bilingual blog dà-chànanach

Browsing Posts published by seaboardgàidhlig

At the ploughing – ploughing match Udale, Black Isle, Feb 2020

We continue our look at the influence of Gaelic on local usage of English with another wee word that may well not be noticed – “the”.

One obvious Gaelic use of “the” is in expressions of time. How often you say, or hear someone say, “We’re off to Tain the day”?  Or “We’ll no get it done the night”?

The Gaelic for today and tonight is an-diugh and a-nochd, and as “an” is the main word for “the” in Gaelic, that’s what Gaelic speakers used when trying to equate their terms with the English. I also recall “the week” and “the year” used for “this week” and “this year” by my grandparents’ generation, another Gaelicism.  E.g.

Oh, I doubt we’ll be going anywhere the year! We’ll do it the week yet.

It’s dreich the day. Where’ll we go the day? I’ll no do it the night now, it’s too dark.

We also hear “the“ used with items of clothing, when it’s meant generally not specifically. “Oh, he’s got the suit on – there must be a funeral!” Not a specific suit, but the fact that he’s wearing a suit at all, not jeans and a pullover, is the point being made. Again, this is Gaelic usage. E.g.

He looks good in the jacket. Oh, he wouldn’t go out without the bonnet!  The trousers were hanging off him. (Never “his jacket/bonnet/trousers”.) 

OK, I’ll put on the jacket, but not the tie! Will you be wearing the hat to the wedding? Not many women are wearing the hat in the church any more. (not “a jacket/tie/hat”.)

This use remains common in “He looks good in the kilt”.

Gaelic also uses the definite article “the” in places where English has no article at all, not even an “a”, especially institutions. You still hear the occasional use of “the” here in local speech, though I’ve noticed it’s less common than it was. (The Scots language too tends to use “the” more in this context, whether under Gaelic influence or from its Germanic roots.) E.g.

The bairns are all going to the school/ the nursery now. She’s in the hospital. He’s at the university / the college. It’s 12 o’clock – they’ll be at the church now. Those folk in the parliament!

The same applies to languages – Gaelic tends to use “the” before them, and traces of this remain. E.g.

Does she have the Gaelic? He’s very good at the French. They translated the Bible into the English.

The sheep are at the turnips

There’s another way “the“ is used that’s very Gaelic, and you certainly still hear this one a lot – when saying what activity or occupation someone is engaged in, especially when it’s a common one, usually with “at the….”, in Gaelic “ris an..”, such as ris an iasgach – at the fishing. E.g.

What’s Iain up to these days? Oh, he’s at the fishing / painting / building. He’s still at the crofting / farming / teaching.  They’re at the spreading / ploughing / planting now.

And by extension: at the turnips, at the barley, at the creels, at the lobsters, at the lug.

The bairns are at the taties. It’s a good drying day – everyone’ll be at the washing.

We’ve got visitors coming – it’s at the baking I’ll be the day, I’m afraid! She’s always at the pancakes.  I see you’re at the gardening / weeding again.

He’s always at the golf / football / bowling etc.  The girls are at the dancing.

My childhood passion for books was well-known – people would often ask my parents “Is she still at the reading?”. (And I still am. 😉 )

So we’ve added another wee word to look out for in Seaboard English, along with the “in it”,  “on” and “after” we looked at before. Keep sending me examples of such local turns of phrase, as well, of course, as any local words for things. Thanks in advance!

.… you’ve been at the baking the day!

Thanks to Jim Mackay for the photo of the ploughing match at Udale Farm Feb. 2020.

Continuing with the influence Gaelic has had on the way English was and still is spoken on the Seaboard, in sentence structure and turns of phrase, this time I wanted to look at one wee Gaelic word, air (pronounced “err”), meaning “on”, which crops up everywhere.

In English this is mainly used to say where or when something is – on the table, on a winter’s day, etc, but although used that way too, in Gaelic it covers a much wider range. One area is parts of the body: rather than saying someone has a face, head, hair etc, these things are “on you”.  This shows up directly translated into English, especially if emphatic, in expressions like:

Look at the face that’s on him! That’s awful long legs on her! What a nose is on him! Och, it’s no a bad head that’s on you! (Meaning I’d shown some sense!)

This might be transferred to related items:

Have you seen the clothes on her? She has an awful boos on her! (pout, sulky expression)

Air is also used in Gaelic for external influences on us, things that are landed on us by fate, as it were. Often unpleasant or at least unasked for, like strong emotions, or illnesses, that group also includes our names, as we didn’t choose them ourselves. In Gaelic all these things are “on you”. The Gaelic for “What’s your name?” is Dè an t-ainm a th’ ort?  What’s the name that’s on you? (= landed on you by your parents).  Tha gaol agam ort, I love you = I have love on you (whether you want it or not). So we also see this use of air = on:

That’s an awful cough that was on her. What’s the hurry on you? That’ll put the worry on him! Oh, the rage that was on him!

