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.


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