bilingual blog dà-chànanach
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!

A’ bruidhinn mu dhaoine / Talking about people

My maternal grandparents
Link to pictures of Seaboard folk from our Seaboard History site.

I’ve amassed a huge number of words describing people, or used to address people. Many of them came up again and again, from sources old and young, including ones I collected over the years from those no longer with us. That shows that the words and expressions clearly were, and in some cases still are, well-used.  As ever, many thanks to all who have helped with this. Keep them coming!

The “Seaboard words” are given as spelled / pronounced to me or written down by contributors, so usually are roughly phonetic – locals should recognise them. The Gaelic words are given in brackets, their approximate pronunciation in italics.   In Gaelic, and in the Seaboard words that come from Gaelic, the first syllable is always stressed (and on the Seaboard often lengthened) e.g. spàgach, splay-footed = SPAA-cach.

1.The young

Bumalair – a big male child, careering around; a very big baby. What a bumalair! Also someone who messes up a job. (bumalair – bungler, oaf)

A wee eeshan – a naughty child (fairly mild, humorous word). (isean – a young bird, a wee child, esp. a naughty one)

A wee trooster – a mischief, a rascal (stronger word). (trustair – usually a very negative word used for adults – a dirty brute, filthy fellow, but clearly not as strong here)

Sproot – a rascal (maybe related to sprùis – an imp, pron. sprooosh)

Ploachack – a plump little girl or baby, admiringly. (possibly from pluiceach -a plump, chubby-cheeked person; ploiceag– a plump-cheeked woman; pluic = cheek)

Pochan, pockan – small cute person (pocan – small chubby lad; short fellow, pron. poch-can)

2.The old

Bodach, bottach, an old bottach – old man, old granda  (bodach – old man)

Bo-ba – granda (not an “official” Gaelic word, but a common familiar term in at least Shandwick and Balintore)

Cailleach – an old wifie

3.Characteristics, physical features

Spacack, spagach – splay-footed  (casan spàgach – splay feet)

Kervac – left-handed (from cearragach – left-handed, pron. kyarragach; cearrag, a left-hander)

Doikan – a small person (maybe connected to tòican – a small swelling, bump?)


Jeechallach – diligent, hard-working (dicheallach – diligent)

Spatchal – smart (spaideil – smart, pron. spatchal)

spatchack – posh (probably a variant of spaideil)

Ji-shall (pron. JA-ee-shal)  – good, posh (probably from deiseil – ready, prepared; deiseal – sunwise, southward, lucky, prosperous: both pron. jay-shal)

5.Less complimentary (a long section!)

He’s no yolach … he’s not handy at what he’s doing; clueless  (eòlach – knowledgeable)  

Poor gilouris!  Poor soul!  (diolaoiris – object of charity (word recorded in Wick area); related to more common expression dìol-deirce – poor soul, wretch). Interestingly, one contributor’s father applied this term to a gallus youth.

Luspitan – weak, underfed individual (luspardan – dwarf; puny man)

I’m no voting for them – they’re no but greishers – very derogatory term. Probably comes from greis, a spell of time, a while – perhaps in the sense of time-servers, or fly- by-nights? There is also a word greiseachd – enticement, solicitation, so maybe greishers were persuasive speakers with nothing behind it?  I think I’ll adopt this as my new term for politicians…

I’m in luperique – clothes or hands in a mess, e.g. if you spilled something on yourself or someone else. (Probably from (s)lupraich – slurping, wallowing, splashing, or possibly(s)luidearachd, slovenliness . The Seaboard sometimes dropped that initial S in words. (Probably because in some grammatical contexts in Gaelic, the S is changed to SH and not pronounced.)

Emmitchach -foolish (amaideach – foolish, pron. amajach)

Gorach – daft  (gòrach – foolish)

Him, he hasn’t moochoo! He has no sense. (mothachadh –perception, awareness. Pron. mo-a-chugh or mo-a-choo)

In or on the artan – on your high horse, angry. (àrdan – arrogance, haughtiness; height, prominence)

Prawshal– stuck-up  ( pròiseil – proud, pron. praw-shal)

Hanyel e gleek – he’s no wise (chan eil e glic)

Putting on the sglo – sweet-talking, buttering up. (sgleò – sheen, misting over; idle speech, verbiage.)

Beeallach – two-faced, untrustworthy  (beul=mouth > beulach -smooth-talking, plausible, pron. bee-a-lach)

Glacker – person speaking foolishly (glacaire – a blusterer)

Awshach – a foolish woman  (òinseach – female fool)  – heard in Inver

Keolar – peculiar (ceòlar – peculiar, eccentric)

Glaikit – daft . (Old Scots, probably related to Gaelic gloic – a fool, gloiceach – foolish)


Maytal – dear, pet  (m’ eudail – my dear, pron. may-tal)

Brogach, a term of endearment for a wee boy  (brogach – a sturdy lad)

Moolie – pet, darling (to a child)  (m’ ulaidh – my treasure)

Ma geul – my love (mo ghaol)


If I lift my drochnadar… – if I lose my temper, look out! (droch nàdar – bad temper)

Fyown – feeble, feeling flat, dispirited, faint. (fann – weak, faint, pron. fown, or feann, shortening, diminishing, pron. fyown)

Rohpach – feeling ropach – rough (ropach – in poor condition, scruffy, pron. roppach; ròpach – tangled, untidy, pron. roh-pach)

Brohnach – sad (brònach)

In a stoorsht – in a huff, in a fit of pique (stuirt – huffiness, pron. stoorsht)

