Five Scots Words to Liven Up Your Vocabulary

As we're sure you've probably noticed by now, we're very proud - and fond - of Scotland and our culture and we love to share it! Scotland has three national languages -English, Gaelic and Scots. Scots has historically been seen as merely a dialect of the English language, or even just slang! This couldn't be further from the truth - Scots is now recognised as a language in its own right. Yay!

In the 2011 census, 1.5 million Scottish people claimed to speak, read and understand Scots - that equated to around 30% of us!


The Scots language is incredible in its range, offering terms for concepts, emotions and feelings which often can't be adequately described in English. So, we've put together a wee list of old Scots words. Some you’ll already know, some you might remember your granny saying, and there might be a couple of new ones to brighten up your Scottish vocabulary. Whether you want to show off your knowledge to your pals, fit in with the locals on your next trip up north or just understand a bit more of Tam O'Shanter at your next Burns Supper – listen up!



1. Bonailie

Described by the Scots Language Centre as a ‘liquid leaving-do’, variants of bonailie date back to the early 17th century. A bonailie is a jolly parting drink, derived from the French 'bon' (good) and 'aller' (to go), though older variants are thought to be linked to Latin.

In 1815, one of bonailie's variants was featured in Edinburgh's beloved Sir Walter Scott's 'Farewell to MacKenzie, High Chief of Kintail' - a poem bidding so long to the Lord of Locharron, Glenshiel and Seaforth:

'On the brave vessel's gunnel I drank his bonail,

And farewell to MacKenzie, High Chief of Kintail!'


(We won't sneak Glenshiel into every word, don't worry.)

You've likely had many a bonailie or two in your time without knowing there's a word to perfectly sum it up! The next time one of your pals is heading off, show them what an intelligent and cultured individual you are by swapping your cry of "one for the road?!" for "a wee bonailie?" Slàinte mhath!



2. Stravaig

Describing a purposeless saunter, stravaig is one of those Scots words - a bit like 'outwith' - that makes its way into text written in English, so keep an eye out!

From the earlier version 'extravaig' meaning to digress, 'stravaig' can be found in texts from the 18th century onwards and is a perfect example of the endurance of the often claimed 'dying' Scots language.



3. Tartle

Here lies the magic of the Scots language - an untranslatable word! 'Tartle' encapsulates that distinct awkwardness of beginning to introduce someone only to realise you can't remember their name! The fun of 'tartle' is its specificity - to realise you've entirely forgotten someone's name is not to tartle, you must have it on the tip of your tongue or somewhere in the depth of your memory.