Scottish Expressions

My informant has a very interesting story. She is Scottish, but grew up primarily in England, near London. She moved to California with my Grandfather when my mother was 2 years old, back in the 1960s. Informant’s parents were both very Scottish, and she says it was often difficult to understand what they were saying. I remember when I met my great-grandmother, Elizabeth, it sounded as though she were speaking a different language.

Informant: “Oh! Great! Oh, Perfect! I know many expressions… I remember these well from when I lived there. You wouldn’t use them all the time, just certain occasions. Unless you were my Uncle Archie…” (I never did learn who Uncle Archie was)

Me: “Which do you remember?”

Informant:  “Hogmanay, and it’s… New Years was almost more important…So, on New Years Eve, people would go after midnight to someone’s house and you would take something with you, like short bread or pudding or whatever, and, but if you were dark haired you were welcome and if you were light-headed, you weren’t. So if nobody came to visit you at midnight, you had to make sure nobody with blonde hair crossed your threshold.

“Lang may yer lum reek” (Live long and healthy) is what they say on New Years. We lived in London and during the war it was impossible to celebrate but we would make short bread and my father would have a little whisky before bed on New Years. All of the sudden, this one year, we were awaked to the sound of bagpipes at one in the morning, and we lived up a little lane and my mother, we rush out. There is this piper walking up and he is playing “Scotland The Brave,” all the way to our house. And people who knew slightly, they knew we were Scottish and they decided to come first foot us, you know, the first foot over the threshold. The bag piper came in the house, with his wife, and stayed for half and hour or so. He gets his bagpipe and starts back up again. The neighbors loved it though! They started to look forward to it every year.”

Me: “Wonderful.”

Informant: “Here’s tae us! Wha’s like us? Damn few, an’ they ‘re a deid!”, which means, basically… Cheers! There’s no one like the Scots!” That one was my favorite.

Me: “Any others?”

Informant: “Weans wi’ big lugs tak it a’ in” (Watch what you say in front of children)… my mother used to say that. I remember, I used to think my parents were just using slang terms, but these…these are real Scottish words! Different from English. I even have a dictionary if you want to look up what they mean.” (I did)