Yirdit coaties

Ma dochter's coaties. They're yirdit - fit's she bin daein? Plowterin throu dubs, nae doot. Quines is jist as fool an orra as loons. Ma mither's mither wid hae gied her a pymin, but we arna sae coorse the day.

My daughter's gymshoes/plimsolls (or at a pinch, Converse). They're filthy - what's she been doing? Doubtless walking through mud. Girls are just as dirty and messy as boys. My grandmother would have given her a spanking, but we're not so ill-disposed these days.

In giving you this little taste of Scots I have to say first of all that my grandmother would have done no such thing. My mother often told me how she and her brothers were threatened with a 'pymin' for sitting on the upturned keels of boats in summer, and getting their clothes covered in melting tar, but that the threat was never carried through.

I also realise how local my variant of Scots must be. I couldn't find 'coaties', 'yirdit' or 'pymin' in my Concise Scots Dictionary. They may be outwith its concise scope. But just to highlight two words of Scandinavian origin: the modern Swedish for 'earth' is 'jord', and 'yird' in Scots means 'earth'. But its extension into 'yirdit' for 'dirty' is perhaps local to North East Scots. And 'quine' has a modern Scandinavian equivalent in 'kvinne', 'woman'.

'Dubs' is an interesting one. I've written elsewhere about 'glaur'. But dubs is a different sort of mud. Drier, forming into clumps. The sort of mud that drops off tractor wheels and leaves a trail behind on the road. My father knows a farmer who considerately puts out a warning sign to alert drivers that they are about to encounter 'Dubs on Road'. Perhaps we're like the Inuit, and have a rich vocabulary for mud.

This post was sparked off by the questions about Scots in our current census. I only discovered after the event that there is a website to help people decide how to answer the relevant census questions. My father sent me the local community newsletter, which contained this article:

"Included in the census this time is a question about Scots dialect. To may in this 'airt', that means Doric, but Scots dialects are many and varied over the country. You are asked if you understand and speak dialect. Now many folk of a certain age group remember full well being told to 'speak properly' (ie English) at school and at work, but as home, playground and leisure, the local tongue was widespread. Forget about 'speaking proper' and answer the question!
For everyone, there is a website to help www.ayecan.com, and for those unsure about computers, there is bound to be someone who can show you, so just 'speir'. "

'Speir', meaning 'ask', has a modern Scandinavian equivalent in 'spoerre', 'to ask'. I can't import the proper slash through the 'o' of spoerre without the html doing strange things, so have to give an anglicised spelling here.

I was going to go on to give an elegant summary of Scots as a language of Germanic origin, and Gaelic as being of Celtic origin. But ah'm fooner't, (I've run out of steam), so I suggest you look at the Aye Can website, and perhaps click on the map to hear variants of Scots. Having listened to all the clips I would say they're fairly mild renditions of Scots, and don't give the full flavour of a Shetlander or an Aberdonian in full flow. But you can get an idea of how rich and varied Scots is, and perhaps why I felt it was important to tick all those boxes on the census form.


  1. I enjoyed the exposure to your language, even if you did run out of steam.

  2. "Dialects" are never fix. They can differ within a city, and they can affect common language too. I must confess that even though I am Scandinavian and interested in history, I was unaware of the Scots leid before I visited Scotland a few years ago. One could say Scots is Norwegian with an anglified grammar, but the last Norwegian rulers left Scotland more than 800 years ago. Much has happened since then.

  3. This is really interesting. Several of your words are local Doric, I suspect: I've never come across 'yirdit', 'coaties' or 'dubs' for example. 'Quines' is well known outwith the northeast, but not used by the rest of us. (Do you remember a feminist magazine called 'Harpies and Quines'? Loved that name!) 'Plooterin' is a fantastic word, very onomatopoeic; 'glaur' is familiar, and then there's 'stoor' - I love the idea of the Scots having an Inuit-like vocabulary for mud! :D

    It may well be that Doric has far more words of Scandinavian origin than Lallans has. Lowland Scots, I believe, has more in common with 'British' tongues like Northumbrian and the 'P' Celtic of Cumbria and Wales.

