Friday 10th June 2016: It’s a very polite language – what are there good bad words? Cussin’ words

Very polite? I am really interested in this question as I think it highlights that old Caldonian Antisyzygy – the idea that our concept of Scottishness is split between raving Celt and Presbyterian minister. Or in this case, maybe the two stereotypes of Scots language I am thinking of are:

  1. Gorbals hard man, who makes even English sound like a threat. See the below extract from the ‘Xenophobes Guide to Scots’.


2. Shortbread tin, Harry Lauder Scots of Och Aye The Noo and the Queen at Balmoral.

It seems that the questioner was thinking more about number 2 and I was thinking more about number 1. Which says somethings about both of us, I’m sure.

As for good swearwords in Scots, we share a lot of our swearwords with English because their origins seem to be older than the split of Anglo Saxon into Scots and English. If you want to fill up on swear word facts, have a listen to Helen Zaltzman’s excellent Allusionist podcast episode on ‘Detonating the C-Bomb‘. NOT SAFE FOR BROADCASTING IN THE WORK PLACE OR WITH CHILDREN OR GRANNIES.

Purely Scots swearwords? Keech(shit) is good. Relatively light, but to the anatomical point  is the word ‘bawbag’. In fact, it’s light enough to be a range of boxers and the name for a hurricane of 2011 that meant the Met Office had to start giving the hurricanes names like ‘Abigail’ and ‘Barney’. There’s also the other side of the swaery coin where the C-Word as detonated in Helen’s podcast is not nearly as strong in many Scots situations. You can, for example, legitimately refer to a friend as a ‘great cunt’. I think it still has some welly, though, when thrown aggressively (like I clearly never do – I just referred to the impact of the most aggressive swearword in English as having ‘some welly’).

There’s ‘fanny’, or, more specifically, ‘ya fanny’. It makes listening to Americans being prim in American English and incredibly rude in the UK deeply funny. Need a pack for your fanny? Or a pack for fannies in general? They got it. At my primary school the strongest swearword was ‘fud’ which was female genitals or pubes. I remember once asking other Scottish people not from Kinross Primary if they knew the word, and they’d never heard of it. I don’t need confirmation from RL people when I have the dictionary, though. Sure enough it’s ‘coarse slang‘. I love dictionaries, they are true friends. The Kinross Primary School use of ‘fud’ also meant that I thought this Far Side cartoon was the rudest thing ever.


The more I think about the lack of Scots swearwords in the public sphere, the more I wonder if it is because the people we see writing in Scots are people like me – middle class, uni educated, liberal cunts. We don’t tend to use sweary words anyway. Hmm.

Also, there’s the issue of translating sociolinguistics between social groups. Hearing that in some foreign country it’s a huge insult to say someone has dirty ears, or whatever, is quaint. So maybe the swearwords of other groups just sound polite because you’ve not been brought up with the taboo around them. My phone still thinks I often want to ‘duck it’. And why not? Phones don’t know that a few different letters take it from VERY BAD to NICE AQUATIC BIRDS (though ducks are mega-rapists…). FUN STORY! The BSL signs for lemonade and fuck are the same hand movements. You identify which you mean by facial expression and context. While learning the word for lemonade in isolation, though, and with a face that was screwed up in concentration, my husband was told off by our teacher for being a VERY BAD BOY.

Ultimately, my strongest swearword is ‘chum’. If I use it as a noun with you, be very afraid. I’ll chum you somewhere, no bother. But if you have accelerated from the lights too fast when I am crossing the road, you will get an ‘Alright, chum’. And I’d mean it too.

PS. My mum looked out this handy list of Scots swearing. Thanks, Maw!


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