A related use is when you shift the blame for something bad to fate, or your wee brother:

He went and broke it on me! The fire went out on me. The train left on me! These are all direct translations from Gaelic uses of air.

There’s one other important use of air in Gaelic, where it means not “on” but “after”, along with verbs. This is used where English uses the perfect tense, i.e. you “have done” something. In Gaelic you are “after doing” it.

Will you have a cup of tea? No, I’m just after having my dinner.

I was just after coming in the door when the post came.

I’m just after feeding the hens.

He was no long after coming out of the Navy when he got a job in Tain.

So if you find yourself, or hear someone else, using expressions with “on” and “after” that don’t sound quite English, you know where they come from now. And I’d be delighted if you made a note of any other examples for me.

More next month!

It’s a cold day that’s in it, right enough!

Gaelic on the Seaboard 8: Oh, it’s you that’s in it!

In our series so far on Gaelic as used on the Seaboard (7 articles already!) I’ve looked mainly at Gaelic words and phrases that were and often still are used in otherwise English conversations – things like strawlyach (stràileach) for seaweed, or eeshun (isean) for wee rascal, or porstan (portan) for a small crab.  (Feel free to keep sending me these!)

This time and in the next one or two articles I’ll look at how the way Villages people speak or spoke English shows the influence of Gaelic too – in sentence structure or turns of phrase.  Gaelic looks at the world slightly differently, reflecting the mindsets and lifestyles of our forefathers. Languages all do that, that’s the beauty of knowing at least bits of other languages – you realise there’s more than one way of seeing things.  People learning a new language take time to absorb these differences, and often simply translate word for word from their mother-tongue, and that’s what happened with Gaelic-speaking generations picking up English – in my case, the generation of my grandparents.  My granny’s speech was full of Gaelicisms that seemed quite normal to me as a child, and many of them were also used by the next generation (my parents), and some have continued up to now. It was only when I moved away from the Highlands that others pointed out how odd some of my turns of phrase were.  As Gaelic lasted longer in the fishing villages than in the towns, these borrowed expressions also lasted longer in places like the Seaboard. They are what give local colour and richness to our way of speaking, so I’d hate to see them die out altogether.

In what???

I’m sure most locals, those of a certain age anyway, will remember the older folk opening the door to you and saying “Oh, it’s you that’s in it!” It never occurred to me to wonder “in what?” until non-Highlanders questioned it. In fact this is one of these Gaelic translations. The Gaelic for “in it” is “ann” (pronounced like the –own in down), and this word is also used for “there”. When there’s no specific place meant, the “in it” is actually “in existence” or “being”, so the Gaelic ann is used for here, there, present, available etc. It roughly does the same job as the English “There is….”, e.g. there’s plenty of tea. (English learners often ask, But where is “there”?) Gaelic would say Tha tì gu leòr ann, literally, Plenty of tea is in it/there/here/available.

Other typical examples of what you might have come across are: “Look at the mess that’s in it!”   “It’s the truth that’s in it.”   It’s a cold wind that’s in it.”  “I thought it was thunder but it’s a plane that was in it.”

And a Black Isle resident told me her Culbokie grandparents would say things like “What’s in it for dinner?” And another Black Isler, musician Anna Massie, posted a love song on Facebook “for the day that’s in it”, Valentine’s Day.

I also remember my dad saying of someone making a mess of some woodwork: “It’s no a joiner that’s in him!”  Another direct translation from Gaelic. Gaelic defines someone’s identity, profession or nationality etc as being in them, part of their being. ‘S e saor a th’ ann. It’s a joiner that’s in him

It’s a nurse that’s in her.  It’s Americans that was in them / in it. It’s a lovely kind woman that was in her/in it. It’s nothing but a rogue that’s in him!

In other words, scratch their skin and underneath you’ll find a joiner/nurse/American etc inside.

It’s… that….

You can see a pattern emerging here too in the sentence structure: It’s … that….. 

Gaelic doesn’t just use this format with ann, in it etc, to define things or say what’s there, but to give the key element more clarity or emphasis. ‘S e motor-baic a th’ aige, chan e càr. “It’s a motorbike that he has, not a car.” Instead of the more neutral “He has a motorbike, not a car”. Similarly, “It’s the creels that he’s at just now.” “It’s Aberdeen he’s in, isn’t it?”

Here’s one I heard fairly often as a child: “It’s a skelp that she’s needing!”  And I was also given these: “It’s only lining his pockets he was.” And “It’s the truth I have!” – a story-teller defending herself against disbelief.

