The similarity between Scottish and Scandinavian words

The similarity between Scottish and Scandinavian words

This is an updated version of an article I wrote in 2012: The similarity between Scottish and Scandinavian words.

I’m reposting it as it is one of my favourite topics and I think it deserves to be presented in an updated under the new area of my website. The old part of the website (the archive) dates back to a time when I used different software. These articles are preserved for posterity but the formatting is lost (would be too much hassle to fix). This new article will be longer and cleaner.

The premise is this: Scots is its own Germanic language which has evolved separately to English. The two languages had a common starting point (Old English) when the Anglo and Saxons invaded the British Isles but I believe that the languages diverged from each other as evidenced by words which exist in Scots but not English. In modern times the languages has been reduced to a dialect of modern English but I believe the spoken languages in both countries were separate (but similar) for most of their history until Scotland took on standardised English in recent times.

The words presented here I believe are found in the present day Scots dialect which I take to be an indication of it’s existence in the Germanic language called Scots. My belief is that these words are also found in other Germanic languages, but not in standard English. I focus mainly on Nordic languages (“Scandinavian” + Icelandic) because they are a hobby, but admit some words may also exist in other Germanic languages such as Dutch. Furthermore, I accept that some of the words presented here may also have similarities in other English dialects but would otherwise not appear in standard English.


The Words

This is how I will set out each word:

  • Scots word (pronunciation using standard English if different from the spelling) [English word]
  • Nordic equivalent (note that I default to Bokmal for Norwegian).
  • Meaning in English and Nordic languages.


Bairn [child]

Ice/No/Da/Swe: Barn

This is a pretty easy one to spot. In Scots the ‘ai’ is simliar to ‘ay’ in hay, while in the nordic languages the ‘a’ is similar to English ‘sand’. The meaning is essentially identical although I believe the plural takes no ending in the nordic langauges while Scots it takes an ‘s’ as in English.


Braw [excellent, fantastic]

Swe: Bra (exactly the same pronunciation as in Scottish); No / Dan : Bra (pronunciation is different, the ‘a’ is more like ‘ah’ than ‘aw’)

In the Scandinavian languages the word bra merely means good, while in Scottish (chiefly / only east coast from my experience) the word means something better than good. Example: “That was braw” would mean that something was great.


Burn (burn) [Burn (with fire), but also River. It is the latter which I think is unique to Scots]

Swe: bränn; Dan: brænde; No: brenne; Ice: brenna

The word can mean ”to burn” as you would with fire but it can also be a river. It is the latter which I think is unique to Scots. The best known example in Scotland is Bannock Burn, which means Bannock River. A burn is more commonly used in modern speech when talking about a steam (perhaps in a ravine), while use of the word as referring to a river seems to be more archaic. The interesting thing here is that the Nordic languages also have a word that contains this dual meaning: one that refers to water and to fire. A strange dualism of opposites in a single word. The words also start with “B”. 🙂 There might be a deeper philosophical meaning here but I’m too cautious to currently suggest one. As far as I know the pronunciations in the Nordic languages are all quite similar, with the exception of Danish. The Swedish is said like Brehn, or Brenn, in English.


Efter (Ef-ter, also Ef-tur, Ef-tir and other vowel permutations probalby) [After]

Swe: Efter; Dan: Efter; No: Etter; Ice: Eftir; Faroese: Eftir.

Yep, it means “after” and the pronunciation is basically the same. Only really Norwegian is the odd one out here. As I suggested earlier there is no standard lexicon for orthography in Scots, hence it is possible to write the Efter with a permutation on the last vowel depending on one’s local dialect. Again, there are no hard rules but rather the sounds seem to have evolved one way or another depending on which town / coast that one is raised in.


Flittin‘ (flitting, or similar) [To move house]

Dan/ No: Flytte, Swe: Flytta;

The Scandinavian word is far more general than the Scottish one. The Scandinavian version literally means to move (shift). In Scots, however, the word is (afaik) only used when referring to moving house (“Ahm flitting hoose” – I’m moving house). Furthermore, I’ve only ever heard if from the west coast in the lowlands: i.e. Glasgow / Strathclyde.


