Lost (and Found) In Translation

Last time I saw my cousin Jack he was a painfully adorable three year old and I couldn’t understand 97% of the words that came out of his mouth. 

“Yer rooum luxks lie a wee tip.” he retorted.

“Umm… pardon..?” 

 Jack Cherrie

Jack Cherrie

“Yer rooum luxks lie a wee TIP!!” 

I turned with a baffled look to his Mum who was stifling her giggles I needed yet another Jack to Helen translation.

“He says your room looks like a little tip.”

“And a tip is…?”

“A tip is a dump.”

He wasn’t wrong.

Today Jack is a handsome young thirteen year old, and thankfully I understand much more of what he says. 

But not everything. 

Here’s a little tip (and I don’t mean a dump) - if you’re visiting Scotland for the first time make sure you pick up a copy of “The Patter”.


The term “patter” refers to the dialect and slang used by a jock (a Scotsman that is). It was originally used in the streets of Glasgow, but now is common in most Scots vocabulary. In 1985, Michael Munro compiled a collection of the terms and phrases used and published the first edition of "The Patter".

You might think it’s a tad overboard to purchase a phrase book when visiting another English speaking country, but I assure you, you're wrong. Do you have any idea what a “chanty wrestler” is? If someone was to ask you “Fancy a dauner tae the offie furra cairry-ootz?” would you have a clue what they were talking about? I think not.

The patter is really the perfect expression of what it is to be Scottish; witty, jolly, and just a little bit backwards. They’re a fun-loving and generous people, and boy are they proud. Ask a Scot if there's a difference between whiskey and Scotch, or why a midgie is any worse than a mosquito and you’ll get an answer somewhere along the lines of “B’cause a midgie ez like a damn wee flying alligator, thas why!". The Scots are not short on passion. 

 It's all in the family.

It's all in the family.

I myself am proud to don my Scottish heritage and in between my  brief moments of confusion, I find myself giddy and reveling in the scattery musicality of my kin’s tongue. It’s the sound of my Grandpa that I can barely recall and the noise around the dinner table on holidays. I may not know that a “goony" is a nightgown or that your “oxter” is your armpit, but in a way things here make sense to me far beyond the patter. 


The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet — and breaks the heart.
— Hugh MacDiarmid
Helen HaydenComment