Have a boos on you – sulk, pout (bus -pout, pron. booss)

Boossoch – grumpy (busach)

Seaboard fish

First of all, a huge thank you to everyone who has given me their Seaboard words and phrases since my appeal last month. The response has been amazing, especially at the Fisherfolk Festival dinner, and while I was on duty in the Fishing Store.  There are far too many names to mention everyone, and lots of words came in anonymously, or I didn’t get everyone’s names, but the longest lists (so far!) came from Hugh Skinner, Anne Barclay, Jean Mackenzie, and (to my delight) the table of young people at the dinner: Tore, Jamie,Peter, Stina, Julie, Keith.  So special thanks to them, and hope that will urge others to come up with more! 😊

It will take me quite a while to sort them all out, try to figure out the Gaelic spellings and look them up in my various sources, and record them more systematically. I’ll also combine them with my own memories and copious notes taken from my late mother Hansy and Katie Ross and others over the years.  But I thought I should get a few into this Fisherfolk Festival edition of the Seaboard News, so here’s a selection of fish for you!

Do get back to me if you have other local words and phrases (on any subject), past or present, and of course to comment on this batch, or add to it. Hand in anything to the Hall for me (spelling it just as you would say it).

Further selections to follow in the future.

Everyone’s favourite fish name – the mourcan (Gaelic murcan, pron. moorcan), a lumpfish or lumpsucker. The female mourcan (“even uglier”!) seems to have been called a paddle. This word was also used in Fife, according to the Scots Dictionary, so presumably a Scots term, not Gaelic.

The juntack or jintack – all agreed it’s a spiny fish that lurks in the sand in the shallows (Don’t step on any jintacks! my mother used to warn us), but various suggestions for what it is in English, incl. angler-fish, monkfish and weever fish. From Gaelic dionntag (pron. juntack), meaning both stinging nettle and lesser weever, but it may be used differently here.

Sellack – tiddler, very small shoreline fish. Probably from sgiolag, sgiollag – pron. skiollak, skullag – small fish, minnow, also sand-eel.

Sooyan – saithe   (saoidhean, 2 – 3 year old saithe)

Pelaig, paillac – porpoise  (peileag, pron. pay-lak – porpoise)

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

Spog / spawg – crab claw. G. spòg – claw. A small claw was a spògan.

Plashack – “a good fluke with spots”; plaice.   No Gaelic word like that found for any flat fish, though I know the word well myself for a plaice. Plaiseadh (pron plash-ugh) = splashing – maybe it splashed about if disturbed?  OR it’s a Gaelicisation of the word plaice, with a diminutive ending (-ag) – “a plaicie”.

Gealach –  “a bad fluke”. Again, not found in this context. Gealach (gyallach) = anything white or whitish (geal=white), but also the moon.  Were they pale / spotless, moonlike, or did they turn that way when caught? There is a word gealag (gyallak), found in my 1828 dictionary, meaning a white trout or salmon trout, but that’s not the same thing.

Leopach – flounder (Hilton and Balintore, not Shandwick?) – leòbag , lyoh-pak – any flat fish, esp. flounder or sole

Garvie – sprat, small herring.  G. garbhag pron. garra-vak – small herring (also plaice, spotted flounder, but seemingly not in the Villages)

Sannel – sand-eel (Scots)

Trollachan, troilleachan – squid (Bruce), or catfish, anglerfish (others)  Gaelic stròilleachan, squid – we must have lost the S locally.  My mother said her impression of it as a child was that it was an unspecified sea-creature you didn’t want to meet – the fishermen weren’t keen on it.  Maybe no sales or use for squid back then?

Eskan, aiskeen – conger eel  G. easgann, pron. eskan or ayskan – eel

Gimmach –lobster  G. giomach – pron. gimmach

“Coo-ee-chack” – whiting G. cuiteag

Cat-a-chreig – catfish  (literally “rock cat”)

Kerapan – basking shark.  G. cearban (kyer-a-pan) or carban (kar-a-pan)

Strangely enough, no words for salmon, herring or haddock came up (though I didn’t ask specifically, as so many words were coming in). The most common Gaelic for those is bradan, sgadan and adag.  Any of these familiar? Or alternatives? I recall sgadan from my childhood. Haddock, as far as I recall, was just haddie. Salmon was just “a fish” – never named.  “Have you got a bittie fish for me?” Superstition? Diplomacy?

The salmon fishing was canerack: “When you starting the canerack?” G. càinearachd, pron. kaan-er-ochk, from càinear, a salmon-fisher – seems to be a Ross-shire word (also W. Ross). Cainreach pron. kaneroch, is a small trout, but the words for trout and salmon are often interchanged regionally.

I’ll leave you with one of my main sources, Dwelly’s dictionary (1911), on the sooyan:


-ein, -an, sm The coalfish, saithe (pollachius virens). Named according to its age as follows:—1st year, Sìol or sìolagan.2nd year, Cudaig, cudainn or saoidhean.3rd year, Smalag, cuideanach or saoidhean.4th year, Saoidhean or piocach.5th year, Saoidhean-dubh or saoidhean-mór.6th year, Ucsa or ugsa. [1st year, Cudaig; 2nd year, Smalag; 3rd year, Saoidhean; 4th year, Saoidhean-mór; after 4th year, Ucas — Lewis, (DMy)]. Bu mhath a’ chudaig far nach faighte an saoidhean, the cuddy is good when no saithe can be got. The young saithe is called cuddy in some parts of Scotland and podly in others. It is sillock in Shetland. Raasay people are nicknamed “na saoitheanan.”