Scottish Sayings Enliven Your Family History

September 24, 2019  - by 
friends in scotland laugh together.

What’s in a Scottish saying? So much! If you have Scottish blood, you probably have heard a saying or two that has been passed down through the generations. If not, finding Scottish sayings and learning a bit about the language is a fun pastime.

What Is Scottish English?

Scottish English is derived from English with some Gaelic mixed in. It’s easy to pick out Scots because of their accent, but because of Scotland’s multiple dialects, there is much more to decipher than people realize!

A dialect isn’t a specific language, but a form of language as it relates to an area or region. There are four main dialects in Scotland, and what you speak depends on where you live. These dialects are Insular, Northern, Central, and Southern. Within those dialects are subdialects.

As a whole, the Scottish dialect sounds very unique because of all the ways it differs from traditional English. This is where so many Scottish sayings derive from. Many are cute and anecdotal, and it’s fun to discover their meanings and maybe even throw them into a bit of your family culture as part of your family history.

a scottish man converses with a woman.

Some of the Best Scottish Sayings

Historically, Scots are known for deep spirituality, coupled with a strong sense of humor and quite a bit of superstition. As you read these phrases, try to picture one of your ancestors saying them.

Let’s start with some that easier to understand and get to the harder phrases as we go.

  • “I’m going to the pictures.”—The “pictures” refer to the movie theater, so this phrase is fairly simple: “I’m going to the movies.”
  • “I’m getting the messages.” At first, this one seems like it might not need translating because it relates to messages, but it’s not quite that simple. It means, “I’m going grocery shopping.”
a woman and her daughter grocery shop.
  • “I’m going ta skelp yer wee behind!” This one is fairly simple; it means, “I’m going to smack your little bottom.”
  • “I’ll gie ye a skelpit lug!” This is similar to the previous; it means “I’m going to smack your ear!”
  • “You’re a long time deid.” This saying means, “You’re a long time dead.” But in context, it means to enjoy life, because you’ll be dead much longer than you’ll be alive!
  • “Yer aff yer heid!” This means, “You’re off your head,” or “You’re crazy!”
  • “Haud yer weesht!” You’re likely to hear this one in a library; it means “Be quiet!”
  • “Ah dinnae ken,” is an easy one—“I don’t know.”
  • “Guid gear comes in sma’ bulk.” This is another fun one. “Good things come in small packages.”
  • “Don’t be a wee clipe!” This is a good one for all parents to be able to say to fighting siblings, “Don’t be a little tattletale!”
a family works together outdoors.
  • “Lang may yer lum reek!” This means, “May your life be long and healthy.”
  • “Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye.” This phrase means, “Whatever is meant to happen to you will happen to you,” and it is often said when people complain.
  • “Speak o’ the Devil!” This one means that you’ve been talking about someone and they appear.
  • “Dinnae marry fur money!” This one means, “Don’t marry for money—you can borrow it cheaper.”
  • “Do yer dinger,” is used when you’ve loudly expressed disapproval.
  • “Keep the heid!” means to remain calm.
  • “Gie it laldy,” which means to do something with gusto.

Scottish Sayings and Your Family History

If you have Scottish heritage, see if you can find some Scottish sayings used by some of your ancestors and record them on If you can’t find any, it would still be fun to add the new ones you’ve learned to your family history. Add a bit about the dialect your ancestors may have spoken depending on the region they came from. Your family will love learning these phrases and may even enjoy trying to say a few of them!

Your Scottish Heritage

a scottish man plays bagpipes

Rachel Trotter

Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer and editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on,, and She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.

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  1. “Elda Gleen, I dinna kin vit yer spikin aboot.” (“Elder Green, I don’t know what you’re talking about”– a phrase commonly spoken in a fishing village on the northeast coast of Scotland in the early 1960’s).

  2. Very interesting but Scotland has so many dialects in the north east of Scotland lot of people use Doric and it is quite hard to learn eg. Woman is wifie and a man is manie and a boy is loon and if they are very young it is loonie and a girl up to the age of 14 is a quine after that she is a lassie

  3. My Great grandfather from the Scottish highlands emigrated to Port Natal (Durban), South Africa in 1881. My Dad used to say the following saying: Lang may yer lum reek……& yer turrie waddle. This is how the last part sounded so I have just spelt it how it sounded. Do you have any idea what the rest of this sentence means? I’m hazarding a guess that it could be a reference to the little pom pom on the pipe band beret. Quite a number of my relatives play/played in the pipe band here in South Africa.

      1. Hi Trish The complete saying is Lang may your lum reek wi other folks coal is normally said as a greeting at new year (hogmany) Scots for New Year