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15 Scottish Words Perfect For Celebrating Old Times (And New!)

A few words from Scotland ...

Every year ahead of midnight on New Year’s Eve around December 31, many of us outside of Scotland hear more Scots than we usually would, thanks to the song “Auld Lang Syne.” The lyrics of the song come from a poem written by Scottish poet Robert Burns in Scots.

Scots language is a distinct descendant from Old English. Scots is different from Scottish Gaelic, which has more in common with Irish Gaelic. Scots is also different from Scottish English, or SSE, which is a dialect of standard English that has been impacted by its contact with Scots. But Scottish English and Scots have a long history of overlap, and distinctions between them can be somewhat blurry.

So, to go back to “Auld Lang Syne,” what does the name of the poem mean when translated into Standard English? It literally means “old long since,” an expression meaning “old times, often those fondly remembered.” (You can read more about this classic tune here.) We are going to cover lots of fascinating terms from Scots and Scottish English—which might inspire you to translate other New Year’s standards.

Speaking of the new year, did you know that Scotland has its own New Year’s celebration? It’s called Hogmanay, and it sounds like a blast. To learn how to say Hogmanay and so much more, read on …

Hogmanay

Hogmanay

Hogmanay [ hog-muhney ] is the Scots word for the last day of the year, also known as New Year’s Eve. Hogmanay is said to have been celebrated in the time of the Vikings in Scotland, so people like to get decked out in their best viking gear to celebrate, down to carrying blazing torches. Other fire-related Hogmanay traditions are lighting bonfires and even, in some towns, swinging fireballs.

Another Hogmanay tradition is first-footing. According to this tradition, the first person to cross the threshold of your house after the stroke of midnight (the first-footer) is a bringer of good fortune. It is said that the first-footer should be a dark-haired man, but anyone will do as long as they are friendly. Traditionally, the first-footer should bring the host a gift of whiskey, black bun (a kind of fruit cake), and coal to warm the house.

One of the nicest Hogmanay traditions is the exchange of gifts, which are themselves known as hogmanay. Speaking of the home, Hogmanay is a good time to clean the house before the new year. Traditionally, any old ashes would be taken out of the house on Hogmanay. Some people also engage in the practice of what’s known as saining the home, a purification ritual thought to date back to pagan times involving water and juniper.

The origin of the word Hogmanay itself is disputed. it might come from the Old French aguillanneuf, a festival similar to Hogmanay. it might also come from Anglo-Saxon for “holy month.” Either way, there is no doubt it is a uniquely Scottish celebration, just as Scottish as the other terms we have up our sleeve.

 

Learn about other New Year’s traditions around the world that share the spotlight with Hogmanay.

sleekit

sleekit

One of the most fun Scots words to say is sleekit [ slee-kit ], which means “sleeky,” or “sly; sneaky.” In Scots, sleeked means “specious, flattering.” In other words, someone who is sleekit is slick and a bit untrustworthy.

gallus

gallus

Someone who is brave, and not always in a good way, is gallus [ gah-less ]. Gallus means “bold; daring; reckless.” The word comes from the word gallows, as in “fit for the gallows.” However, it has also come to refer to someone who, in the words of The Scotsman, “does something in a stylish or exemplary manner,” like the gallus man saved the dog single-handedly.

bairn

bairn

One of the Scots or Scottish English words you may have come across is bairn [ beyrn ], which means “a child; son or daughter.” The word is also used in Northern England. As in: the wee bairn was asleep in her bed.

withershins

withershins

The word withershins [ with-er-shinz ] may look whimsical but it describes something not so good. It means “in a direction contrary to the natural one, especially counterclockwise: considered as unlucky or causing disaster.” If you’re superstitious, for example, you may not want to go withershins around the haunted gravestone. (Spooky!)

cauldrife

cauldrife

If someone is cauldrife [ kahl-dryf ], they need a coat. Cauldrife means “susceptible to cold; chilly.” In some instances, it is also used to mean “lifeless.” The word cauld is Scots for “cold,” and rife literally means “abundant.” Cauldrife, then, translates to “abundantly cold.”

drammock

drammock

Drammock, or drummock, is Scots for “an uncooked mixture of meal, usually oatmeal, and cold water.” It doesn’t sound very nice, does it? In fact drammock is related to the Scots Gaelic dramag, meaning “foul mixture.”

 

Sounds like something you’d find in a witch’s brew perhaps? Learn about the real plants behind such ingredients as eye of newt.

pilliwinks

pilliwinks

Speaking of things that don’t sound very nice, that reminds us of the word pilliwinks [ piluh-wingks ], “an old instrument of torture similar to the thumbscrew.” Pilliwinks might sound like the name of a children’s game but it is anything but. Pilliwinks were used in the Medieval Ages, particularly in the Scottish witch trials.

flite

flite

The word flite or flyte [ flahyt ] is used as a verb and a noun in Scotland and North England. It means “to dispute; to wrangle; scold; jeer,” as in, we walked in on her fliting the maid for breaking a teacupFlite comes from the Old English flītan, meaning “to strive, contend.”

glaikit

glaikit

Another word in Scots that is fun to say is glaikit, or glaiket [ gley-kit ], which means “foolish; giddy; flighty.” This term has largely been applied to thoughtless women, suggesting somewhat sexist connotations. It’s a fairly common term in contemporary Scots, as in these politicians are all glaikit.

 

There are a few words in English that only apply to women. Learn more about these problematic words here.

kyte

kyte

The Scottish language is very descriptive. One of the most colorful terms is kyte, or kite, meaning “the paunch; stomach; belly.” It does not have a negative connotation, as paunch may suggest. For instance, I filled my kyte at his table.

nebby

nebby

Someone who asks one too many personal questions can be described as nebby, a term in Scottish and Northern English meaning “overly inquisitive; nosy.” A neb is a “snout, nose, or beak.” The word is also used in the Pittsburgh dialect in the United States. For example: my nebby neighbor keeps asking me if I have called my mother lately.

 

Add some flair to your vocabulary with these antiquated insults that deserve to come back into use.

perjink

perjink

Do you think you’re a bit perjink [ puhrjink ]? It means “prim” or “finicky.” It can also be used in a positive sense to describe someone neat and proper, as in Wow, you’re perfectly perjink tonight—do you have a date?

reest

reest

The verb reest [ reest ] looks like a misspelling of rest, but it actually means “to cure, smoke, or dry (meat or fish),” as in they brought reested ham with them to the holiday dinner.

When used without an object, it can also mean “(of a horse) to stop or refuse to go; balk.” In this sense, it is a variant of rest.

skreegh

skreegh

The verb skreegh or skreigh [ skreekh ] is the Scottish English word for screech, as in “to utter or make a harsh, shrill cry or sound.” It is largely found in 19th-century texts. However, here’s an example of how to use it yourself: I gave such a skreegh when I saw the ghost!

Take the quiz!

Test your knowledge of these Scottish terms with our short Scots quiz here. If you want to review these colorful terms, you can see them at our word list here.

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Word of the Day

Jan. 27, 2022

Can you guess the definition?

pruinose

[ proo-uh-nohs ]

Word of the day
pruinose

[ proo-uh-nohs ]

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