Yourself, itself

Sometimes you’d hear “Oh, it’s yourself that’s in it” as a more emphatic recognition at the door. Gaelic doesn’t stress words by increasing their volume as in English, but by placing them in an emphatic position, e.g. after It’s…”, and / or by adding an extra element to them, usually “self” (fhèin). “It’s yourself that’s the daft one!”  “It’s himself that told me.”

This was also applied to things, not just people, usually in the sense of “even”. “He wouldn’t wear the jacket itself to church!” – he wouldn’t even wear a jacket. “You couldn’t get butter itself in the shop.” Another one I was given: “he couldn’t sleep in the house itself,” – not even in the house.

That will do for this time, but I’d be delighted if it jogged any memories or made you keep your ears open for similar examples, and for other expressions that maybe sound odd to non-local ears.  Keep them coming! Thanks!

It’s a lovely day that’s in it!


Leis an t-sìde bhrèagha a th’ againn a-nis (tha mi a’ sgrìobhagh seo gu deireadh na Sultaine), bidh mi a’ coiseachd a-muigh air an dùthaich cho tric ‘s a ghabhas.  Agus gach uair, chan urrainn dhomh gun a bhith a’ buain nan smeuran agus ag ithe mo làn-shàth dhiubh. Tha iad cho pailt am bliadhna, agus cho blasda! Leugh mi gu bheil atharrachadh na h-aimsir a tha air a bhith againn o chionn beagan bhliadhnaichean – samhraidhean fliuch agus foghair ghrianach thioram – sònraichte math do smeuran (agus chan ann math idir do shuibheagan). Fàsaidh iad mòr sòghmhor leis an taiseachd, agus milis fo ghrian an fhoghair, agus cumaidh iad a’ dol fad mòran seachdainean.  

‘S e dearcan iol-chomasach a th’ anns na smeuran. ‘S urrainn dhut an ithe amh bhon phreas no ann am mìlseanan fuara, no silidh a dhèanamh, no crumbles is pàidhean (blasda cuideachd còmhla ri ùbhlan), no fìon no liciùr-sine … liosta gun chrìoch. Ach bha iad riamh aithnichte mar chungaidh-leighis cuideachd, gu h-àraidh mar fhìon-geur a tha math airson an tùchaidh, a’ chasaid agus thrioblaidean-gaillich, ach cuideachd airson na buainniche, ann an daoine agus crodh.

Ach bha taobh aig na smeuran nach robh idir cho fallain, a-rèir beòil-aithris: cha bu chòir dhut am buain ro fhadalach sa bhliadhna, air sgàth’s gur e measan an diabhail a bhiodh annta às dèidh na Samhain, no fiù ‘s às dèidh Fèill Mhìcheil. B’ urrainn dhut cuideachd duine no beathach a chur fo gheasaibh olc aig an t-Samhain le pìos dris-mheòir.

Tha na meanganan deilgneach den dris gun teagamh cunnartach gu leòr iad fhèin, gun draoidheachd sam bith eile. Dionaidh nàdar a mheasan gu math, agus bheir na drisean fasgadh do h-eòin is beathaichean beaga, fhads ’s a bhios na blàthan, na dearcan agus na duilleagan a’ còrdadh ri seilleanan agus dealain-dè.  Agus na dearcan rinne cuideachd! Is fhiach daonnan e dèiligeadh ris an droigheann gus an toradh milis a bhuannachadh.

Seo seann tòimhseachan:

Is àirde e na ‘n t-each

Is lugha e na ‘n luch

Is deirge e na ‘n fhuil

Is duibhe e na ‘m fitheach.

Dè a th’ ann? Smeuran air dris!



With the weather being so beautiful just now (I’m writing this towards the end of September), I go for walks out in the country as often as possible. And every time, I can’t resist picking brambles and eating my fill. They’re so plentiful this year, and so delicious! I read that the change in weather patterns the last few years – wet summers and dry, sunny autumns – are particularly good for brambles (and not good at all for rasps). They grow big and luscious with the humidity, and sweet under the autumn sun, and they keep producing for many weeks.

They’re really versatile berries. You can eat them straight from the bush, or with cold desserts, or make jam or jelly, or crumbles and tarts (tasty in with apples too), or wine or gin liqueur … it’s an endless list. But they have also always been known as a medicine, especially as a vinegar, which is good for sore throats, coughs and gum troubles, but also for diarrhoea in humans and cattle.

But there was a much less healthy side to brambles too, according to folk tradition: you shouldn’t pick them too late in the year, as they were supposedly the devil’s fruit after Halloween, or even after Michaelmas.  You could also put people or animals under an evil spell with a piece of bramble branch at Halloween.

