Orkney words to know

The dialect of Orkney and Shetland has been greatly influenced by the islands’ history.

Orkney and Shetland became part of Scandinavia from 875AD to 1472AD. During this time the language was used most commonly around the islands slowly changed from Old Norse to Norn

Once a land of the Picts, the language used by these people has been lost, especially after the Vikings arrived in the islands during the 9th Century. The Vikings took their own language, Old Norse, and Orkney and Shetland became part of Scandinavia from 875AD to 1472AD. During this time the language was used most commonly around the islands slowly changed from Old Norse to Norn.

The naming stone at Billia Croo, Stromness, Orkney
The naming stone at Billia Croo, Stromness, Orkney photo © Copyright Magnus Dixon

Orkney and Shetland became part of Scotland in the 15th century and Norn began to be used less and less, dying out by the 18th Century . In the present day the Scots language is spoken in Orkney and Shetland, but there are a smattering of words (some used in both island groups) heavily influenced by Norn.

Most English speakers shouldn’t have any problems understanding what Orcadians say, but we have compiled a list of some more unusual words below that you may hear when visiting the islands!

Click here for a list of Shetland Words to know before visiting!

Skara Brae and Skaill House in Orkney
Skara Brae and Skaill House in Orkney photo © Copyright Victoria Dixon
Orkney WordMeaningExample
BairnsUsed to address friends of any ageWeel bairns, ah'll hae to go
Bannocka flat cake of flour
Berea type of barley grown in the north of Scotland
Best kensGoodness knowsWhar is he noo, best kens
BeuyAn expression of surprise; a form of greeting used when addressing a familiar male.Weel beuy, whit's deuan the day?
Birlspin aroundMe head wis fairly birlan
Bletherchat / a chatterbox
Blinka momentAh'll just bide a blink
Blooteredvery drunk
Braehill or mound
Buddoterm of endearment
Buddya personThis buddy cam oot o the hoose
Byrea cowshed
ChapknockHe chappid fower times at the door and got no reply
ClapshotPotatoes and turnips cooked and mashed together, usually served with mince or haggis
ClartSpread something on thicklyClarted wi gutter
Clipetell tales
Cloota cloth
Coocow - plural kye
Dosea large amountWhit a dose o folk wis there
Flega fright
Flitmove house
Freckmake a fuss / someone who likes you to make a fuss of themThat cat is a right freck
Gaango, going
Geengone, given
Geedgave / went
Giddy gaadexpression of disgust
Girncomplain in whiny way
Graina small quantitya peedie grain
Groatie Buckiea small cowrie shell
HaepmanyThere was a haep o folk there
HashquantityWhit a hash o cars is aboot that hoose
Holma small island
Home abootat homeHe always bides home aboot noo
HumbuginconvenienceAh'll go and no humbug thee
The Bay of Skaill, Orkney
The Bay of Skaill, Orkney photo © Copyright Victoria Dixon
Orkney WordMeaningExample
KlattermessIn a klatter
MakkmakeMakk thee supper
MessagesshoppingI always go for messages on Thursday
Mixture o merciesa number of odd thingsIn this drawer I keep a mixture o mercies
Neepa turnip
Never seen the likeNever seen such a thing
Nippitcurt, sharp spoken person
Noustscraped out hollow where boats are left all winter
Ower wellsatisfactoryOh hid's ower well
Partanedible crab
Peedie-breekssmall child
Peedie weyscarefully, cautiously
Peelie-walliesick, feeble, off colour
Plittera watery mess
Rafflea mix upAh've gotten in a right raffle!
Reekemit smoke or a strong smell
Scunnersicken, dislike
Selkiea grey seal
Skelpa large extent / slap with flat of the handa skelp o land
Skirlmake a loud noise
Slestermake a mess
Sneck / sniba door latch
Spootrazor fish
Swadgerest after eating
Tammie norriepuffin
The dayToday
The mornTomorrow
Through byNext door
Toon (the)kirkwallAh'm gaen tae the toon
Toorieknitted hat
VexedsorryAh'm that vexed I dinno hiv a sweetie tae the bairns
Wheeshtbe quiet
Whit likehow are you?Whit like the day?
YuleChristmas time
Magnus DixonBy Magnus Dixon
Orkney and Shetland enthusiast, family man, loves walks, likes animals, terrible at sports, dire taste in music, adores audiobooks and films, eats a little too much for his own good.

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Header image: Stromness harbour in the Orkney islands photo © Copyright Victoria Dixon