It’s a dreich day…

English: A dreich day Bonawe jetty on Loch Etive.

Aye - this is a dreich day! Image via Wikipedia

…and if you know exactly what I’m talking about, you’re either a fellow Scot, or you’ve spent some time in Scotland. A couple of days in my native land is generally long enough to give you a taste of dreich. Sorry Scotland – only joking! You get beautiful weather too – but you have to admit, you are an absolute master (or mistress, let’s not make sexist assumptions here…) of the dreich.

Okay, enough already. If you’ve stuck with me this long and you’re wondering what I’m wittering on about – dreich is a weather term, which basically just means grey, dull, usually cold and with a bit of rain pretty much guaranteed to be in the mix.

Not a downright disastrous day – no gales or hurricanes or downpours – just altogether uninspiring. I think it’s a great word – no other sums up the greyness quite so well.

Snag is of course – it needs translation. At the very least it needs to be set in such a context that its meaning is immediately apparent. Or does it? Do readers need to be held by the hand, having everything pointed out to them and explained along the way – or do they enjoy discovering a bit of unknown territory?

Okay, maybe that’s a daft question. Readers go into new territories every time they pick up a book – especially if they enjoy science fiction or fantasy or even history. They expect that and accept that. But what about geography – or to use another blogger’s term – grammar geography?

I’ve seen quite a few posts recently debating if a writer should use British or American terms. Is it a pavement or a sidewalk for example. Do we fill up our cars with gas or petrol – should it be color or colour?                                                                                              This is a great post on that very topic. But bringing it down still closer to home – is it okay for a writer to use very localised language – dialect, vernacular, patois, argot – call it whatever you will.

Category:University of Aberdeen

Aberdeen University Image via Wikipedia


I’m from Aberdeen – where people have a lingo all of their own – known as the doric. It’s not an actual language, like gaelic, but it’s so much more than just a dialect or an accent.  How about this for example…


I went heelstergowdy ower a stane and landed in a muckle great dubby ditch – I was clortit tae the oxters!

That translates as:

I went head over heels over a stone and fell into a big muddy ditch – I was covered in mud right to the armpits!

or maybe…

He wis an affa fine cheil but I wis black affrontit when he gie’d me a bosie in front o’ a’ the  mannies and wifies in the kirk!

which becomes:

He was an awfully nice chap but I was highly embarrassed when he embraced me in front of all the men and women in the church!

Many writers have used the doric to great effect – none more so than Lewis Grassic Gibbon who wrote the classic Sunset Song (A Scots Quair.) Sheer poetry. I can’t imagine writing an entire book in the doric – but if I set one in Aberdeenshire, I’d want to include some of those lovely words and phrases, especially but not exclusively in dialogue.

I’m interested to know what readers think of that – would it add to the book – or is it a pain in the neck when you have to refer to a glossary? Please let me know – and if you want to comment in your own lingo – so much the better!


11 thoughts on “It’s a dreich day…

  1. Interesting post, Gilly. My novel, No More Mulberries is set in Afghanistan and I use Dari words and phrases occasionally. At book groups and readings there has been a definite split between those who would have liked a glossary and those who think it is not necessary as they can work out the meaning of the words and phrases from the context.

    • Thanks Mary – I think I’d actually feel quite cheated if a book like ‘No More Mulberries’ didn’t contain at least a few local words and phrases – I think they really add to the richness of the piece. Interesting that opinion on the glossary question was well divided. Perhaps some readers just don’t like to have to work too hard – while for others the added element of seeking out translation is all part of the pleasure.

  2. How fortunate you are to live in such an inspiring place. I’m stuck in California where life is easy. It almost never rains, and even the homeless can eat well on the bounty of the refuse of the rich. Survival is rarely in question here and people, out of boredom, find was to add excitement to their lives by courting death in grotesque dreams of utopia.

    I would love to experience a little dreich…

    • It’s amazing isn’t it that we all hanker after what we haven’t got. So many of us dream of a life in somewhere like California – yet constant sunshine can obviously pall just as much. As my old Granny used to say – ‘the world is ill-pairtit’ meaning, the world is badly divided. She used it in the context of wealth – but perhaps it also applies to weather?

  3. Thanks for the new word! As a west coast canuck (Vancouver area) who never misses our annual Robbie Burns dinner, complete with haggis and fine scotch whiskey (straight up, of course), I appreciate it. We get our share of dreich days here, too. And we have some really cool words that are in common usage here, but will certainly cause a reader to stop and ponder – “skookum” comes to mind. It means strong and solid. To mix my cultures: “he was a skookum lad” for example.

    • Ruth – I love skookum! I’m going to find a way to get skookum into a story – so your challenge now is to include ‘dreich’ in one of yours – and then we can do a swop! Maybe we could do it as a five sentence story… what do you reckon?
      Very glad to hear you like your whisky straight – best way to take it, especially if it’s malt…

    • I know what you mean Ros. Also – it’s so important to get it right – I’ve seen too many examples of what I could only call ‘Brigadoon’ Scots and it sets my teeth on edge every time. I think the writer really needs to be certain of the authenticity of the language, if it’s not actually his or her native lingo – or they set themselves up for all sorts of criticism!

  4. Leave it in – especially for those of us (like me?) in Cumbria Ae need to’ larn’ this strange language from these foreigners across the Solway Firth especially good for me as one of my ons is mattying a Scots lass in Dumfries in October so I need to beef up on expressions so we can relate to our new family there SO, on a literary note, keep the dialect coming It enriches our lives and should never be lost

  5. Thanks Andrew – I’ve been doing my best to educate Malcolm over the years, but I still occasionally manage to come up with Scottish words he doesn’t understand. Mind you – he does exactly the same in Cumbrian, so I guess we’re quits!

    I absolutely agree good local dialect should never be lost – and I’m sure you’ll be adding a lot to your vocabulary with the new in-laws!

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