The thorny branches of the briar are certainly dangerous enough on their own, without any other magic. Nature protects her fruits well, and the briars give shelter to small birds and animals, while bees and butterflies love the blossoms, berries and leaves. And we humans love the berries too! It’s always worth coping with the thorns to win the sweet harvest.

Here’s an old riddle:

It’s taller than a horse

It’s smaller than a mouse

It’s redder than blood

It’s blacker than a raven.

What is it? A bramble on its briar!

Although the Villages were primarily fishing communities, and held themselves to a large degree apart from the farming ones, there were of course overlaps. The women would carry fish to the countryside and bring back eggs, vegetables and other foodstuffs, or firewood and tourcans, and some village folk worked on the local farms either all year round or seasonally, e.g. tatie-lifting. Some of the words I have collected reflect this activity, and also the fact that family vegetable gardens were important for a more varied diet.

Go to the tuath – the countryside. Tuath (too-a) is a loaded word in Gaelic. It covered the land itself, but also the people living and working on the land, the ones who made it what it was. This is reflected in the motto chosen for the Highland Land League, who campaigned for land reform in the 1880s: Is Treasa tuath na tighearna – the (lands)people are mightier than the lord. Although mainly representing crofters, this movement was quite strong in Easter Ross, a high-level champion of Highland tenants’ rights being Thomas Nichol of Resolis and Dingwall.

A key crop, in fields and garden, was the buntàta (boon-taa-ta), potato. Usually shortened to buntàt’, which is probably a step on the way to the Scots word taties, pronounced with a long A, as in sgadan is buntàt’, herring and taties. A favourite childhood meal of ours was salt herring and taties, as we were allowed to eat it with our fingers because of the bones, and always a mug of milk on the side because of the salt.
A dreel was clais (clash), a furrow, ditch, hollow. We still see this word today living on in the local place name Clashnamuaich, clais nam maigheach – ditch of the hares.
The flower on the potato plant was barra-guc, local pron. barra-kook.

After the potato harvest was over came the “laachoo”, làmhachadh – handling. This was the word for the lifting by hand, after the fields had been harvested and harrowed, of the remains of the potato crop – a kind of gleaning. By the time of our parents this was probably more a historical word than still something that was done. The poorer people would be the ones who took part. But the word has also been given to me as one that continued in use for the regular lifting of taties.
A “cappan” was a sort of fork for lifting taties in the garden, possibly from cupan, anything curved or cuplike, or from Scots coup/cope – overturn, spill. Can anyone tell me if that is the same as a hawk?
And one more tatie word: “runnach” – dry bracken to cover taties. raineach / roineach – bracken.
And once you had your taties, you of course needed a plocan, a wooden chapper, to mash them!
The turnip too was a staple: snèap (snape), as was the onion, “eenyan”- uinnean, or Scots ingan.

Another word that came up a few times is “mawchoo”, manure. This is the local pronunciation of mathachadh – improving (math = good), and in a farming context manuring to improve the soil. As one of my sources said, “ If there was a whiff of ordure in the air, the diagnosis was, ‘They are putting mawchoo on the fields’. Mawchoo was also dug into the gardens of the village.”

Iochal – a load, was another farm-related word, probably a Gaelicisation of yoke. I remember a packed lunch being called a “half-yocheen” by my uncle who worked on a farm. i.e. the break halfway between re-yoking the horses.

In the garden the beairt (byarst, byarsht) was used for a garden frame for laying seeds (line and sticks) . It was also the word for a square frame round which a handline was wound. In Gaelic it refers generally to equipment or tackle, or a contraption, or frame. Beairt-iasgaich – fishing tackle; beairt-fhighe – a loom.
Another useful item was the corran, or sickle. Some people told me the Scots word heuk (related to hook) was used instead.

Of course animals were kept too, including pigs fattened on scraps for selling on. It’s probably muc, a pig, in the name Balmuchybaile nam muc – the pig settlement/farm.  “Coolan”, cuilean – puppy, whelp, cub, was used of the young of the pig, referring to the sow and her coolans. My source here says: “Presumably should be ‘cuilean muice’ (pig whelp), but maybe many young animals were referred to like that. Strangely, I don’t remember anything but puppy for a young dog.” Does anyone else remember anything about the names used locally for young animals, or indeed any other animals, like goat or cow?

Hens were also kept – I remember having to feed my grannie’s ones, kept down at the sea end of the garden, where nothing else would grow. The cockerel was “callach”- coileach, and young hen or chicken was “ayrack”, èireag. Eggs were “oo-yan” – uighean. I don’t remember the hens themselves being called cearcan, just hens, but I vaguely recall hearing taigh-chearc for henhouse. I also recall the hens being described as “goggling”, which I took then to mean the way they looked at you (especially the rooster), but in fact I realise now it must have been from Gaelic gogail, clucking or cackling.

