Skip to main content
Select source:


1. Relating to or characteristic of Scotland, its people, languages, culture, institutions, etc.: Scots traditions, the Scots language. Although in certain uses (Scots law, Scots thistle, a Scots mile, a pound Scots) the adjective has never gone out of favour, in other uses its popularity declined after the mid-18c in competition with Scottish and Scotch, reviving when Scotch fell into disfavour in the 19–20c.

2. A name for both GAELIC and the form of NORTHERN ENGLISH used in Scotland. The forms Scottis, Scotis and the LATIN adjectives Scotticus, Scoticus down to the 15c applied only to Gaelic and its speakers and have occasionally been so used since. From 1494, the term was increasingly applied to the Lowland speech, previously known as INGLIS, so as to distinguish it from the language of England. From then on, this was the regular application of the term, and until the early 18c SCOTS and INGLIS or English were more or less interchangeable: ‘They decided not to disjoin but to continue the Scots or English classe in the gramer school as formerly’ (Stirling Burgh Records, 23 Aug. 1718).

The status of Scots

Scholars and other interested persons have difficulty agreeing on the linguistic, historical, and social status of Scots. Generally, it is seen as one of the ancient DIALECTS of English, yet it has distinct and ancient dialects of its own. Sometimes it has been little more than an overspill noted in the discussion of English as part of the story of England. Sometimes it has been called the English of Scotland, part of GENERAL ENGLISH yet often in contrast with it, and different from the STANDARD ENGLISH taught in Scottish schools. Sometimes, it has been called a Germanic language in its own right, considered as distinct from its sister in England in the same way that Swedish is distinct from DANISH. In addition, in its subordinate relationship with the English of England, its position has been compared to FRISIAN in the Netherlands (dominated by Dutch) and Norwegian (once dominated by Danish). In The Languages of Britain (1984), Glanville Price notes:
In planning and writing this book, I have changed my mind four times, and, in the end, I devote a separate chapter to Scots not because I necessarily accept that it is a ‘language’ rather than a ‘dialect’ but because it has proved to be more convenient to handle it thus than include some treatment of it in the chapter on English.

Scots has since the beginning of the 18c been the object of scholarly investigation and those scholars who have specialized in its study divide its history into three periods: Old English (to 1100); Older Scots (1100–1700), divided into Early Scots (1100–1450) and Middle Scots (1450–1700); Modern Scots (1700 onwards).

The King's Scots

The first source of Scots dates from the 7c. It was the Old English of the kingdom of Bernicia, part of which lay in what is now southern Scotland: see NORTHUMBRIA. The second source was the Scandinavian-influenced English of immigrants from Northern and Midland England in the 12–13c, who travelled north at the invitation of the Anglo-Normanized kings of Scots. By the 14c, the variety of Northern English which had crystallized out of these sources (known to its speakers as Inglis) had supplanted Gaelic and CUMBRIC, languages formerly spoken in much of what is now Lowland Scotland. In Caithness, Orkney, and Shetland, however, the form of Norse known as NORN continued in use for some time. From the late 14c also, Latin began to be overtaken by Scots as the language of record and literature, a process well advanced by the early 16c, by which time it had become the national language of Stewart Scotland.


By the mid-16c, Scots had begun to undergo Anglicization, southern English word forms and spellings progressively invading written and later spoken Scots. Among the conditions favouring this trend was Protestant reliance (before and after the Reformation of 1560) on Bibles in English. By the late 16c, all Scots writing was in a mixed dialect, in which native Scots spellings and spelling symbols co-occurred with English borrowings: aith/oath, ony/any, gude/good, quh-/wh-, sch-/sh-, Scots ei, English ee, ea, with the English forms gradually gaining in popularity. Scots elements virtually disappeared from published writings in Scotland before the end of the 17c, except for VERNACULAR literature. The elimination of Scots from unpublished writings like local records took some decades longer. Early in the 18c, Sir Robert Sibbald distinguished three sorts of Scottish speech: ‘that Language we call BROAD Scots, which is yet used by the Vulgar … in distinction to the Highlanders Language, and the refined Language of the Gentry, which the more Polite People among us do use’. That ‘refined language’, however, was no longer Scots but the ancestor of SCOTTISH ENGLISH.


According to the Augustan ideals of good taste and propriety, shared by cultivated people in the 18c in both England and Scotland, the residue of Scots in the English of Scottish people was deplored as ‘provincial’ and ‘unrefined’. This led many of the gentry and intelligentsia to try to rid themselves of all traces of their former national tongue by attending lectures on English elocution held in Edinburgh from 1748. In addition, from the late 17c they made great efforts to eradicate Scotticism from their writing and speech. Not all educated 18c Scots, however, accepted these propositions. From early in the century, a new literary Scots, which unlike most literary Middle Scots was based on upto-date colloquial speech, burgeoned in the writings of Allan Ramsay (1686–1758) and some of his contemporaries, and such successors as Robert BURNS. This stream of vernacular literature in Scots was accompanied early in the 19c by a revival of interest in and approval of Modern Scots among the middle and upper classes, inspired to some extent by John Jamieson's Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1808). Scots was now generally accepted as a rich and expressive tongue and recognized as the ‘national language’, albeit (as had been repeatedly stated since 1763 or earlier) ‘going out as a spoken tongue every year’.

