Travel: A Survival Guide to Edinburgh Slang and Scots Words

Scotland's Momentous Decision on September 18th

If you ever go to Edinburgh and find yourself in one of its countless excellent pubs, you may want to strike up a conversation with one of the grave looking, old guys at the bar drinking pints. If so, you will want to be able to hold a conversation while also not making a fanny of yourself or coming off as a wee bam.

Read on to get the low-down on Edinburgh slang (and to some extent all Scottish slang) which I managed to accumulate over years of being steamin in the Royal Oak, the Sheep’s Heid and other salubrious establishments in Old Reekie.

Aye: Used always in place of yes.

A Fanny: (a person either boy or girl) who is behaving like an idiot

Bairn: Child or baby

Bampot/ wee bam – an idiot, unhinged person, an imbecile.

Bannock: biscuit or a scone (old-fashioned)

Bawbag: Utter wanker, a guy who is a complete idiot, taken from scrotum sack/ball bag.

Boak/to boak: To vomit

Bonny/bonnie: Someone or something is beautiful, could refer to a view, a house, a person, a baby, anything.

Scotland's Momentous Decision on September 18th
Princes Gardens then and now

Brambles/brambleberries: The Scottish name for wild blackberries.

Breeks: Trousers (old-fashioned)

Burn: A stream or creek

Burns supper: The annual celebration of the birthday of Scottish poet Rabbie Burns

Cairn: A man-made pile of stones erected as a monument or memorial at the top of a hill.

Cock-a-leekie: A chicken and leek soup

Scotland's Momentous Decision on September 18th
Leith Street then and now

Cullen Skink: A creamy soup made of smoked haddock and potatoes.

Croft/crofter: A small farmhouse or farmer living in a remote village (more common in the Highlands)

Banoffee pie: Banana and caramel/toffee pie or tart

Blether/to have a blether: To have a chat or have a natter with someone.

Dae ye ken?/ken what I’m saying?: Do you understand me?

Dram/ a wee dram: A wee nip of whisky, sometimes drunk with a bit of water or straight. If you are in the pub don’t ever ask for coke or any other soda with it, you will be treated like the bampot you are.

Dreich: The weather is really gloomy and shit.

Every Picture Tells a Story: Lake Menteith in the fading light of a winters night
Pure baltic on the side of Lake Menteith. Copyright Content Catnip 2010

Fucking yaldi/yaldi: (something is) fucking brilliant, great

Glasgow kiss: When someone headbutts someone else, or glasses them with a pint glass in the face, this is known as a Glasgow kiss.

Gloaming: Dusk, the long period of time between night and day

Greeting/greetin’: Meaning to cry or sook, normally referring to a child. “That wee bairn has been greetin all night” (the child has been crying)

Haggis: A national dish with sweet meats and offal, herbs, spices and oats stuffed inside of a sheep’s stomach. There is a vegetarian variety that is essentially a vegetarian meatloaf, it’s delicious. Haggis is commonly added to a breakfast bap and had with tomato sauce for a morning breakfast on the go.

Hogmanay: New Year’s Eve

Hud yer whisht: be quiet, shut your mouth

I dinnae ken: I don’t understand

IRN-BRU: Orange flavoured soft drink that’s always eclipsed Coke in terms of popularity in Scotland. Also popular in the Scottish part of Canada.

Jakey: A person who is addicted to class A drugs or alcohol/ a tramp or drug addict

Jessie/A jessie: A sissy or a mumma’s boy. Usually said between men as an insult.”Drink more whisky, don’t be a fuckin jessie!”. “Try the haggis, don’t be a jessie”.

Kirk: A church or cathedral

Kelpie: A shape-shifting water spirit capable of taking human form and living in lochs and pools. Normally takes the form of a horse. (Unrelated to the dog breed, the Australian Kelpie).

30 metre high statues of kelpies were erected in Falkirk to celebrate the reopening of the Firth and Clyde canal.
30 metre high statues of kelpies were erected in Falkirk to celebrate the reopening of the Firth and Clyde canal.

Loan: A grassy strip leading to a farm or clearing.  e.g. Duddingston Loan.

Munro: A Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet high.

Muir: A moor or field

Neds: Non educated delinquents, aka bogans.

Scotland's Momentous Decision on September 18th
Edinburgh Castle and the Half Moon Battery, Lithograph, 1822

Neeps: Turnips

Old Reekie/Auld Reekie: The name used with fondness for Edinburgh, referring to its reputation in the middle ages for having sewerage flowing through its streets. At the end of the Royal Mile and castle there was Old Town’ tenement housing. People used to throw the contents of bed pans out of their windows and say “Gardyloo”, a modified version of the French expression Gard a l’eau  or watch out for the water. The name still lingers on today in various forms.

Oatcakes: Basically biscuits made of oats that are a traditional favourite in Scotland, eat lathered in jam or with eggs on top, as an Australian friend of mine liked to do…in vegemite.

Polis: The police

Pished/pished oot me heid: Very drunk

Pure raging : Really angry.

Pure baltic: Really freezing cold weather.

Pure minging/minging: (Something or someone is) really disgusting, really revolting.

Selkie: Selkies are mythological creatures found in Irish, Scottish, Faroese, and Icelandic folklore. They are said to live as seals and then shed their skin to become human on land.

Faroese stamps depicting selkies
Faroese stamps depicting selkies

Schemies: People who live in a housing scheme or a council flat.

Shite: Use instead of shit, means the same thing.

Steamin: Drunk

Tatties: Potatoes

The boabie: Term of endearment for a man’s penis, can also mean the Police.

To ken (something).: To know something

Scotland's Momentous Decision on September 18th
The rail bridge over Leith Walk, gone since the late 70’s


Tunnocks Tea Cakes: A cake brand that everyone loves in Scotland.

Weegie: Someone from Glasgow, from “Glaswegian”

Wee hen/hen: A term of endearment for a friend or a family member but typically child, girl or woman. Normally used by women to their friends or to their child.

Wee’un: Shortened version of wee one or child.

Whisky: It’s always Whisky without the e in it in Scotland, never write it Whiskey. Also it’s never called Scotch or Scotch Whiskey in Scotland. To call whisky Scotch in Scotland you will be asking for a Glasgow kiss or at least to be called a wee bam.

Yer a chancer:  You’re pushing your luck right now

Scotland's Momentous Decision on September 18th
Hollyrood Palace at Sunrise

I hope you enjoyed this round up of Edinburgh slang (and to some extent Scottish slang, although I never lived anywhere else in Scotland so I can’t say for sure what words they use there). Let me know if I’ve missed anything, cheers! And see you doon the pub for a wee half of McEwans Ale. 

Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

5 thoughts on “Travel: A Survival Guide to Edinburgh Slang and Scots Words

  1. Thank you…that is a really interesting fact and it now makes me want to explore Newcastle, a fascinating connection 😊


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