 11pm tee time. “Won’t it be dark”, you ask. “No, you’ll be alright, it’s simmer dim at the moment.”
- Quaich (pronounced kway-CH)
A quaich is a small, shallow, drinking cup, usually with two handles and originally crafted in wood, but now more often found in silver. It was traditional to offer a guest a welcome cup and also as a farewell drink, usually a dram of whisky.
At the end of your friends’ wedding ceremony in the beautiful grounds of Edradour, Scotland’s smallest distillery, the groom fills his quaich and offers you a dram to toast the couple’s happiness.
- Gie it laldy!
“Gie it laldy” means to do something vigorously, with passion.
You’re holding back at the ceilidh at Oran Mhor in Glasgow on your last night in Scotland, thinking you don’t know the steps. But good, foot-tapping music is filling the bar and your pals won’t let you away with it, shouting, “Come on, it’s your last night – let’s dance and gie it laldy!”
Credit: Many of the definitions in this document were taken from Collins Gem Scots Dictionary; 2003, HarperCollins Publishers