Revival and survival

The need was now felt to record the old language before it was too late, as in Jamieson's dictionary, or to undertake the preservation or even restoration of Scots. In the 20c, this has manifested itself inter alia in the creation of LALLANS or Synthetic Scots by the Scottish Renaissance writers from c.1920, and in a sustained output in recent decades of narrative, expository, and even some transactional prose in Scots, notably in the Scots Language Society's journal Lallans (1973– ). From the early 18c to the present day, appeals in English prose or Scots verse have been made to Scots to speak their own language rather than Southron. Such activity has helped maintain the Scottish people's linguistic loyalty to their ‘own dying language’ ( Robert Louis Stevenson, 1887) and has helped to slow the drift away from native Scots elements at all levels of speech. But it could not reverse the trend which favours English as the language of power and prestige or restore the full Scots of a dwindling minority of rural speakers to its former central position. Even after its 20c renaissance, Scots remains restricted to a narrow sphere of literary uses and it makes only a marginal appearance in the media, in comic strips, cartoons, jokes and columns in the popular and local press. None the less, although English is dominant, it remains permeated with features from Scots.


(1) Like other Northern dialects, Scots displays the results of many early divergences from the Midland and Southern dialects of MIDDLE ENGLISH: hame, stane, sair, gae as against home, stone, sore, go; hoose, oot, doon, coo as against house, out, down, cow; baw, saut against ball, salt; gowd, gowf as against gold, golf; mouter as against multure; fou as against full; and buit, guid, muin, puir, dui (or with some other front vowel, depending on dialect) as against boot, good, moon, poor, do: see DIALECT IN SCOTLAND. (2) Of the features largely exclusive to Scots (in Scotland and Ulster), the most pervasive is the Scottish vowel length rule, the most striking result of which is the split of Early Scots /iː/ into two phonemes in Scots and ScoE: /aɪ/ in ay (yes), buy, alive, rise, tied, and /əɪ/ in aye (always), life, rice, bite, tide. (3) The consonant system retains the OLD ENGLISH voiceless velar fricative /x/ in teuch, heich (equivalents of tough, high) and many other words (including such Gaelic loans as clarsach, loch, pibroch), and the cluster /xt/ in dochter, nicht (daughter, night). Such forms were once universal in English and have only become obsolete in Northern England in recent decades.


By the late 14c, Older Scots was developing its own distinctive orthography, marked by such features as quh- (English wh-), -ch (English -gh), sch- (English sh-), and the use of i/y as in ai/ay, ei/ey to identify certain vowels: compare Scots quheyll, heych, scheip, heid, heyd with English wheel, high, sheep, heed, head. Following the Anglicization of the 16–17c, the literary Scots of Allan Ramsay and his contemporaries and successors in the 18c had discarded some of these forms but retained others, including ei as in heid (head), ui or u–e as in guid/gude (good), and ch as in loch, thocht (loch, thought). This orthography, however, was in the main an adaptation of English orthography to represent Scots, as is shown by the free use of apostrophes to mark ‘missing’ letters. Unlike English, but like Older Scots, it is tolerant of spelling variation; attempts to regulate this, notably through the Scots Style Sheet of the Makars' Club (1947), have had only limited success. The Concise Scots Dictionary records many spelling variants such as breid, brede, bread, braid (bread), and heuk, huke, hook (hook), and the larger Scots dictionaries record very many more.


