Amy Tries Again

Currie’s Bargain Translation Service – or – Scottish English for Beginners
March 10, 2014, 3:12 PM
Filed under: Miscellanea

Wondering what on earth Scottish people are trying to say to you?  Does it sound like they’re speaking English, but the English just doesn’t make any sense?  Fear not.  I am here to help.

‘At the minute.’

You can probably work this one out.  Not ‘at the moment’.  No, it’s minute.  Moment is obviously too vague.  This just sounds really wrong to me, probably because it’s almost right.

‘Where do you stay?’

This actually means ‘Where do you live?’.  There is a lot of potential for confusion here.  I thought people thought I was just visiting and went to great pains to tell them otherwise (NO TOURIST I), but no.  They say this to each other.  No, Scotland.  Staying is temporary (okay, having written it out that doesn’t really make a lot of sense).

‘They’re ages with me.’

This doesn’t mean ‘they’ve been with me for a long time’ or ‘they take a long time with me’ (that sounds like innuendo, so I’m just going to waggle my eyebrows for a little while) but ‘we are the same age’.  I know.  Weird.


This means ‘How are you?’.  The correct response is to reply ‘Alright?’.  A brave but worried smile will not do.  You think it will, but it results in the asker waiting for a few more awkward seconds before deciding you’re ignoring them.  I just can’t quite get the intonation right on this one.  Feels clunky.


People say this!  They actually say it!  It means ‘You know?’ and is used in the same way – tacked on to the end of sentences as a sort-of-but-not-really question.  It’s great because they’re saying ‘ken’.  That’s pretty Scottish, so it’s quite enjoyable.

‘Hen’, ‘Pal’

Generic terms of endearment.  Shop assistants will call you these things.  Hen is for women, and is multi-purpose – it is equivalent to ‘Darl’ or ‘Babe’ from younger shop assistants (‘You right for sizes in there, hen?’) and ‘Dear’ or ‘Love’ from corner shop ladies and kindly bus drivers.  ‘Pal’ is a direct translation of ‘Mate’ and is used in the same way (down to its sarcastic use by angry drunken young men fighting each other on the street).


To chat, to gossip.  This is a good word and should be adapted throughout the English-speaking world.  Use it.  (Also, it sounds like something the Proclaimers might do when not havering.)


This means what you already think it means, but more so.  It’s a positive term for any kind of non-boring conversation.  Everybody spends a lot of time talking about whether there is banter to be had in various situations.  It’s something that you want from work colleagues and from nice young men (hopefully in different capacities).  It is worth pointing out that you can never just have banter.  It has to be ‘a bit of banter’.


Smile and nod.  Smile and nod.  You speak the same language, and you’re not an American. Of course you can understand them. It’s fine.  You’re smiling and nodding.  You must know what they’re talking about.  See?  Fine.


4 Comments so far
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I was in England on a train and heard a group of people talking. I wasn’t paying attention and vaguely thought they were speaking Dutch, until I started to hear English words peppered throughout the conversation. Turns out they were Scottish. I had to strain to even keep up with what they were saying.
Do people have the same problem with your Australian accent?

Comment by Stu

I don’t believe so – certainly not that I’ve noticed. I guess it’s all about how strong your accent is. I’m sure that a group of Australians ‘strining as hard as possible would be difficult to understand. Extra points for colloquialisms.

Comment by Amy

You should try reading Trainspotting. It not only uses Scottish slang and words, it’s written phonetically – you have to sound out each word, think of a Scotsman and figure out what each word is.

Comment by doyle

I shall endeavor to incorporate some of these idioms into my daily banter, y’ken…

Comment by Raynor

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