It’s Burns Night!

What do you mean you’ve never heard of Burns Night?

Back in November I wrote about St Andrew’s Day – Scotland’s national holiday. I talked about our traditions and shared some of my favourite Scottish words. However, winter in Scotland is long and dark, and we have an important celebration in January as well.

Robert Burns is Scotland’s national poet. He is to Scotland what Shakespeare is to England. Burns was born in 1759 in Alloway, a small town in the south west of Scotland.   He was only 37 when he died, but he had written over 550 poems. January 25th is his birthday, and each year we celebrate with a special Burns Supper

A Burns Supper consists of a traditional meal, poetry, toasts and entertainment.   We traditionally eat haggis, neeps and tatties, the most famous Scottish dish. At the beginning of the meal, the haggis is carried into the room, often behind someone playing the bagpipes. Burns’ poem To a Haggis is read, and at the climax of the poem, the haggis is cut open before the meal begins. A traditional Scottish dessert is Cranachan, which is made with whipped cream, raspberries, toasted oats, honey and whisky.

There are also traditional toasts during a burns supper. Most commonly, one of the gentlemen at the table gives a toast to the lassies (women) and one of the ladies answers with a toast to the laddies (men). These toasts are funny, often rude, but also warm hearted. Naturally, we toast with plenty of good Scottish whisky.

If you still have energy after all the food, toasts and whisky, many Burns suppers today end with a traditional ceilidh dance.

Burns’ most famous poem is undoubtedly Auld Lang Syne. It is still sung around the world on New Year’s Eve. You might also have heard of Tam o’ Shanter , a long poem about a drunken man escaping from witches. There’s also To A Mouse, where the poet feels empathy for a fieldmouse he upsets while he is harvesting.   My personal favourite is the love poem A Red Red Rose.

If you’re interested in hearing some of Burns’ poems read aloud, I recommend this section of the BBC website.   Here you can read the full text for all of Burns’ most famous poems and listen to recordings by some of Scotland’s most famous actors, artists and politicians.

In celebration of St Andrews Day, I shared some of my most favourite Scottish words. In the same tradition, you can find 10 more below! They might even help you to understand the poems you hear at your first Burns’ supper.

Haggis, neeps and tatties (n.)

Haggis, neeps and tatties is out national dish. Neeps are turnips. Tatties are potatoes. Haggis is delicious. Incidentally, Tattiebogler, is the Scottish word for a scarecrow.

Mince (adj.)

Of course, mince in Scotland is ground beef or lamb just as in the rest of the UK. However, the Scots also use it as an adjective. If something is mince it’s rubbish or disappointing.

Example: The weather’s a bit mince today.

Foosty (adj.)

Something foosty is stale, perhaps mouldy. Foosty air is not fresh.

Example: While we were away the fruit all went foosty.

Braw (adj.)

In contrast to the words above, if something is braw, it’s excellent! Applies especially to food and the weather.

Example: That soup was right braw.

Clarted (adj.)

Clartet means dirty or covered in mud (clart (n.)).   This happened to me a lot as a child.

Example: The kids were playing in the puddles and they’ve come back absolutely clarted.

Gubbed: (adj.) (Gubbing (n.), Gub (vb.)

To lose or be beaten, especially at Sport.

Example:   5:1? My team got fair gubbed on Saturday.

Schoogle (vb.) Schoogly (adj.)

Wobbly or unstable. The Glasgow Subway train (the oldest in the UK!) is so wobbly that riding it is known as going for a schoogle

Example: Don’t lean to hard on the schoogly table.

Sleekit (adj.)

You might recognise sleek in this word – an English adjective for quiet, smooth or elegant – sleek as a fox is a common simile.   Sleekit in Scots carries much the same meaning.

Example: ‘Wee sleekit, cowrin’ tim’rous beastie’ is the first line of Burn’s poem To a Mouse.  He is using the word to describe the frightened fieldmouse he has uncovered.

Shoofty (n.)

A shoofty is a quick, and often surreptitious glance at something

Example: Take a quick shoofty through the curtains and you’ll see their new car.

GordonDour (adj.)

BosieA word to describe some Scotsmen – severe, stern, serious or gloomy.

Example: See Gordon Brown, right.

 Bosie (n.)

Bosie is a great Scottish word for a great big hug!

Example: I haven’t seen you in months! Come here and give us a bosie.


I hope you’ll get the chance to celebrate Burns night in some way. Remember that as well knowing Scots, I am a native English speaker and experienced language teacher working in Vienna. If you’re interested in private tutoring to improve your standard English, I’d love to hear from you.

Lang may yer lum reek!



Mairi : )