Five Expressions Only the Scottish Say

scotland expressions

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.

“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!

“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.”

“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).

“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”!

“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”.  


Here are a few more expressions you might hear on the street:

  • Guid efternuin. –  Good afternoon.
  • pure dead brilliant – exceptionally good
  • Ahm pure done in! – I’m feeling very tired!
  • to go to the pictures – to go to the cinema
  • I’m getting the messages. – I’m shopping for groceries.
  • Want to explore Scotland some more?


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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