Belfastisms… and Ulster Scots

The Daily Mirror published a list last Friday of 28 expressions you will only know if you’re from Northern Ireland.

This begs the obvious question – are they Ulster Scots?!

“Ach, yous-uns are eejits” – could be; Scots would have Ach, yous anes is eejits (“yous-uns” is a pluralised “you” plus “ones” or Scots “anes“).

“Yer man is doing my head in” – probably isn’t; it’s likely English dialectal.

“I’m totally scundered” – is derived from Scots although the phrasing is English; but the <d> is a hypercorrection, the Scots word is in fact “scunner” (“A’m fair scunnert“), but idiomatically it would usually be used as a noun (“A taen a fair scunner“).

“Let’s head out for a wee dander” – is derived from Scots; but again the <d> is a hypercorrection – Scots has “wee danner“.

“This jallopy is banjaxed” – isn’t; it is perhaps onomatopoiea.

“Yer ma’s blootered again” – is derived from Scots; the word “bluiter” means the sound of a gust of wind, but “bluitert” has come to mean “drunk”.

“He fell on his hoop” – probably isn’t.

“Away on with ye” – probably is derived from Scots; Scots does frequently use awa “away” almost as a verb.

“Alright mucker” – probably isn’t.

“Catch yourself on big lad” – probably isn’t.

“Do you like my new guddies” – probably is derived from Scots; Scots more usually has “gutties” (originally meaning anything made of rubber, then more specific to shoes).

“Shut yer bake” – could be from anywhere; but indeed Ulster-Scots poems from two centuries ago do use “bake” (“beak”) for “mouth”.

“My gub’s killin’ me” – again, could be from anywhere; “gub” certainly is used in Scots, including in such a context.

“Give us a gravy ring there mate” – probably isn’t; this seems to be a Northern Irish speciality!

“Shut that windee” – probably is derived from Scots; Scots typically pronounces final “-ow” in English as “-ee” (usually spelled “-a” or “-ae” – e.g. winda(e), folla(e), Glesca(e)).

“We’ve been firing bricks at the peelers” – isn’t.

“Bout ye” – probably isn’t.

“Give us a juke at that” – is derived from Scots; Scots has “deuk“, actually meaning “duck”, in this context.

“Have a wee hoak for it” – is derived from Scots, even idiomatically, although has come to be slightly mispronounced; Scots would be the same phrasing, usually written “hae a wee howk for it” (“howk”, strictly, has the same vowel as “cowp”, but then so has “bowl”…)

“My da will knock your ballix in” – isn’t really; “da” is typically Scots, but is in widespread usage across Ireland too.

“He’s half-cut again” – isn’t.

“That dinner was ratten” – hmmm, is English!

“Quit yer faffin’ about” – is derived from Scots, even idiomatically; Scots would have “Quit yeir faffin about” (though “faff” is a perfectly good English word too).

“Get your lazy hole out of bed” – isn’t, particularly!

“Do you think I came down the Lagan [more commonly actually Bann] in a bubble?” – isn’t; coming down a particular river in a bubble is known across the British Isles and probably elsewhere in the English-speaking world too.

“Give us a pastie supper” – is derived from Scots; the concept of “fish supper” and the like is understood in Scotland but not generally in England.

“This is pure wick so it is” – “wick” isn’t, but “so it is” is, so it is…

Essentially, most of the examples are relatively usual Urban Dialect English, but there is a widespread Scots influence.


10 thoughts on “Belfastisms… and Ulster Scots

  1. Scots Anorak says:

    Use of “away” is at least reinforced by Irish, as is “yer man” (“do dhuine”). As “gub” is derived from “gob”, the Gaelic word for “beak”, use of “bake” for “mouth” may also owe something to Goidelic. I see that the SND includes “beak” in the sense of “impudence” (cf. the extended sense of “lip”).

    As far as I know, the pronunciation of “howk” is the regular variant that one would expect in Ulster, cf. “fowk”.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that “juke” doesn’t have anything to do with Scots “deuk” but is simply a word that rhymes with “look” (cf. “butcher’s hook”). One also hears “Have a wee Geoff Duke.” (Northern Ireland having a particular affection for motorcycle racing). Presumably in Ulster Scots “deuk” would rhyme with “puck” rather than “look”.

    • Thanks – was hoping someone would come in on the Gaelic side.

      I think “deuk” is also a reinforcement.

      And yes, “cowp” is even sometimes almost “cope”. That particular vowel sound is always unstable.

  2. paul says:

    ian off he rcordote u havnt replied to my last two comments.i like every one can see your clain alliance has a position on northern irelands position in the uk if theere was a refrerendum is clap trap.he dogs in the street no alliance dosnt have a stance or position fence sitters yes.but more than that given your euro election candidates gaffe comments a leading MLA and senior figure anna loo who did an article this week saying she supports a united ireland etc.i bet that has sent the alliance policy unit into afrenzy.i also note ian you commented on slugger i think and said alliance would poll 8 to 9 per cent in the euro and that the greens would beat N! 21.i predict that you are wrong and that not only will NI21 beat the greens NI21 will out poll alliance quite easily.I do not know what planet you are living on ian but thats my prediction having thought how folk might vote.and been out and about

  3. Michael says:

    Alliance are no longer fence sitters. Ms Lo’s comments have not been disputed by David Ford.
    It’s in line with their attitude to the union flag, any pretense that Alliance supports the Union should be swept away and anyone who does support the union this year who votes for this party is deluding themselves.

  4. Michael says:

    Maybe you could help clear the confusion that seems common with Alliance policy Ian.
    If Mr Ford is disputing Ms Lo’s views why are other media sources saying otherwise e.g. UTV app, she is not facing disciplinary action and she received over whelming applause at the Alliance conference?
    I would put it to you that Alliance is all over the shop and its such a dolly mixture of opinions that actually no one knows what it stands for except what it stands against.

    • Some Alliance people support United, others support City. Some prefer it in the UK, others would like a UI.

      None thinks it’s changing any time soon; all believe it can happen only with consent.


  5. po8crg says:

    “Away on with ye” would also fit in very well in Geordie. Like a lot of Scots/Ulster Scots, there is a possible Anglian origin.

    “deuk” is even wider than Geordie; you can hear it (as “duke”) even as far south as here in Manchester, though the American “duke it out” and “put your dukes up” are generating enough confusion that the other meaning is dying out.

  6. You know far too much linguistics Ian! But I liked this article. Some Ulster-Scots words made their way over to the Midwest, where I grew up, and passed on through at least our family lineage:

    Our family says “rid” the table (not “clear” it)

    I “draw” a bath (and I don’t know how else to say that!); my great-great grandmother literally had a water well insider her house, at the kitchen sink, and we always “drew” water.

    And our family kept the hard “r”; I still say “warter” and “warsh”.

    When I learned how many of my ancestors came from Ulster, it kind of made more sense.

    And when I moved to New England, I had to learn substitute words (not so many Scots-Irish about the place!).

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