(1) The regular past form of the verb is -it or -t/(e)d, according to the preceding consonant or vowel: hurtit, skelpit smacked, mendit, kent/kenned knew/known, cleant/cleaned, tellt/tauld told, deed died. (2) Some verbs have distinctive principal parts: greet/grat/grutten weep/wept, fesh/fuish/fuishen fetch/fetched, lauch/leuch/lauchen laugh/laughed, gae/gaed/gane go/went, gie/gied/gien give/gave/given. (3) A set of irregular noun plurals: eye/een eye/eyes, cauf/caur calf/calves, horse/horse horse/horses, coo/kye cow/cows (compare archaic English kine), shoe, shae, shee/shuin, sheen shoe/shoes (compare archaic English shoon). (4) Nouns of measure and quantity unchanged in the plural: four fuit foot, twa mile, five pund pound, three hunderwecht hundredweight. (5) A third deictic adjective/adverb yon/yonder, thon/thonder (that and those there, at some distance): D'ye see yon/thon hoose ower yonder/thonder? (6) Ordinal numbers ending in -t: fourt, fift, saxt/sixt, etc. (7) Adverbs in -s, -lies, -lin(g)s, gate(s), and way(s), -wye, -wey(s): whiles at times, maybes perhaps, brawlies splendidly, geylies pretty well, aiblins perhaps, arselins backwards, halfins partly, hidlins secretly, maistlins almost, a'gates always, everywhere, ilka gate everywhere, onygate anyhow, ilkawye everywhere, onyway(s) anyhow, anywhere, endweys straight ahead, whit wey how, why. (8) Diminutives and associated forms: in -ie/y (burnie small burn brook, feardie/feartie frightened person, coward, gamie gamekeeper, kiltie kilted soldier, postie postman, wifie wife, rhodie rhododendron), in -ock (bittock little bit, playock toy, plaything, sourock sorrel) and chiefly Northern -ag (bairnag little bairn child, Cheordag Geordie), -ockie, -ickie (hoosickie small house, wifeockie little wife). Note the five times diminished a little wee bit lassockie.

Syntax and idiom

(1) Verbs in the present tense are as in English when a single personal pronoun is next to the verb; otherwise, they end in -s in all persons and numbers: They say he's owre auld, Thaim that says he's owre auld, Thir laddies says he's owre auld They say he's too old, etc.; They're comin as weel but Five o them's comin; The laddies?—They've went but Ma brakes has went. (2) Was or wis may replace were, but not conversely as in some Northern English dialects: You were/wis there. (3) The MODAL VERBS may, ocht to ought to, and (except in Orkney and Shetland) sall shall, are rare or absent in informal speech, but occur in literary Scots. They are replaced respectively by can, should, and will. May and shall are similarly missing from most ScoE. (4) Scots, like NORTHERN ENGLISH, employs double modal constructions: He'll no can come the day He won't be able to come today, Ah micht could come the morn I might be able to come tomorrow, Ah used tae could dae it, but no noo I could do it once, but not now. (5) There are progressive uses of certain verbs: He wis thinkin he wid tell her; He wis wantin tae tell her. (6) Verbless subordinate clauses that express surprise or indignation are introduced by and: She had tae walk the hale lenth o the road and her seeven month pregnant; He tellt me tae run and me wi ma sair leg (and me with my sore leg). (7) Negation is mostly as in English, either by the adverb no (North-East nae), as in Ah'm no comin I'm not coming, or by the enclitic -na/nae (depending on dialect, and equivalent to -n't), as in Ah dinna ken I don't know, They canna come, They can't come, We couldna hae tellt him We couldn't have told him, and Ah huvna seen her I haven't seen her. With auxiliary verbs which can be contracted, however, such as -ve for have and -ll for will, or in yes–no questions with any auxiliary, Scots strongly prefers the usage with the adverb to that with the enclitic: He'll no come rather than He winna come, and Did he no come? to the virtual exclusion of Didna he come? (8) The relative pronoun is that for all persons and numbers, and may be elided: There's no mony folk (that) lives in that glen There aren't many people who live in that glen. The forms wha, wham, whase, whilk (who, whom, whose, which) are literary, the last of these used only after a statement: He said he'd lost it, whilk wis no whit we wantit tae hear. That is made possessive by 's or appending an appropriate pronoun: The man that's hoose got burnt; the wumman that her dochter got mairrit; the crew that thair boat wis lost. (9) Verbs of motion may be dropped before an adverb or adverbial phrase of motion: Ah'm awa tae ma bed; That's me awa hame; Ah'll intae the hoose and see him. (10) Like Northern English, Scots prefers the order He turned oot the licht to He turned the light out and Gie me it to Give it me.


The vocabularies of Scots and English overlap, but Scots contains words that are absent from the standard language, either shared with the dialects of Northern England, or unique to Scotland. The sources of the distinctive elements of Scots vocabulary include Old English, Old NORSE, FRENCH, DUTCH, and Gaelic.

Old English.

(1) Not now shared with any dialect of England are such forms as: but an ben a two-room cottage, but the outer room, ben the inner room, cleuch a gorge, haffet the cheek, skeich (of a horse) apt to shy, swick to cheat. (2) Shared with (especially Northern) dialects of England: bairn a child, bide to stay or live (in a place), dicht to clean, dwam a stupor, hauch a riverside meadow, heuch a steep hill, rax to stretch, snell (of weather) bitter, severe, speir to ask, thole to endure. (3) Now in general or literary English: bannock, eldritch, fey, gloaming, raid, wee, weird, wizened. Weird and fey also have the original senses ‘destiny’ and ‘fated to die’. To dree yir ain weird means ‘to endure what is destined for you’.


