October 26, 2021


Did you know that Scotland has 3 official languages? English, Gaelic, and Scots. These languages (particularly Scots in the lowland region, aka where I’m located!) remain a valuable part of Scotland’s cultural identity, and appear in songs, poetry, literature, as well as in daily conversation. 

When we first decided to move to Edinburgh, something I was most excited about was the fact that we would be back in an English speaking country. Living in a place where you don’t speak the language fluently is tough, and I was looking forward to that barrier lifting. And while understanding my friends and neighbours here is significantly easier than in Sweden, I definitely have had moments of confusion where I had no idea what was being said. Between the various accents, masks, and colourful lingo, it’s taken a while to get used to it all.

With over 27 words to describe the weather, Scottish people have a way of making even the most bland conversations interesting. (Though be warned – Scots swear a lot, and it still shocks my delicate American ears!) I could make an entire dictionary of Scottish words and phrases, but today I’ll just share a few of my faves.

Curious to enhance your Scottish vocabulary? Keep scrolling! 

1. Dreich

We moved to Edinburgh in November, and I quickly learned this one. Meaning dark, dreary, grey, and gloomy. This foreboding word is often used by Scots to describe the weather.

2.  Ned

Short for non-educated delinquent, Ned is a derogatory term used to refer to groups of young adults that tend to hang around parks and street corners, causing trouble and generally up to no good.  

3. Aye

Simply put, aye means to agree. (‘Nae’, to disagree).  

4. Ken

To know. As in: ‘A ken Emily fae doon the road’. Alternatively, ‘dinnae ken’ means you don’t know.

5. Wee

I think most of us are familiar with the Scottish use of the word wee, meaning littleHowever, it was a shock to me to hear just how much wee is used in everyday life. Used as a bit of a filler word, wee can pretty much be used in any sentence. Examples I’ve heard in just the last week: 

“Let’s meet for a wee coffee” 

“I was down at the pub for a wee drink” 

“Oh just doing a wee bit of shopping”

“My wee girl has her birthday party this weekend”

6. Hen

Not to be confused with a female chicken or bird, hen refers to a female, and is used as a term of endearment. Similar to the term honey or sweetheart, hen has the same effect on me when used by the wrong people (read: creepy/patronising). Am I the only one who feels this way? 

I’m a year into living in Scotland and still come across words and phrases I don’t understand quite frequently. The key for me has been to look for context clues, keep up to date on Scottish tv (with subtitles!), and when in doubt, just ask! Scottish people are very friendly, and in my experience love sharing! 


Do you have any favourite Scottish words or terms? 

Talk soon,

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