I hope this wee trip down the collective memory lane (thanks, as ever, to all my sources!) might have sparked some more Gaelic or local words used in the Villages in living memory. And as ever, all additional memories gratefully received! Mòran taing!

Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s words for seabirds that I’ve been given most of in this category, but there are some animals and other bits and pieces too.  (Not fish – we did them earlier in the series.) As ever, please get in touch via the Hall if you think of any more – on this or any subject. Mòran taing!

Eòin – Birds

Fuillack, foolack – a seagull.  Faoileag, pron. approx. fuil-ak

scraicheach – tern.    Sgreuchach (pron. sgraych-ach), screeching, and sgreuchag  – a generic term for a screeching or hooting bird, esp. jay, nightjar, owl, gull.  From sgreuch – to screech, hoot.

glooter – young gull.  Probably from sgliùthach (sgloo-(h)ach) – Seaboard Gaelic often seems to lose an initial S  – a young gull. Also meaning a fish rejected for poor quality, leading to the use of it as an insult.

corragan-creach, corra-creach – heron.  corra-ghritheach  (corra-ghree-ach).  corra = old word for point < beak

skarav, scarrow – cormorant.  sgarbh (sgarav).

sgarbhach (sgaravach) – abounding in cormorants, hence our rock Skaravak.

feadag – wee bird on seashore, plover.  feadag (fettack) – a whistle, flute; a plover

Beathaichean – animals

gimmach –lobster.  Giomach (gimmach)

porshtin, porstan – small crab   G. portan, partan (porstan, parstan) – (green) shore crab. From port, pron. porst, with -an, a diminutive ending: “a wee port creature”.

spoag – claw of lobster or crab.  spòg (spawg)

crasgag – starfish

gullichan, gullican, gullach – earwig.  Gòbhlachan (go-lach-an) – anything forked, esp. earwigs, from gòbhlach – forked

gyar – hare .  geàrr (gyar)

luch – mouse.

tollifeenach – woodworm. “Full of the tollifeenachs.” From toll, a hole , and fìneag (fee-nack), a cheesemite.  (One of my favourite words! 😉)

mowan– a bear. Only used in the phrase referring to something big and frightening, “like a big mowan”, or referring to someone in an uncomplimentary way, “as fat as a mowan”.   From mathan  (ma-han / math-am / maw-an)

mada-rohi – fox.   madadh-ruadh (matta-ruagh) red fox. From madadh – any wild animal of the dog family.  Madadh-allaidh – a wolf (“wild dog”).

Lusan – plants

tourcans or dourcans – pinecones. Durcan (doork-an)- cone

crottal or crochal – the bit where the kelp was attached to the rocks, edible when peeled. From  crotal, a generic name for the varieties of lichen, especially those used in dyeing

runnach – bracken.  Raineach or roineach (ran-yach/ ronn-yach).

sherkan – sticky burr plant.  Searcan  (sherkan) -burdock

guaran, gurachans – “sticky willies” – burr or burr-bush (large sticky burrs you threw at each other). Possibly from glòdhran (glaw-ran) , a clinging/sricky object such as a burr, or maybe related to giùran (gyoo-ran)- hogweed, or from guirean (gooran) – pimple, spot, scab, swelling – either as they looked like these, or caused them? Any better ideas?

Milseag Ubhail is Arain

Tha an tionndadh nas aotruime seo den mhilseag aran-is-ìm freagarrach do latha fuar geamhraidh, is i cho blàth is sàsachail. Tha an reasabaidh seo feumail cuideachd ma bhios aran air fhàgail agad.

Gritheidean (6 – 8 pòrsanan)

8 ùbhlan milis

3 roilichean seana, air neo ciabatta neo baguette

4 spàin-bhùird siùcair (is donn as fheàrr)

Spìosan measgaichte / caineal / dinnsear / clòbhan bleithte, a rèir do mhiann

600 ml bainne

4 uighean

Geàrr na roilichean no an t-aran ann an ciùbaichean. Rùsg na h-ùbhlan, thoir air falbh na cuairsgeanan, agus geàrr ann am pìosan beaga iadsan cuideachd.

Measgaich aran is ùbhlan, cur ris spìosan gu do riar, agus cuir a h-uile rud ann an soitheach-àmhainn a th’ air a shuathadh le glè bheag de dh’ìm.

Buail na h-uighean le forca, cuir am bainne agus an siùcair riutha, agus dòirt iad thairis air an aran ‘s na h-ùbhlan. Brùth sìos iad gu socair, gum am bi gach pìos air a bhogadh. Leig leis seasamh fad mu 10 mionaidean.

