Scottish Slang: 13 Terms You Should Know

Learn these Scottish slang terms so you don’t sound like a total roaster when you visit.

You’ll want to work these Scottish slang terms into conversation.
You’ll want to work these Scottish slang terms into conversation. / Sally Anscombe/Moment Open/Getty Images (flag), Justin Dodd/Mental Floss (background)

“Give me a child until he is 7,” Aristotle supposedly said, “and I’ll show you the man.” Give Scotland a thousand years to tinker with a language, and it will show you patois, par excellence. Freighted with idiom, insults, and a good deal of invention, the English in Scotland is quite unlike anywhere else. To prove the point, here are a few Scottish slang terms you may not have heard—and might want to keep in mind for your next visit.

How? and Sound

Visitors to Scotland can look forward to world-class museums, a vibrant music scene, and utter bewilderment when they encounter the word how. That’s because this adverb—which normally deals with the manner in which something is done—functions differently there: How is a direct stand in for why. Confused? Here’s an example:

“I can’t make it to dinner tonight.”
“I just can’t. Sorry.”

How did this shift occur? It’s hard to pin down exactly, but plausible explanations point to a derivation of the word hou in Scots (which, along with English and Scottish Gaelic, is one of Scotland’s native languages).

The Scots Dictionary records multiple meanings for hou, one of which is “how is it that?” or “why?” Incidentally, sound means “OK” or “fine.”

Gonnae no dae that?

Think of gonnae (“Going to”) no (“not”) dae (“do”) that as “please don’t” or “can you not?” The phrase is a punchline from a sketch in the popular Scottish BBC comedy Chewin’ the Fat. One lighthouse worker pranks his partner, and the scene always ends in the following exchange:

“Gonnae no dae that?”
“Just, gonnae no?”

Did ye, aye?

Often used by Glasgwegian comedian Kevin Bridges, the phrase did ye, aye? (or “did you, yes?”) is a riposte to anybody who likes to embellish stories or talk in word salads—basically a way of saying they’re full of it.

Git Awa’ and Bile Yer Heid

Bile and heid are the Scots words for boil and head, respectively—so telling someone to “git awa’ and bile yer heid” (“get away and boil your head”) means asking them to submerge their head in water, flick the switch to 11, and bring their head up to temperature—in this case, 100 degrees Celsius. More plainly, it means “fuck off.”


Usually preceded by the intensifiers total or absolute, a roaster is, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, an “obnoxious, annoying, or otherwise objectionable person.” This meaning of the term—which popped up in 1999—was derived from an older, early 18th-century sense of roast meaning “to severely ridicule, reprimand, or interrogate (a person)” or “to pester, annoy.” Nowadays, only total roasters would use the word in such ways.

Did you see that guy doing cartwheels in the middle of the road?”
Aye mate; absolute roaster.”


Like most places in the Anglosphere, a tan in Scotland means darkening the skin through sun exposure. But unlike most places in the world, tan is also a verb completely unrelated to the sun: In Scots, tan means “to thrash or soundly beat.” The term is highly flexible, though; you can tan a window (by throwing stones through it), tan a pint (by drinking it quickly), or tan an entire packet of chocolate biscuits (by eating them in one sitting).

Taps Aff, Taps Oan, and Bawbag Weather

Scotland Further Eases Lockdown, But Still Distances Itself From Westminster
Yay, it’s a taps aff day! / Jeff J Mitchell/GettyImages

Taps aff—or “tops off”—is the point at which garments covering the upper body are removed in response to the outdoor heat. There’s no consensus on the exact temperature that triggers taps aff. But, 20°C (or 68°F) is a reasonable guess. In less literal terms, taps aff denotes appreciation for a summer’s day: “Oaft, that’s taps aff weather!”

While taps oan (“tops on”) weather prevails for the bulk of a Scottish year, especially inclement periods may be referred to as “bawbag weather.” In Scotland, Bawbag Hurricane replaced Cyclone Friedhelm as the unofficial name of the storm that battered much of the country in 2011. For the uninitiated, bawbag is a scrotum as well as a pejorative term—so as Cyclone Friedhelm swept the land causing rivers to burst and trees to fall, it was said to be acting like “a fuckin’ bawbag.”


Pump is a verb, but it has nothing to do with inflating (except in very niche circumstances). If you pump someone, you engage in sexual congress with that person. Used in the past tense, pump can also indicate a heavy defeat for a football team. For example:

Did you see the Rangers score last night?”
Aye, they were well pumped.”

Read More Articles About International Slang and Idioms:



close up of hands pulling apart a paper heart
Breaking up? You patched it. / jayk7/Moment/Getty Images

In other parts of the world, to patch a relationship might involve buying flowers, saying sorry, and reconciling over a candlelit dinner. In Glasgow, patch used in reference to a relationship means “to dissolve the union.”

You still seeing your girl, mate?”
Nah, patched it.”
Just couldnt be fucked.”

Patch can also be used more generally to mean “not doing something”—you can patch work, patch going out, patch a holiday, etc. Commonly used among Scottish teens, patch can also mean “to ignore,” as in, “Ma maw’s still texting me but A’m just patching it.”

Hunners ae 

If you find yourself in Scotland, quite unbothered about nailing the accent, you might have a go at incorporating hunners ae—literally “hundreds of”—into your repertoire. That’s because hunners ae transcends its literal meaning, and is a useful phrase to convey general plentitude. Did you witness many law enforcement vehicles converge outside a building? With your newfound confidence in all things Scottish, you could render the above sentence into “the place wis pure crawlin’ wi’ hunners ae polis, man.”