The Scandinavian element, introduced by 12–13c immigrants from Northern England, is generally shared with the Northern dialects, but some words that are obsolete there survive in Scots and ScoE: ain own (ma ain my own), aye always, big to build, blae blue (whence blaeberry), blether to chatter, brae slope of a hill, cleg a gadfly, eident diligent, ferlie a wonder, gate a road (also in street names: Gallowgate, in Glasgow), gowk a cuckoo, graith equip, equipment, kirk church, lass a girl, lowp to jump, lug ear. This element includes the auxiliary verbs gar to make or cause to do (It wad gar ye greet It would make you weep) and maun must (Ah maun find her I must find her, and the proverb He that will tae Cupar maun tae Cupar Scots equivalent of ‘A wilful man must have his way’). Most of this is also shared by the dialects of Shetland, Orkney, and Caithness, which have in addition their own distinct vocabulary descended from Norn.


Influence from French was first through the Anglo-Norman baronage of 12–13c Scotland and the Frenchified literary and fashionable culture of medieval Britain, then partly as a result of the Auld Alliance (Franco-Scottish Alliance, 1296–1560), and partly from Scots travelling and living in France and Switzerland in medieval and later times: (1) Shared with early English but surviving only in Scots: causey the paved part of a street (cognate with causeway), cowp to capsize or upset (from couper to cut, strike) cummer a godmother (from commère), douce (originally of a woman or manners) sweet (from doux/douce), houlet owl (from hulotte), leal (a doublet of loyal and legal), tass/tassie cup (from tasse). (2) Virtually exclusively Scots: ashet a serving dish (from assiette), disjune breakfast (from desjun, now dejeuner), fash to bother (from fâcher), Hogmanay (from Old French aguillanneuf a New Year's gift), sybow/sybie the spring onion (from Old French ciboule), vennel an alley (from Old French venelle). (3) Shared from the 17c with English: caddie, croup (the disease), pony.


The population of medieval Scotland included Flemish landowners in the countryside, wool merchants, weavers, and other craftsmen in the burghs, and trade with The Netherlands dates from the same period. Borrowings from medieval Dutch or Flemish include: callan a lad, coft bought, cowk to retch, cuit an ankle, groff coarse in grain or quality, howf a favourite haunt, public house (from hof a courtyard), loun (‘loon’) a lad, mutch a kind of woman's cap, mutchkin a quarter of a Scots pint, pinkie the little finger (passed on to AmE), trauchle to overburden, harass. The words croon, golf, scone have been passed on to English at large.


(1) Early borrowings, from around the 12c to the 17c, many of which have passed on into English: bog, cairn a pile of stones as a landmark, capercailzie the wood grouse, clachan a hamlet, clan, clarsach the Highland harp, cranreuch hoar frost, glen, ingle a hearth-fire, loch, partan the common crab, ptarmigan an Arctic grouse, slogan originally a war cry, sonse plenty, prosperity (whence sonsy hearty, comely, buxom), strath a wide valley, tocher a dowry. (2) From the 17c onward, also often passing into English: ben a mountain, brogue a Highlander's shoe, claymore a Highland sword, corrie a cirque or circular hollow on a mountainside, gillie a hunting attendant, golach an earwig, pibroch solo bagpipe music, sporran a purse worn in front of a kilt, whisky. (3) From the late 19c onward: ceilidh (‘cayly’) an informal musical party, Gaidhealtachd the area where Gaelic is spoken, slàinte (‘slanch’) health and slàintemhath (‘slanche-va’) good health (said as a toast).


The distinctive vocabularies of education, the Church, and especially law in Scotland are largely Latin: see SCOTTISH ENGLISH. From the classroom a little schoolboy Latin has trickled into Scots since the 15c or earlier: dominie schoolmaster, dux best pupil in a school or a class, fugie a runaway, truant, janitor a school caretaker, pandie a stroke on the palm with a cane, etc. (from Latin pande manum stretch out your hand: also palmie), vacance vacation, holiday, vaig and stravaig wander aimlessly.

Echoisms, reduplications, and others

(1) Words of uncertain origin but with a distinct onomatopoeic element include: birl to whirl, daud a thump or lump, dunt a thump, sclaff to slap, skrauch and skreich to shriek, wheech to move in a rush, yatter to chatter. (2) Scots has many widely used reduplicative words, such as clishclash and clishmaclaver idle talk, gossip, easy-osy easy-going, eeksie-peeksie six and half a dozen, the hale jingbang the whole caboodle, joukerie-pawkerie trickery, mixter-maxter all mixed up. (3) Combinations and fanciful formations: bletherskate an incessant talker, camshauchle distorted, carnaptious quarrelsome, carfuffle a commotion (passed into English), collieshangie a noisy squabble, sculduddery fornication (whence AmE skullduggery), tapsalteerie topsyturvy, and whigmaleerie a trifle, whim.

