Scottish words: redd up

Redd up is a phrase which you don’t hear much nowadays, which is a shame. It means to tidy up or clean up. It’s usually used to describe the tidying of a house or garden.

The last time I heard it being used it was a man saying that he had ‘redd up’ the noticeboard in a school. Well, notice boards are usually in need of a good redd up as they’re often crowded with out of date information.

I was surprised to read the phrase in a story by Elizabeth Gaskell the other day, although I probably shouldn’t have been. Michelle from the north of England recently informed me that the word ‘hen’ is still used there and I had thought it was only used in Scotland until then.

I’m now wondering if these words were originally Scottish but just expanded into the north of England with people moving there from Scotland for work. Or have they just continued to be used for a longer time here.

The Elizabeth Gaskell story which it was used in is The Crooked Branch and it was first published in 1859. It has been reprinted as a Penguin Classic in Gaskell’s Gothic Tales.

Scottish words: skelf

Skelf is the Scottish word for a splinter of wood, usually stuck in your finger but I suppose it could be anywhere on your body. I have noticed that this word is not used nearly as often as it used to be and people tend to be using splinter – which drives me nuts. Use it or lose it.

I was watching a T.V. programme about language a few years back and it mentioned that words beginning with ‘sk’ nearly always derive from Scandinavian words originally. So I suppose we have the Vikings to thank for this one.

It makes sense to me as my own surname begins with sk and although you won’t usually find my name in a list of Scottish surnames, it does appear in a list of ancient Scottish surnames deriving from Scandinavia.

Scottish words: Dreich

Dreich (dreech) has been popping up fairly regularly recently on the BBC weather reports and I’m sure by now it must be quite well understood by people in England. It means really grey, dull and dismal weather but I suppose you can use it to describe anything grey and depressing.

I’ve been quite impressed by the pronunciation of the forecasters, they are managing the ‘ch’ sound well, as in loch. It would be terrible if they said dreek.

Here are a couple of dreich photographs of the coast at Kirkcaldy. As it is like this and even worse most of the time, it is a mystery to me why anyone would want a sea view.

Kirkcaldy rollers

More Kirkcaldy dreich

There are always a few ships about but to me the most interesting thing is that this is the exact piece of the coast which the famous economist Adam Smith (1723-1790) looked out on from his home. Then the area was packed with sailing ships and it was the coming and going of the ships which set him thinking about economics, and led him to write The Wealth of Nations.

The Scots Language.

I heard that Alex Salmond had been talking about the teaching of the Scots language in schools. I think that it is about time that something was done to stop the rot where Scots is concerned. Too many words are being lost to us, and once they are gone – they’re gone.

I know that there is no spare money around at the moment, but I really don’t see why such an initiative should cost much – if anything at all. We don’t need teachers to be sent off on courses or anything expensive. Ten minutes towards the end of each primary school day would be all that was needed to teach children a couple of Scots words or phrases each lesson.

It could be a very informal winding down of each day and the only tools necessary would be an English-Scots dictionary and a black/whiteboard. There’s no need to make a big production number of it as there are so many other things vying for space and time within the school day.

When I was at school, in the west, a good few moons ago, we were all bi-lingual. At school we spoke the Queen’s English to the teachers and then when it was playtime we reverted to Scots.

Some adults used to complain about us speaking slang, but it wasn’t – it was just Scots. Likewise – when we grew up it was natural to speak plain English to people in authority as a matter of courtesy, after all the person that you are speaking to may not speak Scots, and I suppose to show that you could speak good English. However, at home and with friends the less formal Scots was used.

I’m not sure if that practice is carried out in the whole of Scotland as a matter of course though. I well remember being in a bank in Fife and when I asked the bank teller a question – his answer to me was -: Ah dinnae ken, but Ah’ll fund oot fur yee.

I have to say that I was dumfoonert. There is no way that you would get a job in a bank in the west of Scotland if you spoke to customers like that. And although I’m all for the promotion of the Scots language, I still think that there is a time and a place for it.

Even Rab C Nesbit was bi-lingual. There was always a time in each programme when his best English came out – usually when he was incensed about something and just had to let off steam.
As he got angrier, so he became ‘posher’.

I know quite a lot of people that that happens to and it’s always funny to observe, whether it’s Rab C. or yer mammy.

Scottish words: fantoosh

You don’t hear the word fantoosh all that often nowadays but I think it is a great word and I use it whenever I can.

If something or someone is being described as being fantoosh it means that they, or it, is overdressed, ultra fashionable, over-ornamented, too fancy. Just downright over the top.

I always think that this word should be of French derivation as quite a lot of Scottish words are, due to the influence of the French people who came to Edinburgh when Mary, Queen of Scots came back from France as a young widow. There is a part of Edinburgh which is still called Little France, however I can’t find any evidence that it derives from French.

I do think that fantoosh is quite presbyterian though as I’ve always heard it used in a slightly disapproving way. It’s the feeling that anything too fancy must be sinful. It’s the influence of Calvinism I suppose.

