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.
Some of the Best Scottish Sayings
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.”
- “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!”
- “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 FamilySearch.org. 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!
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