This is where you can have a look at some of our fine old Scottish sayings that go back not only to grandma’s day, but for generations beyond. And some that are not so old.
Some of them are not used much now. Maybe that’s just as well as they can even confuse some Scots, depending which part of the country you’re in. The Scottish dialect can vary so much, from The Highlands to South Ayrshire, and from East to West, so in different parts of the country, different words can actually mean the same thing.
Honestly, some of these sayings will have you scratching your head, as I did, but I will translate the meanings, as I understand them. Like they say “a nod’s as guid as a wink tae a blind horse”, meaning, explain yourself properly, and make your meaning crystal clear.
If you understand that, you’re halfway there! Most Scots tend to use slang words occasionally and think nothing of it. It’s only when you read some you see how funny they are. Here I take a look at some of the old Scottish sayings, some not so old, some Scottish words, and slang…
The Old Scottish Sayings….
- I’ll gie ye a skelpit lug! – I’ll give you a slap on the ear.
- Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye! – What’s meant to happen will happen.
- Skinny Malinky Longlegs! – A tall thin person.
- Lang may yer lum reek! – May you live long and stay well.
- Speak o’ the Devil! – Usually said when you have been talking about someone – they usually appear.
- Black as the Earl of Hell’s Waistcoat! – Pitch black.
- Failing means yer playin! – When you fail at something at least you’re trying.
- Mony a mickle maks a muckle! – Saving a small amount soon builds up to a large amount.
- Keep the heid! – Stay calm, don’t get upset.
- We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns! – We’re all God’s children, nobody is better than anybody else – we’re all equal.
- Dinnae teach yer Granny tae suck eggs! – Don’t try to teach someone something they already know.
- Dinnae marry fur money! – Don’t marry for money – you can borrow it cheaper.
- Is the cat deid? – Has the cat died? Means your trousers are a bit short – like a flag flying at half mast.
- The baw’s on the slates – Game over. In our younger days we played football in the street. If the ball landed on a roof, the game was over.
- Haud yer wheesht! – Be quiet.
- Noo jist haud on! – Now just hold it, slow down, take your time.
- Hell slap it intae ye! – Means it’s your own fault.
- I’m fair puckled! – I’m short of breath.
- Do yer dinger. – Loudly express disapproval.
- Gie it laldy. – Do something with gusto.
- Ah dinnae ken. – I don’t know.
- Haste Ye Back! – Farewell saying meaning “return soon”.
- It’s a dreich day! – Said in reference to the weather, when it’s cold, damp and miserable.
Some Scottish sayings that are not so old….
- Gonnae no’ dae that! – Going to not do that.
- At dis ma nut in – That does my head in.
- Pure dead brilliant – Exceptionally good.
- Yer bum’s oot the windae – You’re talking rubbish.
- Awa’ an bile yer heid – Away and boil your head.
- Am pure done in – I’m feeling very tired.
- Am a pure nick – I don’t look very presentable.
- Ah umnae – I am not.
- Ma heid’s mince – My head’s a bit mixed up.
- Ma heid’s loupin’ – My head is sore.
- Yer oot yer face! – You’re very drunk.
- Yer aff yer heid – You’re off your head – a little bit daft.
For sayings sent in by visitors see the Your Sayings page.
Some Scottish words and slang….
- Aboot – About
- Ain – Own
- Auld – Old
- Aye – Yes
- Bahooky – Backside, bum
- Bairn – Baby
- Baw – Ball
- Bawface – Describes someone with a big round face.
- Ben – Mountain, or through
- Bide – Depending on the context, means wait, or stay.
- Blether – Talkative, when referred to a person. To “have a blether” is to have a chat.
- Boke – Vomit. “He gies me the boke”. He makes me want to vomit.
- Bonnie – Beautiful
- Bowfing – Smelly, horrible
- Braw – Good, or brilliant
- Breeks – Trousers
- Coo – Cow
- Crabbit – Bad tempered
- Cry – Call, as in what do you cry him?