Bruich san àmhainn e aig 160 C fad mu aon uair a thìde, gus an tig dath òr-dhonn air, agus bi an t-ughagan tiugh. Tha an ùine an crochadh air doimhneachd an t-soithich, mar sin thoir sùil air nas tràithe. Còmhdaich am mullach le foidhle ma bhios e a’ fàs ro dhonn.

Gabh e teth le iogart Greugach, uachdar singilte, reòiteag no sabhs faoineig.

Apple Bread Pudding

This lighter variation on the classic bread and butter pudding is a warming and filling pudding for a winter’s day.  It’s good for using up leftover bread. 

Ingredients for 6 – 8 helpings

8 eating apples

3 stale bread rolls, OR equivalent amount of ciabatta or baguette

4 tbsp sugar, pref. brown

mixed spice / cinnamon / ginger / ground cloves as preferred

600 ml milk

4 eggs

Cut the rolls or bread into small cubes. Peel, core and cube the apples.

Mix bread and apples, add spice to taste, and put in a lightly greased oven-proof dish.

Beat the eggs, milk and sugar together and pour over the bread and apples, pressing these down slightly so they all absorb the liquid. Leave for about 10 mins.

Bake in the oven at 160 C for about an hour, or until top is golden brown and custard has just set – the time will depend on the depth of the dish, so check earlier.  Cover the top with foil if getting too brown.

Serve hot with Greek yoghurt, single cream, ice-cream or custard.

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr, everyone! (Better late than never…)

This month I’ve compiled lists of words collected so far which are connected to food and drink, and to the body and ailments. (No cause and effect relation intended!) Any more on these topics gratefully received, along with anything else domestic – the home, house, garden, clothing etc.

Mòran taing to all informants as usual.

sgadan is buntàt’, fresh herring in oatmeal

Food, drink

Strupag – a cup of tea and usually a scone or something with it  (srùbag, sdroobag)

Marag – pudding , but only black or while pudding, not a dessert 

Snatach, snàdag – a drink at New Year or in celebration. let’s have a wee snàdag  (snàthdag, snaa-tag – a nip)

Myshaks, meissachs, màishacks – sweets, cakes, fancy foods, wee treats (prob. from maiseach, my-shack – lovely)

Too keen on the màiseachs – too fat

Sleeshuck – fried slice of mashed tatie (sliseag, slee-shack – a slice)

Spartag – a ball of mashed tatie

Sgadan is buntàt’ – herring and taties

Smoosheen – eating sth juicy. Smoosheen away at sth  (smùiseach, smoo-shach – juice, smuisich, smoo-sheech – suck juice from)

Aran kork – oatcake  (aran coirce, literally bread of oats)

Snehp – turnip  (sneap, snape) – related to neep.

Grekatan – tiny little anything esp. taties, fish, person (poss. from grìog -tiny particle; grìogag – bead, pebble)

Eenyan – onion (sometimes Scots ingan, as in Ingan Johnnie – a Breton onion-seller who came round annually on his bike selling strings of onions, in my childhood; Gaelic uinnean – ooy-nyan) More about Ingan Johnnies here:

Body, ailments

Toochan – a dry cough. I’ve got the toochan, a touch of the toochan. (tùchan – hoarseness)

Foo-shun, I’ve no foo-shun, energy. (poss. from old Gaelic fuis, foosh – active, thrifty)

Fyown – feeble, lacking in energy (we’ve met this one before, prob. from fann, fown – weak, or feann, fyown – diminishing, weakening)

Aikin – It’s no but an aikin – trouble, problem. (èiginn, eh-keen, distress, emergency)

Aikinack – aching, in distress. I’m no but aikinack.  (èiginneach, eh-keen-yach – in distress)

Nyah-lach – peely-wally. Awful nyahlach-looking. (neulach, nee-a-lach – cloudy, pale, ghostly)

Maynach – middling. Och, I’m no but maynach. (In answer to How are you? Associated by myself and various others with elderly ladies wanting a bit of sympathy!)  (meadhanach, mayanach – middling)

Troo-ow – ill, poorly. He’s pretty troo-ow. (truagh, troo-ugh – wretched)

Cra-ow – describing someone with multiple ailments, generally poorly. (poss. shortened from crannda, crown-ta – frail, decrepit)

Shiatic – I’m bad with the shiatic – meaning rheumatism, but clearly from sciatica, pronounced in a Gaelic way (siatag – shee-at-uk)

I’ve got jayruns / geeruns in my fingers – icy tingling  (poss. from deigh, jay – ice)

Bucags in your hair – nits, lice (source of shame). (poss. from bùc, boochk – a bulge > bùcag – a little bulge; or from bògas – a bug)

scràb – scratch; if itchy you’d be scràb-ing.  (sgrab –scratch)

Speilac – splinter  (spealg, spellac), which you might get in your

Creenie – wee finger  – Scots, from Gaelic crìon – diminutive.

