I've trundled out this wee beginners' guide to the Glesca Patter for a number of reasons. The main one is that I keep getting emails asking what things like cludgie or midgie raker mean, and a few have even asked me to explain some jokes by Billy Connolly!
So this wee page on the Glasgow Patter is for the fleeting visitors aching to understand even just a little bit of what they hear on the streets of Glasgow, but it's also here for all the ex-pats out there in the wilderness looking for a trip down memory lane, a few minutes to immerse yourselves back into the tenement humour of your youth.
First thing's first however - despite what my headline might suggest, ye cannae be taught ra patter. As with any other dialect in the world, unless you're from Glasgow or have lived here for a long enough time, even if you understand what you're hearing on the streets, without the accent, the Glaswegian mentality and an upbringing here, you'll just never be able to capture the essence of the Glasgow Patter. And that applies even to folks living in nearby Edinburgh, where the dialect is more Mayfair than Maryhill (I'll probably get shot down in flames for saying that, but who cares!).
I was brought up to speak the Queen's English, and would say that even though I adopt the patter every day, my accent's pretty soft. However, everywhere I go I'll find that I'll have to repeat what I say in order to be understood. For example, I remember working for a while in the US when I was younger, and whilst most of the Americans out there thought that my accent was beautiful, they only took in half of what I said to them. And believe it or not, even though I tried to curb the Glasgow Patter as much as I could (and I swear to God this is true), nevertheless I was asked the following questions:
1. What language are you speaking?
2. (and when I told them where I was from) Oh Scotland? Isn't that the capital of London?!!
Now whilst there's so many things wrong with that 2nd question that I remember standing with my mouth wide open in disbelief at the girl who asked me it, it raised an important point - that just like everyone else with a strong dialect from their own city, region or country, each & every day Glaswegians will face a degree of ignorance about their home town, and will struggle to be understood by non-Glaswegians no matter how much they try to (as the aul' teacher would say) speak properly.
So I guess all I'm saying is that if you can't understand what we're saying here, just ask, because nine times out of ten we'll love the resulting feeling that we're different, that our language is unique, and will be more than happy to proudly teach you the best Glasgow Patter we've got.
If you speak to a Glaswegian as an outsider though, and try to use some patter you've picked up, you'll be looked at like you're, well, an outsider. It's like when you visit another country and try to speak their language with all the phrases, grammer and textbook structures you learned in school & have more than likely forgotten. You'll just get looked at sympathetically!
So at the end of the day, this page is just a bit of fun really, and it may help to wipe away some of your confusion when you speak to us. You might come across some of the Glasgow Patter phrases listed below when you're here, and if you're an ex-pat you may even have a few jokes & sayings of your own you want to share. Either way, feel free to get in touch.
As for whaurrapattercamefae (where the patter came from!), here's a brilliant piece of writing on it if you're interested. The Glasgow Patter is commonly thought to have been 100% Clydebuilt, in other words, borne out of the shipyards and the micro-community tenements surrounding them. To be more accurate, it's more to do with the influx of the witty Irish when Glasgow began to transform into an industrial powerhouse.
In the main however, it's developed over the years to the extent that us folks wot use it now have a strangely inherent tendency not to take too many things very seriously. We tend to glaze over all the politically-correct social conditioning thrown at us every day, all the glum reality, and focus instead on laughing at ourselves & at the ludicrousness of everyday life, exposing in our brutally honest way the truth in uncomfortable situations. It's what comes from generations of social deprivation, the working class socialist lifeblood that bubbled harshly in the roasting collieries, filtered its way from the dark, smog-ridden Clyde and motivated the entire City towards its historical regeneration. To have gone through everything we've gone through and still be able to laugh it all off, is the Glasgow Patter all over!
And to give you a little bit more of a flavour of its roots, I'll leave you with a few lines from Adam McNaughton that I think say it all (if you understand them, that is!):
Oh where is the Glasgow where I used to stay?
With the white wally closes done up wi' pipe clay.
Where you knew everybody, ground floor tae the third,
And to keep your door shut was considered absurd.
Where are the weans that played in the street?
Wi' a jorrie, a peerie, a gird wi' a cleet.
Can they still cadge a hudgie or dreep aff a dyke?