Iteratives, intensives, and others.

(1) Iteratives and intensives: donner to daze (whence donnert stupid), scunner to disgust, and someone or something disgusting (from the root of shun: also Northern English), scowder to scorch (cognate with scald), shauchle to shuffle, shoogle to joggle or shake. (2) Common words of various derivations, some obscure: bogle a ghost (perhaps of Celtic origin: note tattie-bogle ‘a potato bogle’, a scare-crow), bonny or bonnie handsome, beautiful (perhaps from French bon good), braw fine, excellent (perhaps a variant of brave), collie a sheepdog (now in general use in English), couthy homely/homey, congenial (from couth known: compare uncouth), eerie fearful, ghostly (now general), glaikit foolish (from glaik trick, deceit, flash), glamour a spell (now general, for a special kind of magic: a doublet of grammar), gowkit or gukkit foolish (perhaps from the guk-guk call of the gowk or cuckoo), glaur mud, glower to stare (now general), gomerel a fook, gumption get-up-and-go, guts (now general). (3) Recent creations: bangshoot caboodle (compare jingbang, above), bletheration foolish talk (see blether, above), duffie/yuffie a water closet, fantoosh flashy (probably a play on fancy and fantastic), gallus mischievous, heidbanger a madman, high-heid-yin (‘high-head-one’) boss, manager, laldie a thrashing, multy a multi-storey tenement, sapsy soppy, effeminate, scheme (clipping ‘housing scheme’) a local-authority housing estate, skoosh to gush, fizzy drink, squeegee askew.

Literary Scots

Already in Middle Scots, literary and official prose had grown archaic in comparison with contemporary speech, and spoken innovations therefore largely fail to appear in writing, apart from comic verse and passages of quoted dialogue in law-court records. These last show novel forms such as fow for full, mow for mouth, ha and gie (later hae and gie) for have and give, and such new coinages as glower (to stare) and glaikit (foolish). The following passage illustrates polished 16c literary prose:
The samyn tyme happynnit ane wounderfull thing. Quhen Makbeth and Banquho war passand to Fores, quhair King Duncan wes for the tyme, thai mett be the gaitt thre weird sisteris or wiches, quhilk come to thame with elrege clething (from John Bellenden's translation, c.1531 of Hector Boece's Latin Chronicles of Scotland, 1527
[Translation: At that time a wonderful thing happened. When Macbeth and Banquo were on their way to Forres, where King Duncan was at the time, they met by the roadside three ‘sisters of fate’ or witches, who approached them in unearthly (eldritch) garments.]In the 20c, literary Scots of the variety that includes Lallans and the language of W. L. Lorimer's The New Testament in Scots similarly differs from colloquial varieties. It draws its typical word forms, vocabulary, and grammar from an archaic, more or less non-local, variety of Central Scots, retaining for example obsolete or obsolescent uses of modal verbs and negatives and such archaisms as aiblins perhaps, descryve describe, leed/leid a language, lift sky, swith quickly, and virr strength. It also sometimes employs a stilted, non-colloquial, English-like syntax. Occasionally, false analogies produce forms and usages that have no Scots pedigree: ainer an owner, aipen open, raim to roam, delicht delight, tae too (whose Scots equivalent is owre).

The following passages exemplify Modern Scots since the 18c, in works of wide currency within ‘English literature’:O! 'its a pleasant thing to be a bride;
Syne whindging getts about your ingleside,
Yelping for this or that with fasheous din,
To mak them brats then ye maun toil and spin.
( Allan Ramsay , from the The Gentle Shepherd, 1725)

‘Weel, weel,’ and Mr. Jarvie, ‘bluid's thicker than water; and it liesna in kith, kin and ally, to see motes in ilk other's een if other een see them no. It wad be sair news to the auld wife below the Ben of Stuckavrallachan, that you, ye Hieland limmer, had knockit out my harns, or that I had kilted you up in a tow’(

Walter Scott

, from Rob Roy, 1817).
Faith, when it came there was more to remember in Segget that year than Armistice only. There was better kittle in the story of what happened to Jim the Sourock on Armistice Eve. He was aye sore troubled with his stomach, Jim, he'd twist his face as he'd hand you a dram, and a man would nearly lose nerve as he looked—had you given the creature a bad shilling or what? But syne he would rub his hand slow on his wame, It's the pains in my breast that I've gotten again; and he said that they were fair awful sometimes, like a meikle worm moving and wriggling in there (

Lewis Grassic Gibbon

, from Cloud Howe, second in the trilogy A Scots Quair, 1932–4).