Tawin – backside (tòn – tawn).

Boug – belly  (baghan – approx. buggan – pot belly)

quite a few snatachs!

This month I’ve picked out a batch of Seaboard words connected to the shore, boats and fishing. (Thanks as usual to all the many contributors!) The vast majority are from Gaelic, as usual, even though local pronunciation often varies from that given in dictionaries. I haven’t been able to track down the roots of one or two, so any help with these would be appreciated. And I’m no expert on technical terms for boat parts etc, despite the best efforts of Bruce and Hugh, so please excuse (and correct) any inaccuracies! Please send any further contributions on this or any other subject to me, or just hand them in to the Hall.

Before I forget, I have also left in the Hall office a reference copy of a new booklet just published by Seòsamh Watson, the Irish professor who conducted interviews and research on Gaelic in the Villages over several years, especially with Bell Ann and Dolly. The booklet is called Boats, Bibles and Boyans, and is a collection of some of Seòsamh’s articles on the Seaboard, especially Gaelic-related. (Mìle taing to him for sending that on.)  Do ask there if you’re interested in seeing it.  A few people have their own copies, so would maybe lend them out. I don’t think the book is commercially available just now.


Cladach – coastline, shore

-mara – of the sea, of the tide (muir = sea), e.g. eun-mara – seabird; làn-mara – full/high tide; muc-mhara – a whale (sea pig!); maighdeann-mhara – mermaid.

Taigh na Mara – Sea House; Sùil na Mara – Eye of the Sea / gateway to the sea

Stralyach  =stràilleach – pile of seaweed on the shore  (pron. straw-lyach)

tungle – local pronunciation of Eng. /Scots Tangle, large edible seaweed with thick stalk and strap-like fronds

a porsht – a wee landing place. Gaelic: port, pron. porsht, a port or landing-place

gannach meen = gainmheach mìn, fine sand (pron. ganyach meen)

There’s a big suik on today – a big swell. Scots souk = suck, Gaelic sùghadh (soo-ugh)– a sucking, swell, the motion of the sea

Maighstir-cala – harbourmaster

Boat parts

Kennacracken /  Ceann a’ chrataich – seat end support in boat (top end of curved beam running up inside side of boat under seat)  G: ceann – head, top, end; cratach – back or side of a person.

Mash-crosh / mais-crois – footboard when rowing. G: maide-crois. maide – wood, stick, beam; crois – crutch or cross (match-eh-crosh)

Thaft – seat across coble (  G. tobhta, pron. approx.. tofta, Eng./Scots Taft or thaft = thwart, rower’s bench)

Jalup – pin for the oars.   G: dealg – pin, wire, skewer (pron. jalluk)

Rollack – rowlock.  G: rolag

Tallip – rowlock   G: talb – protuberance; rowlock (pron. tallup)


Pockan-mor = pocan-mara – the sea-bag, a cloth bag with the fisherman’s food for the trip.

Croick – a stand for a creel.  Croich; gallows, cross

Dreichie – a small boat-anchor  (no origin found)

Cleep /cleap / clape = Gaelic: clip (pron. cleep) – a hand-hook or gaffe for bringing in larger fish, lobsters or even a net.

Clye / clie – a creel, lobster-pot. Local pronunciation of Gaelic cliabh (clee-av)

Boicho the line – baiting . G: biathadh, pron. bee-ach-ugh or bee-ach-oo.

Raku the line– redd, clean, disentangle.   Possibly from G: ràcadh – raking; or racadh, a variant of sracadh – ripping, cutting apart; or even rèitich – redding

Plàtach – rush mat for placing the line on while baiting etc. G: plàt – woven material from rushes or straw

Bothan, pron. bo-an or bo-han, a shed or bothy, e.g. for storing nets or for smoking fish.

Strachail, strachu – a jerk or tug, e.g. when a fish was on the line, or a pull or rip in a jumper or net. Probably from Gaelic: streachail – lacerate; sracadh – tear (pron. sdrach-ugh/oo)

Kaip /caib / ceap – spade for digging lug.  G: caibe – spade, mattock

Biarst / bearst – a square frame round which a handline was wound.  G: beairt, pron. byarsht – generally equipment or tackle, or a contraption, frame. Beairt-iasgaich – fishing tackle; beairt-fhighe – a loom.

Scountack / scountag – a (short?) fishing line. “Baiting the scountag”, “I’m going to put out the scountag”. No definite origin found so far but a very common Seaboard word.  Possible connections to Gaelic sgann – membrane (skown); or busgainte – baited (boos-kantch-eh)

Did you catch anything? Nothing but the gorst! (i.e. no fish at all).  G: gort, pron. gorsht – famine.

