Scots language, if you ken whit ah mean?

Some people say that Scots is just a dialect of English. Others say that it is a totally different language from English but is the most closely related to it.

Don't get confused between Scots and Scots Gaelic, which is a Celtic language spoken mainly in the Highlands and Islands.

The Scotsman.
Scots language, if you ken whit ah mean?

BACK in the 1970s teachers used to love beating the Scots language out of us. A clip round the ear was what you got for using Scots words. Only RP (received pronunciation) or Estuary English would do in the modern classroom, ken what I mean? “Who is Ken?” would, of course, be the reply.

During that era, Scots was dismissed as street talk and not likely to get you far in the world. Well, a quick deek (modern Scots for look) at some of the most successful writers in Scotland today and you'll soon learn it pays to hang on to the mither tongue. Irvine Welsh, Tom Leonard and James Kelman have brought Scots to a new international audience with their books that use our native language liberally.

There are two major dictionaries of Scots words, the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongues (DOST), which records words in use from the twelfth century through to about 1700, and the Scottish National Dictionary(SND) which traces modern Scots from 1700 to the 1970s.

Many words from Old Scots survive in common use today. DOST dates the word gey, or goodly or fine, to the 16th century. (It is also spelled gei, guy, gae, gay(e), gie or gai.) The term gey now more usually means "rather" and expressions such as gey glaiket remain in common use to mean "rather stupid". Glaiket itself dates back to the 1700s and means foolish or senseless.

If you were to call someone gey glaiket, you might cause something of a stramash, or commotion. The first written record of stramash is thought to date back to 1803. Lewis Grassic Gibbon used the word in his novel Sunset Song and John Buchan, author of The Thirty-Nine Steps, was also unafraid of the odd stramash.

After a stramash you might begin to feel scunnered. The noun scunner is found in DOST and dates to the 1660s. It means revulsion, loathing or a source or cause of this, a stomach upset or a sinking feeling.

Dictionary of the Scots Language

Scots love nothing better than to talk about the weather and dark and overcast, or rainy days are often described as dreich or dreigh. Many Scots think dreich literally means wet, but DOST dates the word back to the 13th century and defines it as extensive, lasting, tedious, tiresome or slow.

The word midden, which according to the SND was first recorded in 1717, was used by many great poets including Robert Burns. The word started life meaning dung heap, then later refuse or rubbish heap. Nowadays it is also used to describe a mess.

Deek is still in use today and means to look at a person. Early recordings of the word started in the 1780s.

So having taken just a wee deek at some of our Scots words, why not test your own knowledge. Our simple multiple-choice quiz will soon let you know whether you're a true-Scot or just a bletherer.

1. Haud yer wheesht!

Hold that sausage!
Shut up!
Have you had your tea!
What a terrible person!

2. High Heid yin

A brainy person
A dreamer
The most senior ranking person
A tall fellow

3. Lang may your lum reek

What a terrible smell
Have a good night's sleep
Long may your lump smell
May you always be prosperous enough to have fuel

4. A sair fecht

A sore fight - meaning something disappointing
Not a nice person
A doomsayer
A dangerous situation
Dinna fash yerself.

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