10 Scottish phrases (& how to use them)

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You’ve probably heard that Scotland has one of the most difficult English dialects to understand.

Some cities even have different dialects and sometimes people from Edinburgh and Glasgow can’t understand each other.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help you understand a wee bit better.

Read on for 5 fun Scottish phrases, and a guide to how to use them.

Here are 10 Scottish expressions you need to know

1. Smirr, dreich and drookit

Scots have around 400 different words to describe the weather. 

And most of them seem to describe the typical Scottish weather: rain. 

If you really want to get poetic about the grey skies then learn these simple words: “smirr” is a type of ‘fine rain or drizzle’, “dreich” is ‘wet, dull and gloomy’ and “drookit” is ‘extremely wet’. 

Beautiful!

2. Ah dinnae ken

Scots are known for pronouncing traditional words in unpredictable ways. 

Listen out for “yes” pronounced as “aye”, “dae” as “do” and “dinnae” as “don’t“. 

It’s probably worth having a look through a guide to Scottish slang before your trip. See if you can understand “Ah dinnae ken.”

3. Salt n’ sauce?

If you feel like trying a local delicacy in Edinburgh, grab some of the delicious local fish n’ chips, but listen out for the question “salt n’ sauce wi yer chips?” 

In Edinburgh, locals like salt and a watery brown sauce (a little like HP Sauce) on their chips. You can say “aye” (yes) or “nae” (no).

4. Keep calm and carry on

This expression is widely used in memes and on souvenirs up and down the UK. 

“Keep calm and drink a cup of tea”, “Keep calm and learn French”, etc. 

It’s good advice. 

Scottish people also have their own variation of this famous expression. 

They say “Keep the heid an’ cairry oan”, where “heid” means “head”. So, “don’t lose your head”!

5. How/how no?

If somebody in Glasgow asks you “how / how no?” in response to you saying something like “I don’t like that” or “I’m not going to do that”, you might wonder what they mean. 

Well funnily enough, in Glasgow, “how” is more likely to mean “why”.  

6. Guid efternuin

The Scottish way of saying “Good afternoon”. 

7. Pure dead brilliant!

Use this phrase if you want to say something is ‘exceptionally good’.

8. Ahm pure done in

Feeling tired? This phrase is for you. Broken down, “ahm” means “I’m”, “pure” means “very” and “done in” means “tired” or “exhausted”. 

9. To go to the pictures

Instead of “cinema” or “movie theatre”, in Scotland it’s more common to say “pictures”. 

10. I’m getting the messages

Last but not least, this one can be quite confusing! 

Don’t be caught out by the word “messages”. This Scottish phrase actually means “I’m shopping for groceries”.

Hopefully, you’ve spotted a few patterns in these 10 Scottish sayings. Take note, they’ll help you understand even more phrases and expressions that you might hear in Scotland!


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Kirsten is the Chief Learning Officer at Busuu, where she runs the team of learning designers who create Busuu’s courses, and the teacher operations team who look after our faculty of over 10,000 language teachers worldwide. Kirsten has spent over 20 years working in the field of digital language learning, creating websites, apps, video games and VR experiences for companies like Pearson, EF and Macmillan. She has an MSc in applied linguistics from the University of Oxford and is passionate about bringing research-informed pedagogy into the digital language learning experience.