Scottish independence: A layman's glossary

Scottish man shouting

The debate over Scottish independence has led to a flurry of words not always readily understandable to non-Scottish ears. Here are some of them.

Scots phrases - and non-Scots political terminology - have been peppering speeches by both the Yes and No camps ahead of the referendum on 18 September.

There's a reason why politicians have been slipping into Scots, according to Murray Pittock, professor of English literature at Glasgow University.

"They're trying to achieve a register which says 'I'm authentic, I'm familiar, I'm part of the community'," he says. Here is a guide to a few of the terms currently cropping up regularly.

Kenny Dalglish Kenny Dalglish (right): Mibbes Aye, Mibbes Naw

1. Aye adv.Yes in answer to an affirmative or negative question. Naw - No, the negative reply to a question, the word used to indicate denial, disagreement, refusal or contradiction. Mibbe - Perhaps, possibly.

Aye, Naw, Mibbe and Mibbes Aye, Mibbes Naw (maybe yes, maybe no) have been used in Scotland for years. Former Celtic manager Kenny Dalglish was constantly mocked for answering "mibbes aye, mibbes naw" to questions, according to The Scotsman. However, the phrases have taken on a life of their own in the run up to the referendum, with exchanges between the aye, naw and mibbes camps often heated. The Scottish Youth Parliament's website designed to help young voters make up their minds is also called "Aye, Naw, Mibbe".

2. Blether, v.To talk foolishly, or loquaciously; to brag.

The word "blether" is indispensable to political arguments, since it refers to going on and on ("blather" is the variant more used in England). Dr Chris Robinson, director of the Scots Language Dictionaries project, is unsure how it's possible to debate the referendum without it: "How can anyone discuss politics without a wheen o' blethers?" ("Wheen" is "a lot"). It's derived from the Old Norse "blaĆ°ra" and has been in use in Scots since the early 16th Century. Labour MP Ann McKechin laid into a Scottish government initiative in 2011 called "the national conversation", describing it as "the big blether with Alex". Equally, the SNP's John Swinney has in the past accused the Labour Party of "blethering and haivering" (haivering is talking rubbish) during first minister's questions.

Better Together campaigner knocks on doors

3. Chappin', v. Knocking.

Chappin' refers to knocking, as in knocking on doors. Campaigners will be doing a lot of this in the run-up to September, and advertising their diligence on Twitter. For example, Maggie Chapman of Women for Independence tweeted: "Look forward to getting out chappin doors again, been out in Doune, lots more street pounding to go!" Not to be outdone, pro-union Clydesdale Together tweeted: "We do chap on doors with Yes stickers as we don't assume everyone in a house votes the same way." Professor Robert Millar of Aberdeen University says the word can also be used in games such as cards "when you don't want to play your hand right now, so 'A'm chappin' metaphorically speaking is when you don't want to give away your position".

4. Rammy, n.A general fight, a "free for all'', a scuffle, a violent disturbance or commotion.

Rammies have become a lot more prevalent in the lead up to the referendum. There have been rumbustious TV rammies, parliamentary rammies and public rammies. In fact rammies have become such a big part of the political discourse that the moderator of the Church of Scotland Rt Rev John Chalmers expressed concern the contest could become "a highly emotive and deeply personalised public rammy" earlier this year. The traditional "stairheid rammy" of yore saw neighbours in tenements exchange strong words and minor scuffles over the landing. Now they are more likely to occur in pubs or on match days. Or when strongly minded Scots discuss the referendum.

5. Cybernat/cyberbrit, n. Online campaigners on pro-independence and pro-Union sides; pejorative.

Widely credited as the invention of Labour's Lord Foulkes, the term "cybernat" was heard in Holyrood in 2008 when then-Scottish Labour Party leader Iain Gray poked fun at Alex Salmond's "cybernat midnight bloggers". But it has gained new currency in the debate over independence. Unionists say "cybernats" are disproportionately responsible for abusive blogs, online comments and tweets during the campaign. The ferocity of the dialogue led Scotland Secretary Alistair Carmichael to refer to "the poison that is coming into this debate from some of the cyber-interventions". But Yes supporters say unionists are equally capable of online vitriol, pointing out that pro-independence campaigners - most notably the first minister and his deputy - have also been subjected to threats and abuse. The SNP's Mike Weir coined the term "cyberbrit" to describe loutish web-based No supporters. He told fellow MPs in a 2012 debate on Scottish independence that "if people want to use such terms, cyberbrits make equally vicious attacks on nationalists". On occasion, the bullying has led to legal action - as in the case of separate threats made against JK Rowling and Alex Salmond - but the perpetrators were not linked to either campaign. Indeed, the most outspoken attacks often come from individuals with no formal affiliation to the Yes or No camps.