Play hunch cuddy hunch, kick the can and the like?
And where's the wee shop where I used to buy
A quarter o' totties, a tuppeny pie?
A bag of' broke biscuits, a wee sodie scone.
An' the wummin aye asked, "how's yir maw gettin on?"
Where is the Tallies that I knew so well?
That wee corner shoap where they used to sell
Hot peas, a macallum, ice cream in a poke?
You knew they were Tallies the minute they spoke.
And where is the cludgie that we cosy cell?
The string fae the cistern..I remember it well
Where I sat wi' a caunie and studied the rags.
A win fur the auld firm, a loss fur the Jags.
Where is the tramcar that once did a ton
Doon Great Western Road on the old Yoker run?
The conductress aye knew how tae deal wi' the nyaff.
"If yir gaun then comeoan....if yir no...well gitaff"
I think o' the days o' my tenement hame
We've got fancy hooses, but they're jist no the same.
I'll swap your gizunders, flyovers and jams
Fur a tuppeny ride on the old Partick trains.
Gone is the Glesga that I used tae know
Big Wullie, wee Shooie, the steamie, the Co
The shilpit, wee bachle, the glaikit big dreep
The ba's up the slates, and yir gas oan a peep.
These days wurnae rosy and money was tight
The wages hauf finished by Setterday night.
But still we came through it and weathered the ruts.
The reason is simple, oor Parents had guts.
Here I've listed a number of Glasgow Patter words and phrases, and broken them down into a few distinct categories.
You'll find that with Glasgow Patter comes the use of pretty strong language, in other words a regular use of swear words. Whilst some Glaswegians who think they're more sophisticated than others might tell you that they never swear (don't believe them - they're probably just scared their parents might find out!), I think it's safe to say that in the main, in Glasgow we tend to shoe-horn swear words into each and every conversation we conduct with our friends and family day in & day out, although less so at work of course in case anyone takes offence and we end up getting the sack!
The important point to remember therefore, is that if you hear Glaswegians swearing and appearing to talk roughly, you don't need to worry, because it's just our way. Many folks in the past have commented that having lived here for a while, they've found that their vocabulary of swear words has increased significantly & they've come away swearing like a trooper, much to the absolute horror of their extemely more refined acquaintances back home I'm sure!
But like I say, don't take offence, because if you take a step back from watching what sounds like a fight breaking out between folks talking in the street, normally you'll see that they're actually OK, that you won't have to call the police or hunt for your pepper spray! Now, many commentators who're far too politically-correct & ignorant to clock why gruff Glasgow Patter is simply a regional idiosyncrasy, take the view that the way we speak, swear and act around each other in Glasgow, simply reflects how violent & downtrodden the City is, how lacking in education we all are. Having read about our history on the back of a napkin, they'll furrow their brow & tell you all about Glasgow being the No Mean City, full of neds ('non-educated delinquents'), where poverty and gang violence is rife & you have to watch your back wherever you go in case you're clobbered with a hammer or pilfered for your cash when you least expect it.
Whilst that may well have been true to an extent many years ago, it simply ain't true now. Of course there's crime and economic blackspots here, but it's no more prevalent or curbed by a strong police or community presence than in any other city in the world. So the gruff Glasgow Patter you'll hear on the streets today, again in the main, bears no great significance to our education or approach other than the fact that it's just how we've learned to talk.
It's just like with New Yorkers, who have a reputation for talking quickly & abrasively, or Australian strine, which again can be pretty broad but varies depending as always with class & location. It's simply a dialect, nothing more nothing less, and the Glasgow Patter you'll hear will vary in strength from one person to the next. Therefore, when you hear the Glasgow Patter in use here, just forget all about where it may have come from or what it signifies - who really cares at the end of the day! - and simply try instead to pick up some braw sayings & banter you can entertain your folks with back home!
So anyway, quit the pointless social commentary & get on with it, you might say. Here's a few examples of the Glasgow Patter, and again, if you've any of your own you think I should add, please just let me know...
Glasgow Patter and Glasgow Jokes - often used from day to day & which you're likely to hear.
Parliamo Glasgow and Scots - Rampant Scotland's brilliant guide to words and sayings commonly used in Glasgow as well as elsewhere in Scotland.
