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Talking point: Learning Scots

Image credit: lanan via Flickr

Talking point: Learning Scots

‘Outwith?’ I read the word back to myself as I scrawled a note in red pen. “Did you mean without?” I asked as I handed the story back to my colleague, who laughed and said: “I’m glad you picked it up as it means you were paying attention, but that’s a Scottish word.”

It happened again when I was interviewing a man in Glasgow. He told me a woman had called him ‘a ned’. “Actually, I wasn’t bothered she called me a ned, I’m a pretty posh boy,” he said.

On another occasion, as I stood in the rain with a friend visiting from London to buy tickets for Dunnottar Castle, the gentleman inside the ticket booth remarked: “It’s a dreich day today.”

Then, an office email referred to ‘the bunker’ in the kitchen.

But my favourite was at Halloween, when a colleague told me she was taking her kids ‘guising’. “What’s guising? Is it like trick or treat?” I think she was offended at that suggestion, and she was right to be. Who knew Scotland had a rich history of dressing children as evil spirits to visit a house and receive an offering to ward off evil? Well, you probably did.

A recent list of the top ten Scots words provided another education. I discovered glaikit, scunnered, shoogle, wheesht, fankle and bumfle.

When I decided to pack my bags and move thousands of miles across the other side of the world, I expected the obvious things. The weather change – I’d need warmer coats, better boots and socks, and to find a flat with decent heating. I anticipated I’d have to get my head around Scottish and UK politics very quickly, as a journalist on a political magazine. I was aware that I might have to pay more attention during interviews to tune my ears to thick accents and I knew that Gaelic was another language spoken across the country.

However, I didn’t expect the Scots language. I was also surprised that when I told some of my English friends about the words I’d learned, they had never heard of any of them. In fact, some didn’t know that Scots had their own vernacular, so, I did some proper Googling. By the beginning of the 15th century, the English language used in Scotland had, arguably, become a distinct language. Scots was then displaced as a national language after the political union with England in 1707, but it has continued to be spoken and written in a number of regional varieties since that time. Today, the Scots language is one of three native languages spoken in Scotland – the others being English and Gaelic.

But, as an Australian, I am also keenly aware of my own language differences. I let a stray ‘arvo’ slip into an email this week, and I frequently confuse the names of fruits and vegetables. Also, a banger is an excellent song not a sausage, and it’s a packet of chips not crisps.

Australian-English is a weird amalgamation of Cockney rhyming slang and shortened words, so you can’t really compare it with the history behind the Scots language, but here I go. Dreich could be soggy, glaikit could translate to dropkick, wheesht probably equates to shut up, a ned is a bogan, and braw would be ripper.

And, just in case you’re ever involved in an Australian pub quiz, here are some of my favourite Aussie sayings: a bag of fruit is a suit, Britney Spears is beer, dog and a bone is a phone, Blundstone translates to a pickup truck, sausage roll means a goal and dead horse means tomato sauce. Pisht in Scotland is pissed in Australia, so no translation needed there.

Since going through this lingual journey, I’ve decided to compile a list of Scots words to bring back to my family in Australia for Christmas. Weird gift, but at least it will fit in my suitcase next to my cozzie and thongs.

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