The Top 10: Scottish Words

From blether to wersh, the best of the vocabulary of one of the countries of my childhood

John Rentoul
Saturday 28 October 2017 13:34 BST
Dreich weather in Coire Bhalach below Meall Bhalach, Highlands
Dreich weather in Coire Bhalach below Meall Bhalach, Highlands (Creative Commons)

Bonus edition this week, a Top 20 because there are so many good Scottish words – and even more nominations that didn’t make it. This list was suggested by Alan Robertson, inspired by the Top 10 Yiddish words a while ago (Alan has also suggested a Top 10 Indian words, from another of the lands of my childhood, to which we will come in due course).

1. Blether: long-winded chat. Nominated by Chairman Miaiow, who also nominated bampot: hooligan, trouble-maker, fool.

2. Bothy: mountain hut. George Bosanko.

3. Bubblyjock: turkey. Fiona Paterson.

4. Burach, bourach: "constant state of my house, that is, cluttered, mess". Fiona.

5. Convenor: chair of a meeting ("no need to worry about gender-based forms"), and "by extension convene the meeting means chair the meeting", said Sean Langton.

6. Cundie: a drain, from the French conduit. From BD Alexander, who also nominated roans (also rhone, roan, ronn, roun, rune): guttering.

7. Dreep: to drop off a wall, carefully. Ken Patrick.

8. Dreich: dreary, bleak (of weather). Thanks to Alex Massie, who also suggested shilpit: pale, feeble, sickly.

9. Fash: to worry ("Dinnae fash yersel"). "Has an onomatopaeic quality, I feel," said Robert Wright.

10. Feartie: coward. Thanks to TSE.

11. Gallus: to be bold or cocky. Nominated by Ruth Davidson, who also suggested hoachin’: busy or heaving; and stooshie: "pretty much interchangeable with stramash". ("One of about 400 Scots words for ‘fight’," added Tom Harris.)

12. Glaikit, glaiket: foolish, thoughtless. Thanks to John Nicolson, who also nominated drookit: drenched.

13. Numpty: fool. "By extension, my favourite description of the Scottish Parliament, the Numptorium," said Tom Joyce.

14. Outwith: outside, beyond. Scott Russell.

15. Paleerie: a fit or tantrum. "He’ll have a paleerie when he finds out." Tom Harris.

16. Peely-wally: pale and sickly – "applies equally to wonks and undercooked food,", said Graham Moonie.

17. Scunnered: "beautifully onomatopoeic description of being really annoyed and fed up", said Brian Mathieson.

18. Sleekit: artfully flattering or ingratiating. Christina D.

19. Trauchled: exhausted by work, weary to the core, overburdened or harassed. Morag Keenan.

20. Wersh: weak, insipid. "My mother, a cookery teacher early in her career, used it frequently," said Euan McColm.

In the “there’s always one” category, Mike Mason nominated indyref: "a state of prolonged and unfulfilled angst".

Next week: we’ve done the worst, now for the Best Autobiography Titles. I always liked Auto Da Fay, by Fay Weldon.

Coming soon: People Whose Names Could Be Journeys, starting with Barry Douglas, the Wolverhampton Wanderers defender.

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to

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