Scot's Word of the Week - Archive page 3

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Words found on this page:

Hee Haw

meaning nothing, zero, empty

This weeks Scots word is most familiar in the Glasgow area, but used throughout Scotland. It has nothing to do with the noise a donkey makes! To say that someone knows hee haw about something is a slightly scornful and jocular way to say they know nothing about it.

Examples of this in common use could include:

"Jimmy kens hee haw aboot hee haw"
meaning - Jimmy knows nothing about anything.

"That means hee haw to me!"
meaning - That means nothing to me, or I don't care about that!

A numpty is a person that in general knows hee haw about most things. Another personal favorite of mine is the Scots word 'mince' when used to mean rubbish, nonsense or no good. Putting these two together you could say for example:

"He kens hee haw aboot it and is just talking mince!"

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meaning sandwich

This weeks Scots word is one that is used everyday. A 'piece' is a sandwich, and a lunch box is a 'piece box'. The correct use of this word is a topic of recent debate within our group, and one of those words that is regionally different. So the conclusion is this:

If you want a jam sandwich in the Glasgow area, or in Central Scotland you should ask for 'A piece on jeelie/jam'. However, in Ayreshire and Aberdeenshire they will think this is very strange (and perhaps imagine some sort of balancing act with a sandwich and a jam jar) and you should instead ask for 'A piece and jam'.

The other reason for this weeks choice is to allow me the chance to share one of my favourite songs that I sang when I was younger, all about pieces. It has an interesting historical context too. In the old days of the Glasgow Tenement flats (which were no more than about 4-5 storeys high), mothers would wrap sandwiches in the waxed bread paper packaging and throw them out the kitchen window to their children who would be playing below. This tradition continued until Glasgow began to replace the old tenements (in the post WWII period) with estates of huge 20 storey high rise housing. One of the most famous (or should that be infamous!) areas of Glasgow with these new style high rises was Castlemilk. The Glasgow council rehoused huge numbers of families to the new Castlemilk estates and tore down the tenements. In the name of progress the old tenement way of life was inevitably lost, and the practice of throwing sandwiches out of windows stopped (incidentally, the word for throwing something out of a window is defenestrate - isn't that an interesting word?!).

The Jeelie (Jam) Piece Song is a humourous childrens song that was written at that time, which tells the tale of one hungry Castlemilk kid who is mourning the loss of his daily defenstrated jeelie piece. Below the song is a translation of it, and an explanation of some of the terms used.

The Jeelie Piece Song

I'm a skyscraper wean, I live on the nineteenth flair;
But I'm no' gaun oot tae play ony mair,
'Cause since we moved tae Castlemilk*, I'm wastin' away
'Cause I'm gettin' wan meal less every day.

Oh ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty storey flat,
Seven hundred hungry weans'll testify, to that.
If it's butter, cheese or jeely, if the breid is plain or pan,
The odds against it reaching earth are ninety-nine tae wan.

On the first day ma maw flung oot a daud o' Hovis broon;
It came skytin' oot the windae and went up insteid o' doon.
Noo every twenty-seven hoors it comes back intae sight
'Cause ma piece went intae orbit and became a satellite.


On the second day ma maw flung me a piece oot wance again.
It went and hut the pilot in a fast low-flying plane.
He scraped it aff his goggles, shouting through the intercom,
'The Clydeside Reds** huv giat me wi' a breid-an-jeely bomb'.


On the third day ma maw thought she would try another throw.
The Salvation Army band was staundin' doon below.
'Onward, Christian Soldiers' was the piece they should've played,
But the oompah man was playing oan ma piece an' marmalade.


We're wrote away to Oxfam to try an' get some aid,
An' a' the weans in Castlemilk have formed a 'piece brigade'.
We're gonnae march to George's Square*** demanding civil rights
Like nae mair hooses over piece-flinging height.

Chorus to finish...