- Dae – Do
- Dauner – Walk – “I’m away for a dauner”
- Didnae – Didn’t
- Dinnae – Don’t
- Drap – Drop
- Dreep – Drip
- Drookit – Soaking wet
- Dug – Dog
- Dunderheid, Eejit, Galoot, Numptie – All mean idiot
- Dunt – Bump
- Feart – Afraid
- Frae – From
- Gallus – Bravado, over-confident
- Gang – Go
- Gaunnae – Going to
- Geggie – Mouth, as in “shut your geggie”
- Glaikit – Stupid, slow on the uptake
- Goonie – Nightgown
- Greet – Cry
- Gumption – Common sense, initiative
- Hae – Have
- Hame – Home
- Haud – Hold
- Haver – Talk rubbish
- Hing – Hang
- Hoachin’ – Very busy
- Hokin’ – Rummaging
- Honkin’, Hummin’, Howlin’ – Bad smell
- Hoose – House
- Hunner – Hundred
- Huvnae – Haven’t
- Keek – A little look
- Ken – Know
- Lum – Chimney
- Mair – More
- Merrit – Married
- Mockit, Manky, Mingin’, Boggin’ – All mean dirty
- Moose – Mouse
- Naw – No
- Neep, Tumshie – Turnip
- Noo – Now
- Oot – Out
- Peely Wally – Pale
- Piece – A sandwich
- Poke – (to poke – to prod) (a poke – a paper bag)
- Reek – Smell, emit smoke
- Riddy – A red face, embarrassed
- Sassenach – From the Gaelic word sasunnach, meaning Saxon, and used to describe non-Gaelic speaking Scottish Lowlanders (and our English friends).
- Screwball – Unhinged, mad
- Scullery – Kitchen
- Scunnered – Bored, fed up
- Shoogle – Shake
- Shoogly – Shaky, wobbly
- Simmet – Gents singlet
- Skelp – Slap
- Skoosh – Lemonade (or fizzy drink)
- Sleekit – Sly
- Stookie – Plaster cast (for a broken bone)
- Stour – Dust
- Tattie – Potato
- Telt – Told
- Thon – That
- Totie – Very small
- Wean – Child
- Wellies – Wellington boots
- Whit – What
- Willnae – Will not
- Widnae – Would not
- Windae – Window
- Wummin – Women
- Ye – You
- Yer – Your
- Yin – One
Thanks to Sarah Moffat from Glasgow, UK for these:
- Maw – Mum.
- Mad wi’ it – Drunk.
Thanks to Stevie Gibson for this:
- Hell mend ye – In other words “it serves you right”!
Thanks to Jenna Smith from the UK for these:
- Slitter – To spill food stuff down yourself.
- Scunner – Describes someone as being irritating as in: “oh you’re a right scunner”.
- Gowk – Daft.
- Dighted – Also means daft.
- Tattyboggle – Scarecrow.
- Dicht – To dust, or wipe.
Thanks to Isobel, Canada for this:
- Clyping – To tell tales on someone.
Thanks to Marjory, London for these:
- Baffies – Slippers.
- Bubbly Jock – Turkey.
And thanks to Tracey Perry, UK for this:
- Wallies – False teeth.
A classic Scottish saying combining a few words is :
“Whit dae ye cry thon yin?” …..
Translates to : “What do you call that one?”
One I’ve been asked about is:
“Och aye the noo”
Translates to: Oh yes, right now.
The truth is, it’s highly unlikely you’ll hear anyone use those four words together, other than in a comedy sketch. But you WILL hear people say “och aye” and you WILL hear people say “the noo”, just not together.
And the one I’m asked most often about is:
“It’s a braw bricht moonlit nicht the nicht”
Translates to: It’s a brilliant bright moonlight night tonight. I’ve heard it sung by Harry Lauder, but outside of that, I’ve never heard anyone actually say it.
And here are some words that describe being drunk ……
Blootered, Steamin, Wrecked, Bladdered, Hammered, Smashed.
And here is my favourite of all the old Scottish sayings ……
When you have just said something to someone that they don’t quite believe, they are very likely to reply by saying – Aye, Right!!
Perhaps one of the most used Scottish sayings is “Auld Lang Syne” the famous song penned by Robert Burns, and sang throughout the world, especially at New Year.
The translation can be taken as “old long since” or “old long ago”.
This list is by no means comprehensive, there are hundreds of old Scottish sayings, and you’ll find many more that were sent in by visitors on the Your Sayings page.
If you enjoyed these Scottish Sayings, you’ll just LOVE the Scottish Humour page.