No Thanks, No Translation.

Last week, Scotland’s voters chose to keep the country as part of the United Kingdom. Rather than make a political post, I’ve decided to take advantage of this country’s moment in the world spotlight to present a few uniquely Scottish words to you. So unique, in fact, that there is no direct English equivalent.

I have a strange relationship with the Scots tongue. I don’t naturally speak the dialect, just standard English. Yet if I’m reading a poem written in Scots, I can understand it slowly, and if someone drops a word here or there in a conversation, I’ll be able to recognise it first time.

Of the three words below, the top two are in common usage, but I’ve yet to hear the third in the wild.

  • Dreich, adjective. A one-syllable word to describe damp and drizzly weather. The first four letters are pronounced dree, while the last two take the slightly guttural sound found in the name Bach. The closest single-word English equivalents would be dull or miserable, but these could easily be applied to a person or an event, whereas dreich is exclusively for weather. The word sometimes makes it into local BBC weather reports.
  • Skite, verb. Related to skating but nothing to do with that online phone service. To skite is to skim or slide along a surface, usually by accident. It can be applied to a person or an object. In English, you could say slip, but that implies the person or object has fallen over, whereas someone who skites might remain standing.
  • Tartle, noun. This is where a person hesitates while introducing someone because they’ve forgotten the other party’s name. Most sources have this down as a verb, yet the example sentence usually given is, “Pardon my tartle.” In that context, it appears it be used as a noun, although I welcome any corrections.
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