Anyway, I really like fantoosh and I’d hate it to die out, although I suppose if you were in America it might sound a bit rude to some people as it’s almost like two words for bum (butt) spliced together.

That might make it all the more desirable to use though, just for a laugh.

Scottish words Haver

As ever, there is some controversy over how this word is spelt. I have seen it written as haiver, however in The Proclaimers lyrics for I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) it is written as haver.

So, haver just means to talk nonsense or rubbish. It’s very useful if someone is being particularly stupid, annoying and long winded about something, then you can use just one word “Havers!” to deflate them and succinctly tell them what you think.

Or – What are you havering about now? gives the distinct impression that the speaker is ALWAYS talking rubbish.

When The Proclaimers released their single 500 miles, in America, it caused a bit of consternation as the Americans got it into their heads that havering was something rude so they were thinking about banning it. In Britain banning anything usually makes it an instant hit. Anyway, the Americans were reassured that the sky wouldn’t fall down if Craig and Charlie sang the word haver and it has been their biggest hit ever.


I like the word stooshie. It usually comes after the words ‘There was a bit of a’ stooshie. It means that there was a bit of trouble going on, a fracas, a commotion. Nothing serious, no real violence, well maybe a few threats but nothing much to speak of.

For some people, life would be a dull thing without a wee bit of a stooshie now and then. In fact there is a bit of a stooshie going on here and now as my husband thinks that it should be spelt stoushie. But I’m sticking to my guns, you very rarely see Scottish words down on paper anyway and I think it is easier to spell them as they are pronounced.

Scottish Words.


In Scotland if you are – as my mother would have put it – living in sin with someone, then they are described as being your bidey-in. I really like this wee phrase as it describes the relationship perfectly and it is the same whether it is a man or a woman. They are the person that you stay in with, rather than just someone that you go out with.

I don’t like this modern thing nowadays where everyone is described as someone’s ‘partner’. I’ve even heard the ‘p’ word being used to describe wives and husbands, which I really can’t understand. I wouldn’t be at all chuffed to be described in that way, seeing that we went to the bother of actually getting married and paying £7.50 for the marriage licence.

We had a family meal out last night and our youngest son and his lovely ‘bidey-in’ managed to come through from Dundee for it, but I’ve got a horrible feeling that they describe themselves as partners on Facebook.

It would be great if everyone would adopt that lovely non-sexist term of bidey-in. It just sounds so homely to me.

I’m scunnered by partners. They should all have their bahoukies skelped, and become bidey-ins.

Scottish Words: skelp and bahookie

I had intended only doing one Scottish word each week but this week it will have to be two as they go together like fish and chips.

A skelp is the Scots word for a good old fashioned smack. I know that it is all terribly unPC and such but who cares. There are times when small children just have to be skelped because they are too young to reason with.
Nothing works better than a quick skelp, especially when you have just about had a heart attack as you have caught the wee darling doing something completely mental like sticking a screwdriver into an electric socket. And don’t say that the sockets should have had safety covers over them. We tried that and the kids could remove them in a second, in fact their dad had to ask them to remove the safety covers for him when he wanted to use a socket as his big fingers couldn’t get a grip on the covers to prise them off.
The word which skelped is usually followed with is the lovely word,

I think that it will be obvious what this word means. It’s a bottom or bum of course – or a backside if you prefer.
So the phrase – If you don’t watch it you’ll get a skelped bahoukie was probably one of the most used threats when I was growing up and I’m pleased to say that it hasn’t quite died out yet.

You have to be careful though as there is a cut off age – after which the threat might be used but not actually administered, especially if you have boys. After all, you don’t want them to grow up paying some “lady” to skelp their bahoukies for them.

Scottish Words

I think that the various countries and regions that make up Britain all have dialect words of their own which are in danger of being lost.

My son’s partner comes from Rochdale and the only word which she knows from that area is ‘crockle’ – which apparently means to go over on your ankle. I really like it, but it isn’t a word which you can use very often, unless you’re unlucky enough to have very weak ankles.

I’ve noticed recently that quite a few Scottish words have found their way into mainstream British vocabulary. The words manky and minging spring to mind and I think that possibly we have Justin and Colin to thank for those ones being taken up by the rest of the country. At first my attitude was — they’re nicking our culture, but I’ve decided that it is a better option than the alternative, which is losing the words altogether.

Scottish dialect words tend to be looked down upon by the so called ‘middle classes’, I think they are seen as being ‘common’, and we can’t have that can we? So quite a lot of words have been in danger of dying out, which would be a real shame.

To combat this I’m starting a series of weekly blog posts featuring one Scottish word each week.

This week’s word is – scunnered.

Scunnered means that you are sick fed up with something or someone, you are totally disgusted to the point of feeling ill.
In the childrens T.V. programme Supergran there was a character called Skunner Campbell, slightly different spelling but he had the name because he was a dastardly character whom Supergran was absolutely scunnered with.

I am scunnered with the government because they seem to be letting the bankers away with everything and won’t step in to stop them from giving themselves massive bonuses.

So you get the general idea of scunnered, I’m sure. Use it – don’t lose it.