Friday, 20 December 2013

Caledonian - The Influence of Scottish on the English Language

Caledonia, Scotland


Adjective & noun. Early 17th century.
[from Latin Caledonia, Caledonia, Roman name of part of northern Britain, later applied to Scotland or the Scottish Highlands, + -AN.]

A(1) adjective. Of or pertaining to ancient Caledonia;
Scottish, of the Scottish Highlands,
(now jocular or literary excluding in names of existing institutions etc.). E17

A(2) adjective. GEOLOGY. Designating or pertaining to an episode of
mountain-building in NW Europe in the Palaeozoic era. E20

B noun. A native or inhabitant of ancient Caledonia;
a Scotsman, a Scottish Highlander, (now jocular or literary). M18

One of the most rewarding things about reading the OED is not just learning a word's definition, but also learning its history and evolution, its culture of origin, and what sort of people might have originally spoken it. In this etymological department, Scotland punches well above its weight, contributing a glorious number of colourful and beautifully descriptive words to the English language, going shoulder to shoulder with such linguistic titans as Greek, Latin, German and French, as well as its closer neighbours such as Welsh and Irish. To honour this Caledonian contribution, Lexicolatry has compiled just a small selection of words with Scottish origins, separated into two lists of ten words: those that we would expect to hail from Scotland, and those that are perhaps a little more surprising. Enjoy!

Scotland, Highland Games, Scottish, Caledonia,
Caber is a Scottish word - who'd have thought?
(photo by Steve HDC)

Unsurprising Words of Scottish Origin:

As a child, I thought that Ben Nevis was the guy that either first discovered Ben Nevis, or first climbed it or something.
But no; ben is simply the Scottish word for 'mountain peak', and Ben Nevis is the highest peak in the British Isles.

It's not just Ireland that has lots of bogs - as one Scottish tourist site boasts: "Scotland grows world-class bogs."
In keeping with this lofty accolade, Scotland, through Scots and Irish Gaelic, brings us the word bog too.

'Tossing the caber' is a regular feature of the Scottish Highland Games, in which burly 'tossers' must throw a 'caber' (from Scots Gaelic meaning 'pole'), 
a wooden beam approximately 20ft (6m) in length and weighing around 175lbs (79kg). Contrary to popular belief,
the contestant is not scored by how far he tosses the caber, but rather how straight it is after he flips it.

Scotland is famous for its clans, and clan is a famously Scottish word, meaning 'offspring, family.'

Modern golf originated in Scotland, and so did the word, as did the golf-related terms caddie and links.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit the Scottish lochs (lakes), do not pass up the opportunity.
While you might not see the Loch Ness Monster (although you'll probably think you caught a glimpse of something),
you will be treated to some of the most breathtaking and eerily beautiful sights in Britain.

It rains a lot in Scotland, so they need macs; Mackintosh is a Scottish name, and the guy that invented
the mackintosh was Charles Mackintosh, a Scot. Therefore, you just don't get more Scottish than this.

It's impossible to go to Scotland without someone calling you 'pet' and,
although I don't have any figures for actual pet ownership in Scotland,
the word is theirs (possibly shared with the northern reaches of England).

A Sassenach is what I am to a Scot - an English person. It's derived from the word Saxon and,
although I never know if it's supposed to be derogatory or not, I rather like it.

Tweed is a coarse Scottish fabric and, while it may be favoured by English toffs, it's Scottish through-and-through.

Ah! When it comes to whisky, you can't beat a good old bottle of scotch (or so I'm told - personally I can't stand the stuff).
The Scottish and Irish can battle this one out after-hours, as the word whisky is a variant of the delicious-sounding usquebaugh,
which originates from the term 'water of life' in Scottish and Irish Gaelic.

Scottish, Scotland, Caledonia,
But then so is is ghillie, as in ghillie suit
(photo from U.S.A.M.C)

Surprising Words of Scottish Origin:

No, it's not that letters of blackmail are 'black' in character. Rather, this word originates from some rather enterprising
Scottish clan chiefs who ran protection rackets on the border with England, collecting 'black' taxes from villages to protect them
from being plundered. By themselves.

You know those furry-looking green suits that snipers wear? They're ghillie suits, and the word originates in Scotland.
I don't know why that's surprising, but it is. 

Scotland might not seem glamorous, but glamorous is undoubtedly Scottish,
originally meaning 'enchantment, magic'.

Gob is British slang for 'mouth', and it's Scots Gaelic for mouth too.

As of yet, nobody has had the gumption to figure out where gumption came from, other than Scotland ...

 ... nor pernickety ...

... whereas that beautiful word minging (as in 'Urgh! Her face is well minging, innit!' - read in a London accent),
is thought to originate with the 1970s Scottish dialect word ming, meaning 'excrement'. 

