You're glaikit if you think Scots language doesn't have a place in classrooms

Our language has been adapted by generations, and pupils can continue that tradition

John Greenlees

Last month, I visited a friend at her school in Reading in the affluent South. One of her senior pupils, hearing my Scottish accent, asked me the meaning of "stoatin", a term he had heard on a TV advert. "It means very good," I replied, "as in when a pupil states his appreciation for a lesson: `Miss, that lesson was pure stoatin'."

I also mentioned some of the other old Scots words, including blether, haver, shoogly, girning, shirrackin, manky, skelp and glaikit, that are still heard in Scottish classrooms. These young Englanders were surprised to learn that we have an entire language that is so discrete from standard English.

Development over many centuries, and incorporating elements of Pictish, Gaelic, Norse, French and English, has made the Scots language rich, colourful and grossly understated. I prefer the very broad definition for our language, which includes the numerous terms that have evolved as part of local lexicons and dialects.

Working for a long while in Glasgow introduced me to some of the city's particularly interesting word usage. Indeed, I would go as far as to claim that the "patter" in Glasgow is brand new.

Pupils are highly innovative in their use of language. One example is the use of the term "berkie", for "rage", as in "come quick, Sir, Wee Alec is having a berkie in the dinner-school".

"Berkie" is derived from "berserk", a root word that my Shetland friends inform me originates from the "Berserker", a particularly fearsome band of Norse warriors. "Berserk" became part of our language after Sir Walter Scott included the word in his writings. Our pupils are simply continuing the tradition of developing and elaborating the Scots language.

A colleague in science tells me that the best chance she has of capturing pupils' attention while teaching the Big Bang is to turn to a "nedsite" in which two young Glaswegians use local dialect to provide a helpful outline of this complicated theory. "Theur wis a pure belter of an explosion which."

The Scots language is also alive and kicking among some of our younger teachers, as I found to my cost when I asked a student teacher what she thought of a lesson I had just delivered. She declared it was good but that I came across as being a bit "crabbit". "Crabbit", indeed. I am sure she was talking pure mince. A berkie would not be inappropriate.

John Greenlees, secondary teacher, teaches geography.

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John Greenlees

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