A wide linguistic distance lies between Scots and standard English, the poles of speech in most of Scotland. By and large, spoken and written Scots are difficult for non-speakers, and require an investment of effort. As a result, use of Scots in mixed company can make ‘monolingual’ English speakers feel excluded. In the larger European context, the situation of Scots resembles that of FRISIAN in the Netherlands, Nynorsk in Norwegian, Occitan in relation to French in France, and Catalan in relation to Spanish in Spain. Scots is the SUBSTRATUM of general English in Scotland; most Scots use mixed varieties, and ‘full’ traditional Scots is now spoken by only a few rural people. None the less, despite stigmatization in school, neglect by officialdom, and marginalization in the media, people of all backgrounds have since the 16c insisted on regarding the guid Scots tongue as their national language. See BORROWING, DORIC, EDINBURGH, GLASGOW, GUTTER SCOTS, HIGHLAND ENGLISH, ORKNEY AND SHETLAND DIALECTS, ULSTER SCOTS, Z.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"SCOTS." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"SCOTS." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . (October 20, 2016).

"SCOTS." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from




LOCATION: United Kingdom (Scotland)

POPULATION: Over 5 million

LANGUAGE: Scottish dialect of English (also called Scots); Gaelic

RELIGION: Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian sect; Roman Catholic; small numbers of Baptists, Anglicans, and Methodists


Scotland is one of four countries that make up the United Kingdom. (The other three are England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.) Scotland covers the northern part of the island of Great Britain, which it shares with England and Wales.

For centuries, social and political life in the northern (Highland) area of Scotland was organized around clans (communities of people with strong family ties). Chieftains protected clan members from invasion in exchange for their loyalty. (The cultural tradition of clans still exists today at ceremonial gatherings such as weddings.) The southern areas of Scotland were more influenced by English patterns of organization.

Repeated disputes with England sometimes led to war. Before the early fourteenth century, the Scottish were ruled by English monarchs. In 1707 the Act of Union made Scotland, England, and Wales all part of the United Kingdom.

Scotland has seen difficult times in the twentieth century. Extensive unemployment began in the 1930s, forcing thousands to emigrate in search of a better life. Oil was discovered off the North Sea coast in the 1960s. Many new jobs were created as a result, and emigration slowed. Since the 1980s national feeling in favor of separation from England has strengthened. In 1997, Scotland voted to establish its own parliament (government council) by 1999. This change will increase Scotland's independence from England.


Scotland is located in the northern part of the island of Great Britain. The country can be divided into three main areas. The Southern Uplands are a hilly region noted for sheep-raising. The more densely populated Central Lowlands have flatter and more fertile land. The Highlands, the northern two-thirds of the country, include lochs (lakes), glens (valleys), mountains, and numerous small islands.

Over three-fourths of Scotland's population live in the Central Lowland area. Two hundred years ago, almost half of all Scottish people lived in the Highlands. Most Scots are descended from Celtic tribes who were the original inhabitants of their land. The bloodlines of Viking, Norman, and English invaders are mixed in as well. The Highland and Lowland Scots are considered two different groups, as are mainland and island dwellers.


Scotland's official language is English. It is spoken with a unique Scottish accent, or "burr," that is especially prominent in words containing "r" sounds. Scottish English (also called Scots) contains words borrowed from Gaelic (a Scottish dialect), French, Dutch, and Scandinavian languages. Its grammar sometimes differs from standard English, as in expressions like "Are you no going?" and "I'm away to bed." Gaelic is spoken as a second language by less than 2 percent of the population, mostly in the Highlands and Hebridean islands.

U. S. English Scots
don't, can't, won't dinnae, canae, willnae
small wee
yes aye
know ken
weep greet
church kirk
pants breeks
girl lassie
child bairn
pretty bonny
stay bide
Scots U. S. English
I'm exhausted. Ah'm fair farfochen.
The child's a little The bairn's a wee bit
tired. wabbit.


The oldest Gaelic songs tell stories of warriors battling Norsemen, magic rowan (mountain ash) trees, and monstrous old women living in the sea. There is also a rich folk tradition of belief in fairies and other supernatural forces. The most famous character in Scottish folklore is the Loch Ness monster. "Nessie" is said to be a dinosaur-like creature living in a large lake. Although it has supposedly been sighted by hundreds of people, its existence has never been scientifically proven.

A popular Scottish legend tells the tale of the "wall flower." In a castle near the river Tweed, a fair maiden was held prisoner because she had promised her love to a member of a neighboring enemy clan. Her lover tried various tactics to rescue her. He finally was able to get inside the castle by pretending to be a troubadour (wandering musician). Once inside, he found the maiden and the two made a plan for her escape. She climbed out the window, and planned to climb down the wall of the castle using a silk rope. While her lover waited below to rescue her, something went wrong, as this poem relates:

Up she got upon a wall
Attempted down to slide withal;
But the silken twist untied,
She fell, and bruised, she died,
And her loving, luckless speed,
Twined her to the plant we call
Now the "Flower of the Wall."


