Scottish English (Scottish patter)

Scottish English (Scottish patter)

by Lingoda Team

Updated November 10, 2022

It is hard to define the linguistic, historical and social status of Scots and Scottish English, particularly in its relationship to English. What distinguishes a language from a dialect? We could debate in favour of both sides endlessly with the result that there is no universally accepted criteria for this division. Whilst there is a Standard Scottish Language, there is also Broad Scots. Within Scots, there are several distinctive dialects. However, 64% of respondents from the 2010 Scottish Government survey found that Scots is not a language in its own right. We can only speculate but especially after the two referendums, the one on Scottish independence and the one on the UK leaving the European Union, this survey might have quite a different outcome nowadays.

Even though we have to differentiate between Gaelic, the Scots language and Scottish English, they are generally associated with a shared Scottish identity, as well as regional and local identities. Apart from the language, there are also cultural symbols, which have changed over the time. Most of us will be familiar with these and associate them with Scotland, like the Great Highland bagpipe, different tartan patterns, the kilt, etc. Scottish people are very proud of their national heritage and the way in how they sound different from other English speakers. This blog post will focus on specific phrases, expressions and idioms used in Scottish English.



The languages of Scotland

Today, the main language spoken in Scotland is English or Scottish English. It is debatable whether Scottish English is simply a dialect of English or a language in its own rights. It is spoken by roughly 99 % of the population of Scotland. 30 % of the population are able to speak Scots and only 1 % of the population speak Scottish Gaelic. Scots and Scottish Gaelic is still widely spoken on some islands, like the Outer Hebrides, parts of the Inner Hebrides, as well as the Highlands.

Scotland has a broad variety of dialects and speaker from different geographical locations within the country can sound very different. Scottish Standard English is the result from language contact between Scots and Standard English after the 17th century.



Typical Scottish patter, phrases and idioms

As you might have noticed already by the usage of the word patter, which you might not be familiar with, there are words, phrases and idioms that are specific to Scottish. In the following, we will give a short list of these to give you an insight into the differences to Standard English.


Scottish patter Standard English equivalent Explanation Example
Patter (also banter) Talk Someone’s patter is what they come out with, their chat Your patter is dire the night!

(Your chat is bad tonight)

Dreich Dull, miserable, grey, overcast (of weather) This is a typical West-coast day in Scotland What a dreich day the day!

(What a dull and miserable day it is today)

Bangin’ Great, excellent Something is very good and appreciated That’s a bangin’ tune

(That is a fine song)

Cooncil juice Council juice This refers to water which is provided by the authorities for everyone A jug o cooncil juice, hen.

(A jug of tap water, my dear)

Yaldi! Hurray! An exclamation of delight or excitement. Yaldi! A’ve got the day aff the morra.

(Hurray, I’ve got tomorrow off)

Yer bum’s oot the windae. Your behind is out of the window. Meaning that you are talking a lot of nonsense.
Bairn Baby Jist a wee bairn

(Just a small baby / child)

Wee Small This is almost used across the board by most Scottish people and small and little are rarely used Gie’s a wee swallie

(Give us a small sip)

Gonnae no dae that! Going to not do that! An exclamation in order to ask someone to refrain from doing something
Crackin’ Great, excellent Something is very good and appreciated Gary, that’s a cracking tan o yers!

(Gary, that is a fantastic tan you have)

Hame Home The place where you live Aye, am away hame!

(Oh yes, I am away home)

Lad A guy Nice lad, he is.

(He is a nice guy)

Lassie Girl / lass A woman
Bonnie Pretty She sure is a bonnie lassie.

(She is indeed a beautiful woman)

Braw Grand, super, fine-looking This can be applied to people and objects. It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht t’nicht.

(It’s a superb, bright, moonlit night tonight)



Learn more about Scotland and its patter with Lingoda

Here at Lingoda we believe that you can only learn about all the aspects of a language from a native speaker. Therefore, all of our teachers are native speakers of their respective language. Our classes are very flexible and have a wide range of topics and exercises, including conversational practice to prepare you for real life situations. This way, if you travel abroad, you are better prepared for understanding local varieties of languages. Being exposed to different accents and pronunciations will highly improve your skills when it comes to understanding native speakers. Why not try for yourself and maybe your next teacher will be a braw Scottish lad or a bonnie Scottish lassie.

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