A few Scottish words and slang

Last week my Facebook feed was filled with posts about the vote for Scottish Independence. I spent three years at university in Glasgow and I thought I’d write a little post about a few of the Scottish words and slang I remember from living in Scotland.

Braw: attractive. After arriving in Glasgow I was confused when I heard friends talking about “braw guys” and having no idea what it meant! The word doesn’t have connotations of brawniness (as I first assumed it might), but essentially just means attractive. This originated from the Scot’s form of the word brave, coming from an old pronunciation.

Craic: essentially something that’s fun (although it’s a hard word to define!). Students in Glasgow seem to do a lot of things “for the craic”. I’d always thought of it as being an Irish term, but the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) says that it came from the English word crack (meaning brisk talk or conversation) and was actually likely introduced from Scots into Irish English in the mid 20th century.

Close: a communal hallway. In England, a close is a courtyard like space so when I started flat hunting in Glasgow I was confused why so many house ads mentioned a close. All the houses my friends and I lived in were tenement flats with tiled walled closes. I was always reminded of swimming pools.

Dreich: cold, rainy. Not a term heard that often, but as clichéd as it sounds it is the perfect word to describe the Glaswegian weather. I couldn’t find the origins, but perhaps from the middle age’s word dreich meaning “a long duration of space or time” and “tediousness, annoyance.”? I remember it raining solidly for a fortnight.

Ned: a pejorative term meaning a young thuggish person. Essentially used to describe the same people we’d call a chav in England. While I didn’t pick up much Scottish slang, this was one of the words I did use while living in Glasgow. Its first recorded use is in 1910 and while the origins are uncertain, it might come from the name Edward. The term neddy (a donkey or a stupid person) comes from Edward and so ned might also be from the same source. Chav isn’t recorded until 1998 so is considerably more modern.

Pal: an address term, used like mate. Where I come from in the West Country we get lots of mates, muckers, lovers and loves, but very few pals or hens. Suddenly in Glasgow I was a pal. Taxi drivers would now ask, “Where are you going, pal?” rather than “Where are you going to, love?”. Apparently pal comes from the English Romani word, phal, meaning brother.

Wee: little. From Middle English word wei. The OED notes that although found as early as in the 1400s it was rarely used by Scottish writers before 1721, although was known to the English a century before and used by Shakespeare. While it’s a Scottish stereotype that everyone says wee instead of little, I found it to be fairly true.

There are lots of Scottish words and slang, but these are a few that I remember being characteristic of Scottish speech when I was in Glasgow. It’s been a few years since I last visited Scotland and I’d absolutely love to go back. I really want to take my boyfriend up to see Glasgow (where I spent so much time), beautiful Edinburgh, and to explore the Highlands. It always takes me a few hours to adjust my ears to the dialects again, but then I’m fine.


Language in the eye

I’ve had a busy few weeks so sorry for the lack of posts. I spent a weekend in London and while I was there I saw an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection called An Idiosyncratic A to Z of the Human Condition. It had a small display based on every letter of the alphabet (A for Acts of faith, B for Birth, etc.) related to what makes us human. It wasn’t the best exhibition I’ve seen at the Wellcome Collection (I LOVED the exhibition Brain: Mind as Matter a few years ago) but it had some interesting artefacts.

One that draw my attention was a poster called the symbolical head and phrenological chart. In the past, it was thought that different areas of the brain dealt with different faculties and that the faculties could be measured by feeling lumps or indentations in the skull. A lump or large area meant that part of the brain was used frequently. Phrenological charts were popular in the early 19th century and showed the various faculties (such as secretiveness, hope, sense of time, or self-esteem) that were associated with parts of the brain. Feeling and measuring the skull was used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of an individual.

Image from the Wellcome Library, London.

What I thought was odd was that the faculty of language “the ability to talk; to communicate ideas; to use appropriate language; versatility of expression; memory of words” was attributed to the eyeball. Around the eye there are attributes I can understand as seeming eye related (e.g. colour, size, form, etc). However I was surprised to see language as the eyeball. Perhaps it’s related to reading, picking up body language and conveying expression, but surely near the ear would make more sense?

According to this site Franz Gall, the pioneer of phrenology, was at school with two pupils who were good at memorising Latin and also had noticeably large eyes. Later in his career he associated large eyes with strong language abilities.

The whole idea of being able to tell traits from lumps on the head is so bizarre now (thankfully), but it was interesting to see what part of the brain they thought were related to different faculties.