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The cottage—with unreeking lum—in Alloway where the poet Robert Burns was born in 1759. (Pic: AP Images)
The cottage—with unreeking lum—in Alloway where the poet Robert Burns was born in 1759. (Pic: AP Images)
The cottage in Alloway—with unreeking lum—where the poet Robert Burns was born in 1759. (Pic: AP Images)

No matter what happens in the referendum over Scottish independence this week, the wit, expressive depth and wisdom of the Scottish people is something to be cherished. They know a thing or two about stoicism in the face of poor fortune, and there’s a clear knack for cutting through airs and graces too.

So here are are few expressions and truisms that should come in handy when everything turns as black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat.

Note: Where absolutely necessary we’ve also provided a brief translation from Scots dialect into English:

• Failing means you’re playing.
Translation: It’s better to be doing badly than not taking part.

• Mony a mickle maks a muckle.
(mickle = small thing, muckle = big thing)

Translation: Look after the pennies and the dollars look after themselves.

• You’re all bum and parsley.
Translation: You’re all mouth and trousers. You’re a blowhard.

• Keep the heid.
Translation: Don’t lose your head. Stay calm.

• We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns.
(bairn = child)

Translation: We are all equal in the eyes of God. Or Jock Tamson.

• Heid doon arse up!
Translation: Get on with it!

• Whit’s fur ye’ll no go past ye.
Translation: Que sera sera. What ever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.

• Don’t be a wee clipe.
Translation: Don’t be a tattle-tale.

• Yer bum’s oot the windae.
Translation: You’re talking nonsense.

• You’re a long time deid.
Translation: Lighten up, you’ve got plenty of time to be a misery after you die.

• Lang may yer lum reek.
(lum = chimney, reek = smoke)

Translation: I wish you well for the future.

• Guid gear comes in sma’ bulk.
Translation: Good things come in small packages.

• All his eggs are double-yoakit.
Translation: He’s a boastful windbag.

• She doesnae hae enough room inside her for a rheumatic pain.
Translation: She is thin.

• You’re the wee hen that never layed away.
Translation: Don’t play the innocent with me.

• Tatties o’wer the side.
Translation: It’s all gone Pete Tong. Disaster has struck.

• Haud yer wheesht!
Translation: Shush! Be quiet!

• It’s a lang road that’s no goat a turnin.’
(goat = got)

Translation: Don’t lose heart in dark times, things can’t keep going in the same direction forever.

• Yer aywis at the coo’s tail.
(coo = cow)

Translation: Hurry up, you’re always dragging your heels.

• It’s gaein be awricht ance the pain has gane awa.’
Translation: As soon as that pesky bad stuff is out of the way, everything will be fine.

• A clean shirt’ll do ye.
Translation: You’re not long for this world. One more change of laundry and that’s it.

• It’s a sair ficht for half a loaf.
Translation: Life is hard work. It’s a sore fight and you only get half of what you want.

• Sewn wi’ a hate needle an’ a burnin’ threed.
(hate = hot)

Translation: This garment was made shoddily.

• They have thrown a stone at my door.
Translation: My loved ones have sent me to Coventry. They’re no longer speaking to me.

• Ye mak a better door than a windae.
Translation: Get out of the way, you’re obscuring my view.
See also: Yer faither wisnae a glazier.

Sources: Scotland Welcomes You, Scottish At Heart

See more:
The Curious And Ancient Origins Of ‘Scot Free’
5 Scottish Dishes Every American Should Try
Fraser’s Phrases: Five British Sayings to Live By
20 Victorian Terms That Seem Oddly Modern

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By Fraser McAlpine