I'm a skyscraper kid and I live on the 19th floor
But I'm not going out to play any more
'Cause since we moved to Castlemilk* I'm wasting away
'Cause I'm getting one less meal every day

O you can't throw sandwiches out a 20 storey flat
700 hungry kids will testify to that
If it's butter, cheese or jam, if the bread is plain or pan
The odds against it reaching earth are 99 to 1

On the first day my mum threw out a bit of Hovis brown
It came flying out the window and went up instead of down
Now every 27 hours it comes back into sight
'Cause my sandwich went into orbit and became a satellite


On the second day my mum threw out my sandwich once again
It went out and hit a pilot of a low flying plane
He scraped it off his goggles shouting through his intercom
The Clydeside Reds** have got me with a bread and jam bomb


On the third day my mum thought she'd have another throw
The Salvation Army band was standing down below
"Onward Christian Soldiers" was the tune they should have played
But the oompah man was playing on my sandwich and marmalade


We've written off to Oxfam, to try and get some aid
And all the kids of Castlemilk have formed a 'Piece' brigade
We're going to march to Georges Square*** demanding civil rights,
Like no more building houses over sandwich flinging heights!

* Castlemilk - An area of Glasgow, dominated by high rise buildings

** The Clydeside Reds - Red Clydeside is a term used to describe the era of political radicalism that characterised the city of Glasgow in Scotland and urban areas around the city on the banks of the River Clyde. The history of Red Clydeside is a significant part of the history of the labour movement in the United Kingdom as a whole, and in Scotland in particular.

This period in Glasgow's history lasted from the 1910s till roughly the early 1930s, although its legacy is still visible today in the area. It was a term that was brought into popular consciousness by the newspapers referring to the political militancy of the time. An amalgamation of charismatic individuals, organized movements and socio-political forces leads to the enduring notion of Red Clydeside. This period has its roots directly in working class opposition to the United Kingdom's participation in World War I, although the area had a long history of political Radicalism going back to its involvement in the Friends of the People society and the "Radical War" of 1820.

*** Georges Square - The large square in Glasgow City Centre

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meaning fine or excellent

This weeks word comes from the Scots version of the word 'brave', and is a word which is very commonly used to describe a lot of things. For example, one can use 'braw' to describe anything that is good, beautiful, or pleasing in some way. Examples could include:

"It's a braw day" , " Thats a braw dress", "This stew tastes braw"

It can also be used in the negative to mean something that is extremely unpleasant by saying:

"Thats nae braw"

According to some online dictionaries it is also a word for brightly coloured and showy, although I have to say that in my experience I have never heard the word used in that context.

This word also features in a sort of Scots tongue-twister phrase which has appeared in folk songs over the years and is used as an example of a phrase that only a true Scot can say properly:

"It's a braw bricht moonlicht nicht" (meaning "its a beautiful, bright, moonlit night").

Now to correctly pronounce this you need to practise the 'ch' noise that I described in the entry for 'Sheugh', because each occurance of the letters 'ch' in the above phrase should be pronounced that way. It should sound like a softened version of the noise that a cat makes when it hisses at you. Have a look at the 'Sheugh' entry for a more detailed example and get practising! You will be mistaken for a Scots person in no time if you can master this tongue-twisting phrase!

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meaning embarrassment, or embarrassed

This weeks word of the week is most commonly heard in Glasgow but is used across Scotland to describe embarrassment, or an embarrassing situation. Not to be confused with the worldwide use of the word 'beamer' to mean a BMW.

Strictly speaking 'a beamer' is a red face caused by embarrassment or guilt, or something which is so embarrassing or bad that it causes such a blush. It can also be used in the sense 'to take a beamer' meaning to get embarrassed, using the words pure, right, and total in front of the word (like in "'It would be a pure beamer") emphasise the meaning to mean it would be VERY embarrassing. Here are some quotes to give you a better idea of how it is used:

"If you've ever taken a beamer because someone's called you a numpty and you weren't sure if it was a compliment or an insult.... "
(tagline from 'Shut your pus - the wee book of Scots slang ' by Scott Simpson. Incidentally your 'pus' is your face.)

