As someone who can lay claim to being half Scottish and who has lived here for much of the last eight months, I feel I am reasonably well qualified to be able to talk about some Scotticisms: expressions that appear in Scots English, but which might “nae”[1] be understood south of the border. Please rest assured I have not been brainwashed by the SNP propaganda bandwagon, my Scottish accent is still terrible, and I’m still about as southern as one can sound.

Here are some my favourites:

  • “The back of…”: e.g., “We’ll finish our round of golf at the back of four”. In English: “We’ll finish our round of golf not long after four o’clock.”

Quite common among the Scots to express a time period after a given hour of the day. Reasonably helpful, even if it lacks specificity.

  • “Outwith”: e.g., “You may want to seek help outwith the university”. In English: “You may want to seek help from outside the university.”

Americans use “without” as an antonym of “within” and, in similar vein, the Scots go for “outwith”. I first heard this from a Scotsman from the careers service who spoke to us in Welcome Week in a room full of Americans. I think they got the idea quicker than I did.

  • “go through”: e.g., “I’m going through to Glasgow this evening (from Edinburgh).” In English: “I’m going over/across to Glasgow this evening.”

This one I don’t really get. Go through what? Mountains? Hills? Tunnels? Someone recently told me that they’d come through from Glasgow a few years ago. Come through what? Some sort of adversity? The Edinburgh locals would probably say living in Glasgow is coming through adversity…

  • “dreich” e.g., “It’s a dreich day out there.” In English: “It’s a miserable day out there.”

Unfortunately, during the winter, this one gets rolled out quite a bit.

And my favourite one…

  • “stay”: e.g., “Where do you stay?” In English: “Where do you live?”

I’m fortunate to be staying in Edinburgh in a lodging capacity with a lovely family, so to me the question doesn’t sound so strange; but when you hear someone who has lived in Edinburgh their whole life say that they “stay” a couple of miles outside the city centre, it initially strikes you as being a bit odd.

What I like so much about this idiom is that it is relatable to Scripture, and especially the Gospel of John. The Greek verb for “stay” or “dwell, remain…” (μένω) appears 40x in John (120x in the whole of the NT; including 29x in the Johannine letters) which is significant. Following John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus is the Son of God and he has pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, two of John’s disciples say to Jesus in John 1:38: “Rabbi … where are you staying?” Jesus’ ministry was not one of comfort, living in the same safe place for years on end, but an itinerant one, where he stayed in various places for various periods of time. Rowan Williams, in his excellent book Being Disciples: The Essentials of the Christian Life writes: “The Gospel teaches us that the bottom line in thinking about discipleship has something to do with this staying [his emphasis] … what makes you a disciple is not turning up from time to time.” Jesus’ farewell discourse later in the gospel are also peppered with the notion of “staying”, for example, in John 15:5 – “whoever stays in me, I too, stay in him/her; and this person bears[2] much fruit” (my translation).

Regardless of where we live or where we stay, if we are living and staying in Christ, we can be confident of bearing much fruit, even in sometimes dreich Scotland. The berries are just coming into season though…


[1] “not”

[2] The verb here is definitely present rather than future, so “bears” rather than “will bear” is probably a more accurate translation.


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