Parliament building in Holyrood

6. Devo-max, n.The devolving of all powers to Holyrood other than defence and foreign affairs. Devo-plus, n.The devolving of control of income tax, corporation tax and most welfare spending to Holyrood but not pensions, VAT or national insurance.

The Scottish government consulted on a second question on the referendum ballot paper, on more powers for the devolved Scottish Parliament short of full independence - a version of devolution often referred to as devo-max. It was ruled out in the negotiations which finalised the terms of the referendum, but it has been revived as the pro-union parties set out their preferred versions of devolution should Scotland vote No. The referendum has raised the bar in terms of what the three largest Westminster parties are offering, meaning devo-plus has been less talked about. Nonetheless, some groups and MSPs still see it as the best option.

House of Commons 'Fearties' document

7. Feartie, n.One who is frightened, afraid.

The word is a popular put-down wielded with enthusiasm by both sides. Labour MP Jim Sheridan caused a headache for Hansard transcribers when he used the word in a debate to cast aspersions on the SNP. At one session of prime minister's questions last year, the SNP's Pete Wishart invited David Cameron to "stop being a pathetic big feartie and get out and debate the issues with the first minister". Cameron himself ventured to brandish the word, when he challenged First Minister Alex Salmond to call a referendum back in 2011. The compliment was later returned, when Salmond accused the prime minister of being too scared to face him in a debate.

Colin MacDonald Provan ,walks his dog Colleen down Glasgow High Street past a Yes referendum campaign billboard On May 20, 2014

8. Indyref, n.Abbreviation for the Scottish independence referendum.

This is a new innovation conceived to save people from pronouncing "the Scottish independence referendum" in full. It's also a useful shorthand for headlines - such as "Cameron defends indyref poll stance" - and can be prefixed with a hashtag when blethering on (see above) about the subject on Twitter.

Scottish banknotes

9. Currency union, n. Arrangement whereby two or more independent states share the same currency.

In the event of independence, the Scottish government says Scotland would continue to use the pound under their planned currency union. Scottish Finance Minister John Swinney has argued a "sterling zone" would be in the interests of both Scotland and the UK, ensuring stability for both states. But UK Chancellor George Osborne has said the UK would not enter into a currency union with Scotland if it voted "Yes" in September's referendum, claiming such a union would be against the economic interests of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. His position was supported by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. However, in March, the Guardian quoted an unnamed UK minister as saying that keeping Trident could be part of any negotiation over an independent Scotland sharing the pound in a formal currency union.

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Scotland Decides
  • A referendum on whether Scotland should become independent is to take place
  • People resident in Scotland will be able to take part in the vote, answering the "yes/no" question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
  • The referendum will take place on Thursday 18 September, 2014
  • Go to the BBC's Scotland Decides page for analysis, background and explainers on the independence debate.
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10. rUK, n. Abbreviation for the rest of the UK: England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

rUK has become a widely used abbreviation for the rest of the UK in the referendum debate, regularly appearing in Scottish newspapers such as the Herald and Scotsman and referred to 293 times in the Scottish government's white paper on independence. The term is already used by Scottish universities to differentiate between students from Scotland and those from the rest of the UK in relation to tuition fees. Other alternatives being used to refer to what the UK could be called without Scotland include "continuing UK", favoured by several Scotland analysis papers published by Whitehall, as well as "former UK" and "future UK", although their abbreviation - fUK- is somewhat unfortunate.

11. Scunnered, n., v. or adj.Get a feeling of aversion, disgust or loathing, to feel surfeited or nauseated.

This is one of the oldest Scots words that keeps cropping up, which Robinson says has been in use since the 14th Century. She says: "You can use it as a noun or a verb. You might 'tak a scunner' at something, or say 'housework is a right scunner'." Jim Murphy, a Labour MP and prominent figure in the "No" campaign, has declared himself "increasingly scunnered as I listen to the SNP". It was also used regularly by the SNP in opposition when the party courted the votes of those "scunnered with Labour".

Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott. Caption: Fray in Jeanie MacAlpine's Public-House. First published 1817. RR: Robert Roy

12. Stramash n. An uproar, commotion, hubbub, disturbance, a broil, squabble, row.

A stramash - pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable - is a Scottish word for a heated debate or a tussle that teeters on the edge of a row. The run up to the Scottish referendum has been full of stramashes. Indeed the debate has often been described as "an ugly stramash". The Caledonian Mercury has attempted to describe the key components of a stramash for the uninitiated. "The basic ingredients of a stramash are confusion and noise, usually accompanied by a crowd of people, some anger or violence and, often, a generous consumption of alcohol. Near English equivalents of stramash include rumpus, free-for-all and the more literary melee," it says. The word is sometimes found in use in the north of England and appears to have been first recorded in Yorkshire dialect in the late 18th Century. Its origin is unknown, but the original meaning is thought to have been smash.

13. Stooshie, n.An uproar, hubbub, disturbance, commotion, turmoil, quarrel, brawl, row.

Stooshie doesn't appear in the Scottish National Dictionary. Instead "stashie" - also spelt stashy, stachie or stushie, and even steeshie, steishie or stishie, is found. However stooshie - whose spelling indicates its pronunciation - is the variation most commonly used in Scotland. The word is frequently employed in rows about anything trivial or serious, from neighbourly disputes to the Scottish Parliament, where disagreements and rows are the order of the day. However the word - which is first cited in the SND in 1824 in the phrase "Mony an aukward stashie was he in" - has become more widespread in the lead-up to the referendum. Scottish newspapers have reported a stooshie about TV debates, a Salmond-Putin stooshie and stooshies over referendum wrangling. A new magazine about Scottish weekly news has also coined itself Stooshie.

Sign

14. Swither, v. or n.To be in a state of uncertainty of purpose, to be perplexed about what to do or choose, be in two minds, to doubt, hesitate, dither. One can also be "in a swither", a state of indecision or doubt, a pondering, hesitation, uncertainty.

"Swithering" has been around for 500 years or more, according to Robinson, who adds that most Scots would not be aware that the English do not have such a word in their verbal armoury. During one of the BBC debates on independence, Scottish comedian Sanjeev Kohli said he was "swithering" on the issue as a whole but when it comes to Trident, he swithers towards "Yes". Herald columnist Iain Macwhirter has noted "swithering" is the remark he's heard used "most often" by voters discussing their decisions.

15. Thrawn, adj. Perverse, obstinate, contrary, cross-grained, intractable, not amenable, in a dour sullen mood.

When US President Barack Obama and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commented on the Scottish independence debate - Clinton saying she would "hate" Britain to "lose Scotland" and Obama saying he believed the UK "worked pretty well" - Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, responded by saying both politicians would do well to appreciate the nation's "thrawn-ness". "[Thrawn] doesn't mean stubborn, it basically means Scots don't like being told what to do. So insofar as influential at all, I think Scottish thrawn-ness means it will be a boost for the 'Yes' side, not the 'No' side," he said. Describing the character trait, Scottish crime writer Stuart MacBride told the Financial Times "[Scots] are desperately thrawn people... It's a guiding principle in the Scot psyche that if you tell us to do one thing, we'll do another. We don't react well to authority," he said. The Scottish word "thrawn" also has an alternative meaning. In Robert Louis Stevenson's horror story Thrawn Janet, published in the 1880s, thrawn means twisted and physically misshapen.

Tim Dalyell

16. The West Lothian question, n. British constitutional anomaly. Following devolution, Westminster MPs for Scottish and Welsh constituencies are unable to vote on Scottish or Welsh matters devolved but are able to vote on equivalent matters concerning England, whilst MPs for English constituencies have no reciprocal influence on Scottish or Welsh matters.

The phrase is attributed to Tam Dalyell, the then Labour MP for West Lothian, who asked in 1977 when Jim Callaghan's Labour government proposed a devolved assembly in Edinburgh: "Shall I still be able to vote on many matters in relation to West Bromwich but not West Lothian?" This quirk of devolution will linger on if Scots vote against independence in September. If Scots vote "Yes" to independence, the Scottish element of the West Lothian question is resolved - although it is unclear what would happen between September 2014 and the general election of May 2015, during which time Scottish MPs could still sit in the Commons.

Definitions from the Dictionary of the Scots Language and the Oxford English Dictionary.

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