"'God, imagine if it was his boat,' she says, 'mortification or what?' I didn't bother asking her the exact meaning of 'mortification' but I guessed it roughly means she'd take a beamer"

"She took a major beamer last year when she won all those merit certificates for every subject and her mum came to the school wearing blue eye shadow."
(both excerpts from "Fried Scampi from Hell" by Ciara MacLaverty.)

For a bit of extra wisdom, read on and find out about the psychology and evolutionary reasons for taking a beamer:

"Blushing (taking a beamer) is often attributed to social phobia - the fear of being judged, criticised, and evaluated by other people. Social phobia can manifest itself in a number of ways - some people find that they sweat profusely in response to emotional or social stimuli, whereas others find that they fidget or blush uncontrollably.

In the "Principles of Anatomy and Physiology", Gerard Tortora and Sandra Grabowski write that when we are exposed to environmental or emotional stimuli, the body kicks in with a "fight or flight" response, stimulating the release of extra adrenalin. This adrenalin acts upon the sympathetic nervous system, which among other things triggers the widening of blood vessels throughout the body, including the vessels in face, hence blushing.

Dr William Bird, medical advisor to the British Heart Foundation, says blushing is thought to be linked to evolution - a non-verbal demonstration of our emotions."

Taken from (URL now no longer available).

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Scunner (noun), Scunnered (adjective)

This weeks Scots word has a myriad of meanings and common usages. In general it means disgust. Although it can be used in such a variety of ways that this definition doesn't do it much justice. Here are a list of the most common meanings:

According to the Oxford English dictionary it is:

  1. a loathing disgust; now freq. in a milder sense: a grudge, repugnance, dislike, esp. in the phrase to take a scunner at, against, or to.
  2. Of things: a nuisance, a hardship, a plague, a vexatious matter (it can be used to describe a job or task that is so tiresome you just can't face it).

It is a word that has been in use since 1500 and is still commonly used today.

1. Scunner (Verb) - meaning to sicken, disgust, to bore to the point of annoyance.

Example: "Wid thon dance music no jist scunner ye?"
Translation: "Wouldn't that terrible dance music not just bore you/drive you mad?"

2. Scunner (Noun) - That which sickens, disgusts or bores.... also the state of being scunnered.

Example: "Since the New Year, ah've took a right scunner tae the drink.... "
Translation: "Since New Year I have been off the drink" (implying that the person drank so much and was so ill that they have not been able to face another drink since.)

3. Scunner - a disgusting person.

Example: "See you, ye're nuhhin bit a wee scunner!"
Translation: "You're nothing but a disgusting/horrible/annoying person"

4. Scunner - The shuddering near-retch spasm of the throat when confronted by something particularly distasteful. Falls just short of a "Dry Boak" (a 'dry boak' is a particularly colourful colloquialism that describes the action of being so sickened by something that you feel you would vomit if only you could. This is a phrase particularly common in Glasgow and can be used to describe anything that you find extremely distasteful/disgusting. For example, I just can't eat fish. Eating fish would give me the dry boak.)

5. Scunner - a great shame, something that has created a problem or hardship. As in, "It's a scunner that you've no been able to sell yer hoose" (it's a shame you haven't been able to sell your house).

This example was taken from a newspaper article about a debate in the House of Commons:

"On May 9, the House of Commons was debating a major bill on public transportation. A conservative back-bencher charged the Labor ministers with abandoning the party's pledge to oppose privatization of air traffic control. The government owed the House an explanation, but none was forthcoming. "I think that such ditching of promises contributes to the low turnouts at elections. There is a clear connection between the public being turned off -- or scunnered, as we say in Scotland -- by politicians who, collectively, do not stay firm on what we have said we would do."
2000 The Writers Art/ Covering the Courts by James J Kilpatrick

From his series of political articles and the 'use and abuse' of the English language in the courts. His articles have been picked up by over 200 newspapers.

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Just for fun

A little peek into the lighter side of life within the Heriot-Watt Waves & Fields group.

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