Raid is a Scottish variant on the word road, roads no doubt being useful
for the conducting of raids when certain English villages didn't pay their dues.
(see blackmail above)

Slogan is from the Scots Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, meaning 'army shout',
something that's surprising and interesting in equal measure.

Oh the irony! Scottish men are famous for wearing kilts, and yet the word trousers is of Scottish origin.
However, it may be a little less surprising in that it's remarkably easy to say trousers in a Scottish accent - it's just troo-zuhs with a trilled r.
Easy, even for someone as atrociously bad at accents as me.


Are you from Scotland?

Do you have any favourite Caledonian constructions, words or phrases?

Do leave a wee comment in the box below, laddie.


  1. I'm more of a carlin than a laddie! :)
    One of my many favourite Scottish words is gargrugous, meaning austere, both in aspect and in manners, and at the same time inspiring something approaching to terror.
    Oh, and paughty for proud, or conceited.
    There's so many, but you asked for a wee comment, and I do believe I've already gone beyond that weeness! :)

    1. I bet you've seen some absolute corkers, Jingles - and yes I did ask for a wee comment, but I was really just slipping 'wee' in to make it sound oh-so-authentically Scottish. Your knowledge of the arcane recesses of the English language must be shared with the world!

  2. My favourite Scottish word is "bogging" meaning really disgusting. I used to go out with a Glaswegian girl who constantly used to describe her flatmates room as "absolutely bogging" and her flatmates boyfriend as a "total minger". They didn't get on.
    "Sasanach" means the same in Irish as well but definitely carries a derogatory connotation. A Connemara person can't say the word "Sasanach" without physically spitting it out. But then my grandad couldn't help pronouncing it "Tchermans"!

    1. I don't know if you do requests but seeing as we're in the neighbourhood, is there any chance you could do the word "cant". Please don't say you can't! It's one of my favorites.

    2. I've yet to be called a Sassenach by an Irish person - I've been called a limey by one, but that's so twee and toothlessly inoffensive that it only elicited a patronising 'Aww' from me.

      As for 'bogging', or 'boggin'', yeah - the first time I heard that word used was by a Scotsman describing another Scotsman. It's wonderful because it was completely unknown to me, and yet it's instantly understandable. I always thought 'minger' and 'minging' were solidly English, but apparently not.

      As for requests, well yes I certainly do, and you'll be pleased to know that I already had 'cant' highlighted. There are several meanings, but the one that interested me was regarding jargonistic or passingly fashionable language - is that the meaning that you mean?

    3. The other day I heard a radio presenter tell the politician he was interviewing that he was talking a load of utter cant.
      I couldn't of put it better if I tried.

  3. This website can live streaming , you can join at my site :
    agen judi online terpercaya
    Prediksi Bola

    Thank you

  4. I am come here first time, i find the perfect article. Thanks for sharing interesting and informative post. KISS English

  5. I definitely enjoying every little bit of it. It is a great website and nice share. I want to thank you. Good job! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work. american pronunciation

  6. I think this is an informative post and it is very beneficial and knowledgeable. Therefore, I would like to thank you for the endeavors that you have made in writing this article. All the content is absolutely well-researched. Thanks...

  7. Nikmati Promo Natal 2019 Dan Semangat Tahun Baru 2020 Bersama kami di BOLAVITA dengan berbagai hadiah yg super menarik dan pastinya cukup menggiurkan untuk anda...

    Untuk Infomasi Lebih Lanjut Bisa Hub kami Di :
    Wechat : bolavita
    Line : cs_bolavita
    WA : 0812-2222-995
    Link :

    Ayo segera daftar dan Menangkan Hadiah nya :)



    -> XL / AXIS

    Demo SLOT
    Slot 888 Dragon
    Slot Joker Jewel
    Slot Aztec Gem

    Agen Togel Hongkong
    Agen Judi Via Pulsa
    Museumbola Livecasino
    Link Alternatif museumbola
    Link Alternatif Museumbola
    Link Alternatif Museumbola

  9. Alasan Kenapa Kamu Harus Bermain Judi Di Museumbola
    * Permainan Lengkap dari A sampai Z
    * Opsi Deposit Banyak Seperti Bank, E-Cash , PULSA
    * Semua Rekening Bank termasuk Bank Daerah Bisa Di Daftarkan
    * Bonus Banyak
    * Deposit 2 Menit
    * Withdraw 5 Menit Paling Lama
    * Cs Professional 24 Jam Online

    Daftar Museumbola
    Link Alternatif Museumbola
    Judi Bola Online
    Slot pulsa tanpa potongan
    Demo Slot Habanero

  10. As a migrant from China to Australia, I am often asked this question, "How did you learn English?" I speak English and Chinese both fluently. I speak fluent mandarin and a few dialects of Chinese such as Cantonese and another dialect in my hometown. There is hard way and there is easy way to learn English.