10 Scottish phrases (and how to use them)

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

But it doesn’t stop there! 

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.

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. Can you 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 a language”, 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 a 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 colloquial 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 ten Scottish sayings. Take note, they’ll help you understand even more phrases and expressions that you might hear in Scotland!

Whilst we don’t have a Scottish course on Busuu, we teach 12 other languages from beginner to upper-intermediate level. Sign up and start learning today for free. 

Kirsten is the Head of Education at Busuu. She is from the Scottish highlands, where she grew up. She studied philosophy at university in Edinburgh and then got a TEFL certificate and went to China to teach English. She has been learning languages online and creating digital learning courses around the world for 17 years and is about to start studying for an MSc in Applied Linguistics for Language Teaching at Oxford University. Outside of work, she is a yoga enthusiast and a keen gardener. She also loves spending time with her two border terriers!

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