Book helps Polish speakers learn Scottish slang

Kasia Michalska spent two years writing her Scots-Polish guide. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Kasia Michalska spent two years writing her Scots-Polish guide. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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They are the sort of obscure Scots phrases that can leave even a native English speaker scunnered and or possibly black-affrontit.

And for those who are learning the language from scratch, some of the phrases used by Scots can be almost impossible to understand – until now.

Polish woman Kasia Michalska, 43, who moved to Edinburgh seven years ago, has done her bit to help communications by creating A Scots-Polish Lexicon, which is far from your average “handy phrases” guide.

Not only does Ms Michalska shed light on the Polish meaning of words and phrases including “barry”, “black-affrontit” and “scaffie”, she also gives useful accounts of key moments in Scottish history such as the Glencoe Massacre and the Sabbath Wars.

Traditional events such as Hogmanay and caber tossing also feature in the book, as well as some of Scotland’s most famous food and drink, with favourites such as mince and tatties, skirlie, stovies, butteries and Cullen skink.

Ms Michalska, who lives with her husband, Jacek Rembas, 45, in Meadowbank, currently works as an English language tutor with Edinburgh City Council, and said she was “quite shocked with the linguistic situation” when she first arrived in the Capital.

But a personal curiosity made her want to get to the bottom of the “mystery of the language”.

“I could just not understand what people were saying to me and I was not the only one,” she explained. “Some of my students sometimes asked me: ‘What are these people saying? Is it Gaelic?’

“So it was my personal way of getting familiar with a new place and an alien environment and a way of making friends with it.”

And it was quite a “chaotic” experience for Ms Michalska as she started asking her Scottish work colleagues and found that sayings varied even according to which city you lived in.

She added: “It’s really surprising that Scotland is so localised and codified – I pestered people with questions and asked them to read the word list and edit it. I wanted to use words that were alive.”

The new author, who spent two years writing the guide from an immigrant’s point of view, said it also took two years to get it published and was “excited and happy” when it was accepted by Steve Savage Publishers Ltd.

She said: “I’m hoping it will encourage people to read more about Scotland and get more interested in Scotland. Polish is one of the biggest minorities in this country now and I think they should know more about the place they are in.”

One of her students, Ola Szostak-Kampert, 30, said she was looking forward to getting started on some Scots phrases.

The Pole, who has lived in Edinburgh for two years, said: “My first impressions of the language was that it was difficult to understand because a lot of Scottish people use short forms and the Scottish language is louder and different than English, but now I understand it.”

With more than 8000 Poles estimated to be living in Edinburgh, the book could be flying off the shelves.

Sylwia Spooner, head of cultural affairs at the Consulate General of Poland in Edinburgh, said: “Writing in both languages is so much more inclusive and is very relevant in Scotland these days. We wish her success in this project.”

• A Scots-Polish Lexicon, costing £9.95, is available at

The pies’ bark is worse than its bite

Do you recognise these Polish translations for traditional Scottish words?

• If you were ordering some Klasyczny dodatek do haggisa, you could enjoy some haggis neeps and tatties;

• Papla means to blether (talk foolishly or too much);

• Tak means aye (yes);

• A child is a dziecko;

• A bampot or stupid/crazy person is a wariat;

• A bap or roll is a bulka;

• To be offended you are obrazony;

• A dug (dog) is pies;

• If a girl is bonnie or beautiful they are piekny;

• Broth or soup is zupa;

• If you see Scotsmen tossing the caber (a heavy pole) it would be called a drag;

• Chore, to steal, in Polish is krasc;

• Canny, or to be careful or cautious, is ostrozny;

• Dook, or bathe, is kapac;

• Fash, or to annoy, is denerwowac;

• Hinnie is a term of endearment or miód;

• A lassie, for a girl, is dziewczyna;

• Messages for shopping is zakupy;

• Morra, or tomorrow, is jutro;

• Nae bother, or no problem, is nie ma problemu;

• Ned, or a yob, is huligan;

• Peelie wallie is sickly słabowity;

• Steemin, to be drunk, is pijany.