We asked a group of linguists to try and pronounce these Scottish words

Have you ever met a non-Scot who can pronounce the word ‘milngavie?’

Living in Edinburgh brings many a joy to one’s university experience – but also many a confusion. As an ignorant foreigner who had never even been to Scotland before coming to study here, I am constantly accosted by phrases I’ve never heard before and strangely-spelled words I am scared to try and pronounce in case someone in a kilt beats me down on the street for being too English.

In a pursuit to indulge my inner word nerd and learn more about the language of the country I live in, I decided to do my research and then put my tutorial group of fellow linguistics students to the test – asking them how they thought these difficult Scottish words were pronounced and what they meant.

Some of them even helped me transcribe the correct versions in the International Phonetic Alphabet – if that’s not dedication to the cause, I don’t know what is.

BUCCLEUCH

/bəkluː/ (book-loo)

Saskia likes to avoid saying Buccleuch out loud

Everyone remembers that moment of confusion as an innocent fresher when their timetable threw up their first tutorial on Buccleuch Place – and some of us still don’t know how to say it properly. Buck-loichhh? Book-luke? Why are there so many Cs? Why did our beloved university decide to build itself on the hardest to pronounce street in the city?

PENICUIK

/pɛnɪkʊk/ (penny-cook)

A linguistics tutor, and still no clue

I don’t know if it’s just me, but travelling on an Edinburgh bus is a perplexing linguistic experience, because I have absolutely no clue how to pronounce any of the names of the stops. Now I know that ‘cuik’ is pronounced ‘cook’, and ‘muir’ ‘moor’ not ‘queue-ick’ or ‘mweer’ I feel slightly more at ease.

TEUCHTER

/tʃuːxtər/ (chew-chter)

toik-ter? nope

Clearly spending a semester analysing Germanic languages has had an influence on us linguists – but in Scotland, unlike Germany, ‘eu’ is not pronounced OI! Though you might want to say that to someone if they call you a teuchter, because it’s a derogatory term referring to a farmer from the Highlands.

LANG MAY YER LUM REEK

/laŋ mɛj jə lʌm ri:k/ (this is pronounced pretty much as it’s written, but do you have any clue what it means?)

someone thought it meant ‘how long will your lum smell’

Even though Urban Dictionary helpfully states that ‘lum’ meant vagina in the 19th century, this endearing Scots turn of phrase isn’t, as it might seem, anything to do with less-than-fragrant genitals – it’s far nicer than that. ‘Lum’ here is slang for chimney, and the whole thing could be translated as ‘long may your chimney smoke’ – basically, whoever tells you this hopes you have a long and fruitful life. Ahh, the friendly Scots!

MILNGAVIE

/mᵻlˈɡaɪ/ (mull-guy)

yep, me too

This small town 6 miles Northwest of Glasgow is a true wonder of the English language – sorry, I mean Scots. A Scottish friend of mine told me she likes to take foreigners to the train station there just to get them to try and say the name and then point and laugh when they get it wrong – which is always, because it’s literally pronounced nothing like its spelling. Milngavie = Mull-guy? Who knew?

DREICH

/driːx/ (dree-CHH)

A very good descriptive word for the Edinburgh weather, dreich could be paraphrased as meaning dreary and bleak. Unlike what some of my linguist subjects thought, it is neither pronounced ‘drek – like Shrek’ or ‘drake – like Drake’. If you want to really sound authentic, make sure you get ready to assault your vocal chords with that harsh Scottish CHHHH.

BLETHER

/blɛðə/ (blether)

she’s only smiling because I’ve given her an easy one

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit again with this last one – but even though it’s pretty predictable in terms of how you say it, what on earth does it actually mean? I had a 15 minute discussion with a Bulgarian Masters student about this recently, when I came across a leaflet in Teviot for an event serving up ‘tea and a blether’. We concluded it must be a quaint local word for sandwich. I clearly have some more work to do…

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