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11 essential Edinburgh slang terms

Written by
Niki Boyle

With its barry gadgies and reekin' boabies, the local Edinburgh vernacular can seem a bit radge to the uninitiated. Edinburgh native Alice White kens the lingo though - allow her to chum you through some of the more commonly used

1. 'Shan'
Definition: Unfair, disappointing, terrible, bad. Often used in conjuction with 'pure' (ie 'very') to denote extreme shanness.
In a sentence: 'It was pure shan you weren’t let in Why Not. They were your good trackies.'

Shan is important because everything that’s rubbish can be described as shan. From someone’s actions, ie ‘you’re being shan to Ugly Darren’, to the quality of any item - for example, ‘your horse tattoo is shan, why would you even get that?’.

2. 'Barry'
Definition: Good
In a sentence: 'That poem about the changing seasons was well barry, pal.'

The opposite of shan. As simple as to remember how good and bad mean different things.

3. 'Ken'
Definition: Know
In a sentence: 'I ken exactly what you mean about them tropical birds, pal.'

Knowledge is power, ken-ledge is power (no one ever says kenledge). It’s also a way of agreement when saying 'I know, I know' is just that little bit too formal. Remember that 'I ken' sounds ridiculous so make sure to always say 'Ah ken'; for example, 'Ah ken you stole that recipe aff Nigella.'

4. 'Reekin''
Definition: Drunk and/or smelly
In a sentence: 'My nan was pure reekin’ last night, as per.'

Not only is it drunk, it’s a special out of control kind of drunk which has more negative connotations than positive. Can also be used to mean ‘smelly’, like how fish or Fountain Park really reeks.

5. 'Chum'
Definition: Accompany
In a sentence: 'I’m bored, I’ll chum you to the funeral.'

This one seems to get the strongest reaction out of Scotland. For something that seems relatively simple.

6. 'Braw'
Definition: Brilliant (without enthusiasm), good
In a sentence: 'Aye you’ve already asked me, I told you it was braw.'

Like ‘barry’ but without the positivity. Braw still means good, it just always gets used by some deadpan 'gadgie' (general word for person, usually male; cf. Cockney 'geezer').  

7. 'Radge'
Definition: Suggestive of madness or insanity (cf. 'mental'). Can be used as noun or adjective.
In a sentence: 'Here comes that radge fae Morningside.' / 'Ma mum went pure radge when I got home.'  

Is usually the counterpoint to 'barry' when referring to 'gadgies' - if someone is not a 'barry gadgie', they are more often than not a 'radge gadgie'.  

8. 'Healthy'
Definition: Large amount/ yet another word for ‘good’. Often used in conjuction with 'tidy' to denote sexual attractiveness.
In a sentence: 'That was a healthy amount of bleach you just used.' / 'That lassie was healthy tidy, man.'

Generously proportioned quantity for either positive or negative subject matter, from the amount of the opposite sex in the club, to the amount of jail time recieved.

9. 'Collie Buckie'
Definition: Piggy back. Definition of ‘piggy back’: To ride on someone’s back.
In a sentence: 'I think I broke my ankle on that drain, gies a collie buckie to A&E.'

Even if you’ve never heard the phrase, it’s normally easy to work out because of context. If someone walked up to you stoney-faced and asked you to carry them for no reason, it’s understandable you might not get it.

10. 'Bowfin'' / 'Howfin''
Definition: Disgusting
In a sentence: 'What your dug did on my bed was bowfin'.'

Something that’s horrible enough to make you think you’re going to be sick, or ‘boke’ (the retching that comes before a spew, eg 'That dug vom pure gies me the boke').

11.  'Boaby'
Definition: Penis
In a sentence: '... then it came out of nowhere and smacked us right in the boaby.'

The grossest word ever.  

Alice White is a freelance writer who has spent many years conversing with Edinburgh locals. She tweets @alicewhitey

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