Gaelic phrases in Seaboard English

I’ve been looking at the Seaboard use of individual Gaelic words when speaking English in different contexts up to now – fishing, describing people, and there are plenty more of these to come. But there are also a lot of complete Gaelic phrases and expressions that have been used within living memory, and even today – conversational exchanges, exclamations, commands etc.  Quite a number of Seaboard folk have contributed to this particular list, some anonymously – mòran taing, as usual!

I’ll write the Gaelic first in this case, then the meaning, and then the Seaboard pronunciations I’ve been given or heard myself, which are often compressed, and clearly local variations.

Questions and answers

Ciamar a tha thu? How are you? Kimmer a ha oo?

Ciamar a tha sibh? How are you? (polite or plural form) Kimmer a ha shoo/shio?

Tha gu math – fine.  Ha gih ma

Tha gu brèagha – great, lovely. Ha gih bree-a

Chan eil ach meadhanach – only middling.  Han yell ach may-nach

Tha mi sgìth – I’m tired.  Ha mi skee

Tha mi marbh – I’m dead (e.g. exhausted after lifting taties) Ha mi mar-oo

Tha mi fann – I’m feeling feeble.  Ha mi fyoun

Tha creath-fuachd orm – I’m shivering with the cold (“There’s a shiver of cold on me”)  Ha creh-foo-achk orrum..

Cò tha ann? Who’s there? (“Who’s in it?”)   Co ha oun?

Am beil thu staigh? Are you in/inside? Am bil oo sty? (Said when a fisherman was knocking on the window of a crew-mate’s house in the morning, to make sure he was up)

Càite bheil X? Where’s X? Caatcha vil X?

Dè an uair a th’ ann?  What’s the time? (“What’s the hour that’s in it?”) Jay an oo-ar a houn?

Gu dè tha siud? What’s that? Kih-day a shoot?

Chan eil fhios agams’.  I don’t know. (“There’s no knowledge at me.”) Han yell iss a-mus.

Exclamations and commands

O Thighearn’! Oh Lord, Good God, Oh my God – seen as very strong, rather blasphemous.  O hi-urn!

Thighearn’ fhèin! Even stronger – Oh Lord yourself!  Hi-urn hayn!

O Thì! Oh dear! (literally Oh Jesus, but for some reason not as frowned upon as O Thighearn’).  O hi!

Mo thruaghan mise! Woe is me!  Mo roo-an meesh!

Smaoinich! Just think! Imagine! Smih-neech

Coimhead air a sin!  Look at that!  Ket er a sheen!

An seall thu air/e! Will you look at it/him/that!  (An) sholl oo a!

Greas ort! Get a move on! (“Hurry on you!”)  Gress orsht!

Dèan suidhe! Sit down, take a seat! Jen soo-ie

Cuir stad air! Stop that! Coor stat er!  (My grandfather would say that to misbehaving children)

Cuir dheth e ! Turn it off!  Coor yeh eh!  (My mother remembered a neighbour would shout it when the prized new radio, played in a house with several deaf people, was too loud for him)

Bi sàmhach! Be quiet!  Bi so-ach!  (very local pronunciation, instead of the more common saa-vach). “Dòmhnull Sàmhach” was an imaginary figure who came to send children to sleep, and here that was pronounced Dole So-ach.

Dùin an doras!  Shut the door!  Usually said without the “an” – Dooon doras!  Or one informant told me they remembered “Doon the doras!”

Fosgail an doras! Open the door! Again, usually said without the “an”. Fuskal doras!

Other Gaelic expressions

Ithidh an t-acras rud sam bith – hunger will eat anything, if you’re hungry you’ll not be choosy. Eek a dacaris root sa bi

Gu dearbh! Indeed!  Goo jerra!

Tha mi loisgt’.  I’m burnt, I’ve burnt myself.  Ha mi looshk.

Tha i coma co-dhiù. She’s easy going, couldn’t care less.  Ha i co-ma co-yoo.

Mas fhìor!  allegedly, “Aye right!” (expressing scepticism). Ma-sheer.  Also used as an adjective meaning superficial, not genuine: That’s all masheer! (just showing off),  or even fake:  That’s masheer jewellery.

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr! Happy New Year!  Blionna va oor!

Baile a‘ Chnuic. Hilton (“Town of the hill”). Balla-chrink

Seannduaig . Shandwick.  Shoun-dwik

Baile an Todhair. Balintore.  Bal an Dore (with Gaelic initial D, almost a TH)

And as usual, if you have any more, or variations on these listed, please get in touch, e.g. via the Hall. All gratefully received!