Scotslanguage.com - A superb exploration not only of Glasgow Patter, but also of the rich & varied language of our country.
For the avoidance of doubt and in the interests purely of comedy, these Glasgow Patter insults are directed at men. Of course, you could change them and fling the insults at some random women if you like. Either way it's all good.
If you're a man reading this therefore, please don't take it personally. If you do feel insulted even if you're not a man, then get over it - this is just a bit of fun, and if you can't take it in the spirit that it's meant, then you need to lighten up & get out more!
For me, Glasgow Patter insults are without parallel the most insighful and ingeniously cheeky taunts you'll ever hear. I think the closest you'll get to their unique, cut-to-the-core brilliance is the yow mama jokes in the US. The cheeky insults you see below are just a few examples of what you might hear in Glasgow, and for the most part they'll be thrown at someone or utterred about someone as a (believe it or not) light-hearted joke, in the understanding that if you ever insulted someone with the Glasgow Patter, you'd better expect a similar retort!
So here's a few for starters. If you can think of any others please let me know and I'll add them below...
Patter He looks like he's been dookin fur apples in a chip pan.
Translation Dookin for apples is a fun tradition the Scots take part in during the Hallowe'en celebrations, in which hands behind your back you submerge (or 'dook') your face in a big tub of water full of apples, and try to catch one of the apples with your mouth. It's also known as 'apple-bobbing' or 'apple-dookin'. An alternative is to sit or stand over the tub with a fork in your mouth, and then you drop the fork into the water to try and catch an apple. Here, the insult takes a cheeky twist by inferring that your man's face looks as though he's been trying to 'dook' for apples in a chip pan rather than a tub of water, and that the pan's been full of extremely hot fat or oil. In other words, his face is so ugly, it looks as though it's been seared by burning oil. All said in complete jest, of course!
And continuing on the same theme...
Patter He's got a face like a bag a spanners.
Translation His face looks similar to a load of workman's tools thrown into a big cloth bag, which as you can imagine would have all kinds of uneven shapes protruding out of it.
Patter He's got a face like a melted welly.
Translation In other words, his face looks like a wellington boot (which is normally made of rubber) that has been melted and therefore disfigured beyond recognition.
Or even if you're brave enough...
Patter He's got a face like a dug lickin pish aff a nettle.
Translation His face looks similar to that of a dog licking urine off a nettle, which is a prickly plant that stings when you touch it. An alternative would be that he's got a face like a bulldug chewin a wasp (ie. a bulldog chewing a wasp). Imagine how your face might look in either of those situations, and you'll get the general idea. Of course, this fantastic insult is commonly followed with something like '...well if ah hud a dug wi a face like yours, ah'd shave its erse an teach it tae walk backwards', which I think I'll leave to you to work out!
And of course there's the old favourite in these parts...
Patter He looks like he's been set on fire and put out wi a golf shoe.
Translation Which doesn't need much translation, given that it relates that his face is so ugly that it looks as if it's been set on fire, and instead of the fire having been doused by water, someone's hit his face continuously with a golf shoe (which as we all know will have had spikes on its sole).
Patter He smells like an alky's carpet.
Translation Which broadly speaking means that his breath or body smells heavily of either alcohol, urine or vomit.
Like I say therefore, I could go on and on because the more you hear this type of Glasgow Patter, the more you might fall in love with it, because understanding the dialects and the spirit behind a City's language helps you engage with its people, which is all the more rewarding here given that ever since this place sprouted green from the valley, the single greatest attribute of Glasgow has been recognised worldwide as being (if you don't mind me saying) the warm welcome you'll get from us happy folks wot live here, and as I mentioned before, our self-deprecating tendency not to take too many things seriously.
A word of warning though, if you fancy joining in the fun of the Glasgow Patter, make sure the person you're directing the insults towards isn't bigger than you!
So I hope that you've enjoyed my wee page on the Glasgow Patter, which is also referred to as the Glasgow Banter. Writing it has reminded me of a few old phrases I'd forgotten myself and am now attempting to force into conversations, even if that does result in a clip round the ear from my elders!
So all that remains is for me to say to you: hawraraweeboabay, arrabestaeyeanawthatwiraglescapattereh?