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List of Traditional Scottish Expressions

Updated April 17, 2017

The Scots language is rich with phrases and expressions to describe all manner of situations. Expressions vary from region to region, so what is common parlance in the north of Scotland may be incomprehensible to those living in the south. Robert Burns, Scotland's most famous poet, coined many expressions that are still spoken by Scots and non-Scots. Many traditional Scottish expressions are self-explanatory, but some require a little translation for non-Scots.

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Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne is the title of the well-known Scottish song written by Robert Burns. Across the English-speaking world, people sing "Auld Lang Syne" on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. The song also commonly concludes celebrations such as weddings. It has been translated several ways, two of which are: old long since and long, long ago.

Whit's For Ye Will No' Go By Ye

This phrase means: What is meant to happen, will happen. Scots still use the expression. A variation is "whit's for ye will no' go past ye." Many Scots have a fatalistic approach to life, summed up by this phrase.

Black as the Earl of Hell's Waistcoat

A Scottish mother would use this phrase, referring to the dirt on her children's knees or the colour of their clothes if they have been playing outside.

Up to High Doh

You can apply the phrase "up to high doh" to someone who is worked up, anxious or fretting about something. Its origins are unclear, but it's probably linked to the musical scale, where "high doh" is the top note.


"Swither" is a Scottish expression meaning to hesitate, dither or prevaricate. The term dates back to the 16th century. Although usually a verb, the word "swither" also can be used as a noun to indicate a state of indecision, for example, "He was in a swither."

Lang May Yer Lum Reek

Scots use this phrase to communicate good wishes to a fellow Scot, especially if he has just moved into a new house. The direct translation is "Long may your chimney smoke," but it really means, "May you live long and stay well."

The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men Gang Aft Agley

This expression derives from Robert Burns' poem, "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough." The expression translates as "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry."

It's a Braw, Bricht, Moonlicht Nicht the Nicht

This is translated as "It's a lovely, bright, moonlight night tonight." The Scots seldom use this expression. Teachers would use it to demonstrate the hard "ch" sound that is particular to the Scots language.

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About the Author

Based in the United Kingdom, Holly Cameron has been writing law-related articles since 1997. Her writing has appeared in the "Journal of Business Law." Cameron is a qualified lawyer with a Master of Laws in European law from the University of Strathclyde.

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