5 Essential Scots Phrases

Posted on April 18, 2018 · Posted in Linguistics

Scotland is a nation known for its astonishing natural beauty, good quality of life, and firm cultural identity. Pay a visit to its bonny shores and you can sample traditional cuisine (haggis, neeps & tatties being a must), immerse yourself in centuries of history, and – if you pay attention – even pick up a little of the local lingo. Here are just a few phrases to get you started.

Dreich

Anyone planning a trip to Scotland should be prepared for rain. No matter what the season, Scots know that to leave the house without an umbrella or a waterproof jacket can be risky – particularly in a west coast city like Glasgow, which receives an average of 121mm of rain every September.
With wet weather part and parcel of the Scottish experience, it’s worth learning the meaning of “dreich” – a useful adjective that frequently tops the list of favoured Scots phrases. Dreich describes weather that is particularly cold, wet, dreary, and generally miserable.
Example: “It’s a dreich day.”

Go the messages

This phrase is one of the more misleading in the Scots dialect – but once you know it you’ll find that it comes in handy. To “go the messages” is an old-fashioned Scots phrase that describes running a number of errands, and more specifically, to go shopping, usually for food.
Today the phrase is still used, though it can be stylised as “getting the messages” or “doing the messages”.
Example: “I’m going out to get the messages.”

Mad wae it

Outside of the UK (and occasionally inside as well) people can struggle with the Scottish accent. One of the more impenetrable dialects hails from Glasgow, where the locals are known for speaking quickly and peppering their sentences with Scots slang. Popular “Weegie” words include “pure” (really or very) and “greetin” (crying).
Our favourite example of the famed Glaswegian patter is “mad wae it” – a phrase which typically describes the state of enjoying yourself whilst drunk. “Mad wae it” is such a popular and useful phrase across Glasgow and Scotland that it’s often abbreviated to “mwi” for ease.
Example: “I was pure mad wae it last night!”

The boak

We all know the feeling of having had one too many and regretting it the next morning – so the next time you get “mad wae it” in Scotland, you might want to familiarise yourself with the term “boak”. This widely used word describes an intense feeling of nausea, or the urge to vomit, usually brought on by some external factor.
Example: “The smell of that haggis is giving me the boak!”

Foos yer doos

We’ll finish with a slang term specific to the area around Aberdeen on Scotland’s northeastern coast. The dialect spoken here is known as Doric, and is notable for its distinctive accent and peculiar turns of phrase, the most famous of which is “foos yer doos”.

This phrase literally translates to “How are your pigeons?” and should always be met with the response “Aye peckin” (literally, “Oh always pecking”). Misleading as this phrase is, it simply stands in as a friendly greeting – the equivalent, in other words, of saying “How are you?” and hearing “I’m getting along fine” in response.

If you can get your head around that, you’ll do just fine in Scotland.