A monstrous tail by Hannah Foley. All right reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk).Since living in Scotland Little Owl has developed a beautiful Scottish accent. It’s most pronounced in words like “very” and “tomorrow”, where she rolls her r’s. The other day she used the Scots word “outwith”. Outwith is a word you’ll often find here in newspaper articles and official documents as well as everyday speech. As an incomer it’s one I’ve failed to get my head round. It sort of means “outside” but it’s more nuanced than that. You wouldn’t use it to describe something geographical i.e. “outwith Scotland” and it isn’t used as a noun like outside can be. The emphasis is on the fact that something is “not within” or “not part of”.

Apart from outwith there are lots of words from Scots that I’ll be taking with me when we return south of the border. Some words just don’t have an equivalent meaning in English and now I know them, I’m not sure I can live without them! “Blether” is one. It’s often translated as gossip or idle chatter but it’s not really either of those. The chatting part of blether is more like a cover for what’s really going on. The tacit purpose of a blether is to build relationships and community. Hence it doesn’t really matter what you’re talking about as long as you’re together. It’s usually fun and involves lots of laughter. Preferably a blether should happen over a hot drink and take all morning.

Another one I like is “greeting”. It sort of means crying but it’s got a more distraught element to it. It’s kind of weeping but isn’t at all pathetic like weeping can be. It’s that hysterical sort of crying a toddler does when they’re over-tired but don’t want to go to bed.

I also love how Scottish folks add syllables to words. Owl is a good example. I would say owl in the same way I would “howl” (1 syllable) but round here “owl” is more like “vowel” (2 syllables). Of course with extra syllables, accents, and Scots words I can often find my Scottish friends unintelligible. Just such a problem arose with our next-door-but-one new neighbours.

“I can’t understand anything they’re saying. I think they must be from Glasgow,” I said to Big Dreamer.

He looked at me in astonishment. “They’re not from Glasgow. They’re Polish!”

Oh dear.


This is the tail of someone monstrous I’m working on for a current commission.

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One Response to “Outwith”

  1. nonna says:

    Big dreamers dad and I have been saying the words out loud and we pronounce Owl with 2 syllables, must be a northern thing! Lol at Big D last comment!

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