    The whole field of comparative philology is one which I find absolutely fascinating. In Denmark, for example, we kept noticing the similarities with Yorkshire dialect and pronunciation: not surprising, since Yorkshire was an important part of the Danelaw for several centuries. And in Orkney we were very struck by how Norse the local dialect seemed. Endless fun.

  4. We can of have dialect in Quebec too...different places have different accents and different expressions, so that french speakers from Montreal have trouble understanding those from Lac-St-Jean and those from Lac-St-Jean have trouble understanding those from Quebec City, but people from Montreal can usually understand those from Montreal. Now, french speakers from the Acadian regions of New Brunswick are something completely different, just about no one can understand them but themselves lol

  5. Wow! That's amazing. It's basically just English in America (although spanish is the language to learn here). This is terrible, but I figured all Scots spoke English (is that still the main language?).

  6. No doubt a few of my extremely distant ancestors must have spoken Scots....but it's all Greek to me!

    Language is fascinating...I completely agree with dancingbeastie, though I don't know that much about it myself.

  7. That was really interesting - thanks so much! My daughter recently asked me how she could tell whether what the kids at her (Aberdeen) high school were speaking in Doric or just using slang. I told her I wasn't sure, but that if a 50-year-old farmer in Newmachar would say it, it was probably Doric. ("But I don't know any 50-year-old farmers in Newmachar" she sensibly answered.)

  8. I enjoayed that an it wis easy ti read, bit ah widnae have spiered whit coaties wir. Ah wid say 'manky gutties' or if they wir awfy muddy it wid be 'glaury'. Plowterin in the glaur, wid mean thon sticky mud. It would be sods, (pr. soads) insteed o dubs. Quines and orra loons are whit the teuchters wid say. We widna ken whit yer were oan aboot here neir we wid.

  9. Ah'm awa veesitin the day an winna hae time tae hae a crack wi ye til the nicht or the morn's mornin.

    (I'm away visiting today and won't have time to chat with you until tonight or tomorrow morning)

  10. Oh, this is rich stuff, indeed. I love the idea of coaties for my feet. The title of the post reminds me of "Forfar bridies," which are (apparently) something to eat.

    I love the rhythm of the language, and can only imagine the sound of it being spoken. I guess I am off to the website you suggested to listen to some audio files.

    Thank you so much for this post. I hope you will do more when you are less "fooner't" (and that is certainly a misuse of the term)!

  11. You might find 'coaties', 'yirdit' and 'pymin' in the Online Scots Dictionary.

  12. They're not that dirty...

  13. I enjoyed your catkins photograph. Thanks for alerting me to it!

  14. Brilliant!!

    I love hearing all the different dialects - here in Orkney (I'm not orcadian, I am but a mongrel I'm afraid, dad in the forces - I left scotland when I was tiny) - back to my point and less blethers - I love our regional dialect.

    Up here, in Orkney - even the parishes have different words for things - from the west mainland to the east and the isles - they can have different words for many things.

    smoorin' is to be really heavy with the cold

    Pleep - is to moan or a girn

    Peedie (my dogs name!) but also means 'wee' or small.

    Our local radio station in the morning is in dialect - its brilliant

    or as they'd say here

    'Hid's grand'

    Brilliant blethers! x

  15. I was just sharing with my wife tonight that my mither's mither didn't even wear shoes most of the summer inside or out. She would go scurrying though if company came to see where she had left em.

  16. Wow!!! Always amazing to hear the dialects of Scotland and Ireland...so different from English!!!

  17. So much for getting back here on Sunday. I have been a Very Bad Blogger recently - combination of hectic work and children at home for the holidays.

    Glad you all enjoyed a taste of Scots.

    Alan, I checked the Online Scots Dictionary but didn't find anything. I have a soft spot for the Scots dictionaries, tho, as I worked on the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue on the management side for a few years.

    Fay, 'smorin' is also used to describe having a heavy cold in Doric. The Norwegian for 'to spread' is 'smoerre', which probably describes being thickly spread with gungy stuff when you have a cold. 'Peerie' in Shetland dialect is 'peedie', isn't it?

    Alli, English is still the main language, and probably gaining ground at the expense of Scots.


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