The country's dominant religion is the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian sect. It is commonly known as "the Kirk," and has been Scotland's official religion since 1690. Other religions in Scotland include Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, and Methodist, as well as more modern evangelical sects. Church attendance in Scotland is very low.


Scots celebrate the major holidays of the Christian calendar. In addition, they honor Saint Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, on November 30, and the Scottish poet Robert Burns on Burns Night, January 25.

Another unique celebration is the Hogmanay (New Year's Eve, December 31) celebration. Until the 1960s, this holiday held more importance than Christmas (December 25). It involved the ceremony of "first footing," the custom of visiting friends, neighbors, and even strangers, in the "wee sma' hours" (early) of New Year's Day. Christmas was formerly frowned upon by the Scottish Church. It only became a public holiday in 1967. Christmas in Scotland now resembles celebrations in England and the United States, with fir trees, carols, and gift-giving.

Halloween, October 31, is also an important celebration. Like "trick-or-treaters" in the United States, Scottish "guisers" go from door to door in costumes asking for candy or money. Unlike in the United States, the guisers must perform a song or poem to earn their treat. Halloween decorations include the Scottish version of the jack-o'-lantern: a scooped-out rutabaga called a "neep lantern" ("neep" is short for turnip).


Scotland is a modern, industrialized, Christian country. Many of the rites of passage that young people undergo are religious rituals. These include baptism, first communion, confirmation, and marriage. In addition, a student's progress through the educational system is often marked with graduation parties.


The Scottish are known for their silent and reserved manner. It is unusual for Scots to be seen holding hands, kissing, or touching in public. They tend to minimize direct expressions of enthusiasm. The handshake is less common than in other parts of Britain. It is considered unacceptable to criticize others in public, or to discuss personal problems with anyone other than a close associate. Within the household, however, family members maintain close relationships that include many "inside jokes." Scottish humor tends toward the deadpan (said with an expressionless face) and ironic (meaning the opposite of what is expressed).


Most Scottish houses have a small garden. Many houses are built in rows called terraces. Homes built before World War I (191418) were generally made of stone. Single-story stone cottages can still be found in the Highlands as well as in some urban areas. Most newer dwellings are built of brick or concrete blocks. Slate roofs are common, and many houses are covered by a painted coating of cement. Over half of all Scots live in "council houses," low-cost housing built by local authorities. These are generally high-rise apartment complexes.


Women have worked as laborers in the textile, jute, and fish processing industries since as far back as the nineteenth century. This work has given them both economic independence and more authority within the family. Women are increasingly entering the professions. There are nearly as many women as men in attendance at Scotland's colleges and universities. Traditionally male skilled trades such as steelmaking and mining still do not hire female employees.

Scots are legally allowed to marry by the age of sixteen. Many marry as teenagers, although marrying in the early twenties is most common. The divorce rate in Scotland, which has risen in recent years, is still low when compared with the American divorce rate.


People throughout the world generally picture the Scots in their famous traditional costume, the kilt. However, this skirtlike garment is generally worn only for ceremonial and formal occasions. Otherwise, most Scots wear standard Western-style clothing. Because of the cold, damp climate, Scottish clothing is usually made of heavy fabrics such as wool, including the native tweed. Each of Scotland's clans has its own tartan (or plaid), developed over the centuries. There are over 300 designs in all. Women's ceremonial costumes include tartan skirts and white blouses worn under snug, black, vestlike bodices.


The Scottish national dish is haggis. This is a sausage-like food made from chopped organ meat of a sheep or calf mixed with oatmeal and spices. It is traditionally boiled in the casing of a sheep's stomach, although today a plastic bag is often used. Scottish dietary staples include oats and potatoes (tatties). The main meal of the day is tea, served at dinnertime. However, in rural areas, the midday meal is still the main one. Typical Scottish desserts include oatcakes, shortbread, a rich fruitcake called "Dundee cake," and a New Year's specialty called "black bun."


The Scots are a well-educated people. Universal education has existed in their country for centuries. Scots read more newspapers than any other European people. About 95 percent of adult Scots are literate (able to read and write). The educational system in Scotland is operated separately from that in England. After seven years of primary school, Scottish children attend secondary school for six years. After that, students can attend one of Scotland's eight universities, or go on to vocational school. Great value is placed on higher education.


The Scots have a particularly distinguished tradition in the realm of literature, especially poetry and novels. Scotland's most famous poet, Robert Burns, lived and wrote in the late eighteenth century. Lord Byron (17881824), another Scottish poet, was born and educated in Aberdeen. Other famous writers include Sir Walter Scott (17711832) and Robert Louis Stevenson (185094), both writers of adventure novels. Arthur Conan Doyle (18591930), another Scot, created the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's countryman J. M. Barrie (18601937) wrote the famous play Peter Pan, which has delighted audiences throughout the twentieth century.