Fuhl (sometimes also ‘full’ as in English) [to be drunk]

Swe: Full

The pronunciation in Swedish is almost exactly the same as it is in Scottish. This word is not so common among my contemporaries, I heard it from my grandmother is on the west coast of the central belt. How widespread it is among people of her generation I couldn’t say. The interesting thing is that the pronunciation AND meaning are identical. There has to be a deep etymological connection here, I’m sure of it.


Greetin [crying]

No: Gråte; Swe: Gråta ; (Danish equivalent seems further away in pronunciation)

Literally means crying, or to cry. The pronunciation in Swedish is something like Groh-tah, while Scottish is as you would expect from the spelling: Gree-tin. I think the similarity is close enough that a link exists. Whether we got it from them or the other way round would be interesting to know.


Hoose (Hoose) [House]

Swe/Dan/Nor: Hus

Ok, so the meaning of the first few words is actually pretty simple and don’t really require much said about them. This word means house, or home, but the interesting thing is that the pronunciation in Scots is the exact same as it is in the Scandinavian languages (ignoring variations due to local accents).


Keek [peek, to peek]

Dan: kigge, kikke; No: Kikke; Swe: kika; Ice: kíkja.

The pronunciation is the same as it looks and simple means “peek”: a quick look / a cheeky glance.


Morn [Tomorrow]

Dan / No: I morgen; Swe: I morgon; Ice: Á morgun

This word is rarely spoken alone but prefixed with another syllable which sounds like “eh” or “ah”. It is common to see or hear phrases on the “ee morn” on the lowlands east coast , while on the lowlands west coast the phrase sounds more like “e morrow”. The west cost also has “e night” (tonight). Note the prefix “e” / “a” is also sometimes used to mean other words, such as “I” or “the” (mainly west coast and meaning is understood from context).


Oot [Out]

Swe/Dan/No: Ut

Here the pronunciation is the same in Scottish as it is in Scandinavian. The meaning of this one is simple: out, as in outside. In the Scandinavian languages I believe the word ut is slightly more general in usage and can be used as “outside” as well as “out”.


Quine [girl / possible woman]

Dan: Kvinde; No: Kvinne; Swe: Kvinna

This is only really used in Aberdeen, and surrounding area. It still exists in modern usage in that area (AFAIK) but is almost unheard of anywhere else. The pronunciation is something like ‘kwine’, where ‘wine’ sounds as it normally does in English. It the modern Aberdonian usage I believe the meaning is closer to ‘girl’ than woman, and possibly slightly derogatory (not sure), while in Scandinavian the word means ‘woman’ (not girl). From the comments to my previous article, many from the Aberdeen area didn’t think the term was derogatory.


Stain [Stone]

Dan/Swe: Sten; No: Stein (sometimes Sten); Ice: Steinn

In Scots the ‘ai’ is simliar to ‘ay’ in hay. Not much else to say here. Stain simply means stone.


Wid [Wood]

Ice: viður, Old Ice (Norse): við/viðr  (No really Scandinavia, but old Norse / Icelandic)

In Scottish it is pronounced as it looks, the ‘i’ is short short as in ‘in’ and has the meaning wood. In everyday usage I believe it is more often used as the material rather than to mean a forest, and possibly more common on the east coast. The link to the Scandanavian, or Nordic, langauges is perhaps the most tenuous of all the words I’ve proposed so far but here is my line of thought…

This is one I noticed after reading about Tolkien’s mythical place called Mirkwood, which is inspired by the Old Norse (specifically Old Icelandic I believe) Myrkviðr which means Dark Wood (read as Dark Forest). Thus við of Old Norse may become wid in Scottish. Of course the link could simple be a permutation of vowels as happens across different dialects in many languages where “a” becomes “e” or what not. The dictionary suggests that Old German has ‘witu’ which is possibly closer. The vowel in the nordic languages is longer and closer to ‘ee’, and in the case of Old German I’m not sure.

Interesting Myrk could become English murk or murky which is closer to cloudy than dirty, while in modern Scandinavian it comes mørk (No/Da) or mörk (Swe) which means dark. Mirk/mirky is not a variation I would use which leads me to guess that it could be more common in England. The first use of the name in English is attributed to William Morris.



Further reading: Scandinavian influence on Southern Lowland Scotch, by George Tobias Flom

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