Orkney Phrase Book

It is hard to be sure which Orkney words and phrases are particularly Orcadian and which are Scottish or just a different use of English so these are just a selection of our way with words.

There isn't just one Orcadian dialect, many things vary between the parishes and islands and change through the generations so I should mention these mainly come from my parents and grandparents, from Stenness, Stromness and Harray.


occasional. "He'd catch an anteran troot."

"Ah'll be on Friday"

"'ll come on Friday, short for "be here (or there)"

"Ah'll jist be" means "I'm coming"

at the back of

an expression for time, meaning "after". "Ah'll be at the back o' three." Means I'll arrive not too long after three o'clock

baetan flukes

beating your arms to and fro to get warm

Best kens

I don't know. Presumably "God knows" because "the Best" was an old term for God.

black affronted

embarrassed. "I wis black affronted that I hid no baking in the hoose when the visitors caam."


rubbish, literal or figurative. "Ye're spaeking a load o' bruck." "There's roos (piles) o' bruck in the shed."


doubt - An English word used in a confusing way, doubt means almost certainty but generally only about something we wish wasn't happening. "Is hid gaan tae rain the morn? I doot hid." means you think it will rain. "I doot the owld tractor's hid her day." means you're sure it's heading for the scrap-yard


decoration, unnecessary or over-elaborate. "The owld sideboard hid ower many (had too many) eerie-orums.

fair and fairly

varied Orcadian usage. "There wis a fair few folk there" means there was quite a good attendance. "The car has fairly new tyres" means they are almost brand new" and "Ah'm fairly done" means "I'm very tired".

Fine hid

OK "Will we go tae the toon the morn?" "Fine hid"


noun or verb, usually applied to child or pet, meaning giving or wanting physical affection. "I used tae freck the owld dog." "Ye're jist a peedie freck" "a freck o' dirt" is an affectionate term (believe it or not) for a child who wants too much attention


a small amount "Dae ye want a grain more milk in yer tea?"


twilight. The Scottish word is "gloaming", as in Harry Lauder's song, Roaming in the Gloaming but for me "oot in the grimlings" conjures up playing outside in autumn evenings


mud. Another source of confusion between Orcadian and visitor, as when a ball gets stuck in the drain on the roof

had gaan

keep going "Hid's no far noo, jist had gaan"

Hiv a keepeen on

don't want to throw away. "I hiv a keepeen on that owld photos"


expecting. "Wur lippnan the folk home on the boat the night"

mind on

remember "Mind on that ye're coman fur yer tea on Sunday." "No in me minding" means "I can't remember that".


small gift as a souvenir or brought home from an outing. "I must get a peedie minding tae taak home to Granny"

a mixture o' mercies

an assortment of varying quality "I hid no baking in the hoose so the plate o' biscuits I gave the visitors wis a right mixture o' mercies."


tomorrow. Endless confusion is caused by Orcadians calling anytime of day tomorrow, "the morn", as in "Ah'll be the morn's night". Newcomers to Orkney have arrived at the pier twelve hours early when told the boat goes at five o'clock the morn.

Niver spaik (speak)!

exclamation of surprise, like "You don't say". Meaning the same but more disconcerting to non-Orcadians who have just said something surprising is "What a lie!"

No chaet fur (cheated for)

has more than enough of. "He's no chaet for lugs", said of someone with big ears.

Pit in yer hand

help yourself. "Noo, everything's on the table fur tea, jist pit in yer hand and help yersel."


quivering. An Orcadian was given jelly for the first time and asked, "Whit's yon insignificant piveran thing."


to whine "Stop pleeping aboot yer sore finger"


small torch


gentle splashing. "Stop plitteran in the sink and get the dishes washed"


reel, as in "purm o' threed"


graze. "I fell ower and scuthered me knee"


sour "That oranges are gey shilpid"


very wet. "Me feet are jist sirpan weet."

sitten on

abashed "When I realised me mistake I wis right sitten on"


infect "I don't want tae smit you wi' me cowld." "Smitsome" means "infectious"

state royal

prime "That wis when I wis in me state royal"


relax while digesting food. "That wis a grand tea. Ah'm jist ga'an to sit here an' swadge." Its literal meaning is to reduce and comes from a blacksmithing term

tak paice (peace) on yersel

relax. "Jist sit doon and taak paice on yersel" On the other hand, "Bide a paice" is the command to sit still

a troot in the well

a bun in the oven. The Orcadian euphemism for pregnancy comes from the days when some families would have a trout in their well to eat the flies

weel wint

accustomed to. "We're weel wint wi' wind." An extension of this is "ower weel wint", meaning spoilt.