An estimated 60 percent of Scotland's labor force is employed in service industries. Manufacturing employs 25 percent, and agriculture, forestry, and fishing each employ about 2 percent. Most manufacturing is concentrated in the Central Lowlands. Important industries include textiles, chemicals, steel, electronics, whiskey, and petroleum products. Scotland has a unique agricultural tradition, primarily in the Highlands, called crofting. Farmers live on crofts, a term that refers both to their land and their family home. They raise grains or vegetables on their own land, and raise animals communally on a larger grazing area. Today, crofting provides supplemental income but is rarely a primary source of income or food.


The Scottish national sport is soccer (called "football"). It is associated with fierce rivalries between Catholic and Protestant teams that sometimes erupt in violence. The nation's second-most-popular sport is golf, which Scotland claims to have invented. Present-day Scotland boasts over 400 golf courses. Rugby, similar to American football, is the country's third-favorite sport. Other popular sports include tennis, lawn bowling, skiing, and curling.


Many Scots relax after work by watching the BBC (Great Britain's government-owned television broadcasting service). Others visit local bars called "pubs" (short for "public houses"), where they eat, drink, and socialize with friends. Popular outdoor recreation includes fishing, hunting, hiking, and mountain climbing. Scottish teenagers share many interests with teenagers in other Western countries. These include popular music, clothes, and dating (according to local customs). The influence of U.S. television shows and movies is narrowing the gap between Scottish teenagers and their American peers.


Scottish crafts such as pottery, hand-knitting, jewelry-making, and weaving are widely practiced. Harris tweed, a densely woven wool fabric, originated on the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and is still made there.

Scotland has two main folk-song traditions: bardic compositions and work songs. Traditionally, each clan had a bard (a sort of poet/composer). The bard sang the praises of the clan and preserved its musical traditions. Bards commonly memorized as many as 350 different stories and poems. The tradition of Gaelic work songs developed as rhythmic accompaniment to such tasks as milking, harvesting, spinning, and weaving. The most famous feature of Scotland's traditional music is its national instrument, the bagpipe. It is played at weddings and other celebrations, in military marching bands, and as a hobby.


Scotland has a high rate of alcoholism, particularly on the islands of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Scots also have the United Kingdom's highest rate of hospitalization for depression. Another problem is Scotland's dwindling population as people emigrate to England and other countries in search of better jobs. Scottish government and industry are working to create new industries to provide jobs and hopefully stem the tide of emigration.


Meek, James. The Land and People of Scotland. New York: Lippincott, 1990.

Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Peoples of the World: Western Europeans. Gale Research, 1993.

Scotland in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1991.


British Council. [Online] Available, 1998.

British Information Service. United Kingdom. [Online] Available, 1998.

British Tourist Authority. [Online] Available, 1998.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Scots." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Scots." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (October 20, 2016).

"Scots." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from


Scots Originally a Celtic people from n Ireland. They were Gaelic speaking. Their raids on the w coast of Roman Britain from the 3rd to the 5th century failed to establish independent settlements in Wales or nw England. In the 5th century, however, they were able to establish the Kingdom of Dalriada in Pictish territory. From the 11th century, the term has been applied to those people living in Scotland.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Scots." World Encyclopedia. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Scots." World Encyclopedia. . (October 20, 2016).

"Scots." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from


Scots / skäts/ • adj. another term for Scottish: a Scots accent. • n. the form of English used in Scotland.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Scots." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Scots." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . (October 20, 2016).

"Scots." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from


Scotscongrats, stats •ersatz • Grazgodets, Metz, pantalettes (US pantalets) •Odets •Bates, Fates, Gates, Trucial States, United States, Yeats •annates •eats, Keats •foresheets •Biarritz, blitz, Fritz, glitz, it's, its, Ritz, spitz, spritz, St Kitts •blewits • Colditz • rickets • giblets •Austerlitz • Chemnitz • Leibniz •Massachusetts • slivovitz •Clausewitz • Auschwitz • Horowitz •Golan Heights • house lights •footlights •Scots, Watts •Cinque Ports, orts, quartz •undershorts •thereabouts, whereabouts •Coats, John o'Groats, Oates •Hakenkreuz •cahoots, Schütz •slyboots •kibbutz, Lutz, Perutz, putz •futz, klutz, Smuts •Roberts • polyunsaturates •deserts, Hertz •megahertz • kilohertz • outskirts •Weltschmerz •draughts (US drafts) •Helmholtz • schmaltz •Schulz •Hants, Northants, pants •sweatpants • smarty-pants •shin splints • Mainz • Y-fronts •arrondissements • Barents

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Scots." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 20 Oct. 2016 <>.

"Scots." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (October 20, 2016).

"Scots." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved October 20, 2016 from