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Four gorgeous Scots Gaelic words and their origins

By Tarli Cameron | March 29, 2021 | Word Geek

Four gorgeous Scots Gaelic words and their origins

After months of being in lockdown, Word Geek has been going a little stir crazy and has noticed her feet getting itchier. So this week, Word Geek decided to travel virtually to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides to discover some Scots Gaelic (pronounced “Gah-lic”) words and explore their etymology.

So, grab a cupan, or a cup of tea, and join Word Geek, as she discovers some gorgeous Gaelic words, which in her view should be in everyone’s lexicon:


Alba is the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland and it derives from the same Celtic root as the word Albion. This term was originally used to mean Britain, but over time came to refer only to parts of Britain with white cliffs. Arguably, the term derives from an early Indo-European word meaning ‘white’, which referred to the white cliffs of Dover.


Since the nineteenth century, William Shakespeare has been referred to as “The Bard”. The great playwright is credited with the invention and introduction of over 1,700 English words which are still in use today, but this term is not one of them! In medieval Scots Gaelic the word bàrd was derived from an old Celtic word meaning ‘poet-singer’ or ‘minstrel’. Originally, it was used to refer to the ancient Celtic minstrel-poets who wrote and sang verses in praise of chiefs and warriors. Later in the 17th century, the word evolved to mean ‘poet’.


Sassenach, derived from the Scottish Gaelic word sasunnach meaning ‘Saxon’, was originally used by Gaelic speakers to refer to non-Gaelic speaking Scottish Lowlanders. Over time, however, the Gaelic word has evolved into the current term, sassenach, which simply denotes something or someone English. In the TLF office we have our very own sasunnach, in the traditional sense of the word: our General Manager is from Dumfries and Galloway!


There are many beautiful places to enjoy in bonnie Scotland, from the mountainous Grampians to the beautiful beaches of the Western Isles, which might explain the need for the word stravaig. Found in a wide range of Scottish texts from the late eighteenth-century onwards, it derives from the Scots word extravage, meaning ‘roam; wander; ramble’. This term came from the Medieval Latin extravagari, meaning ‘wander, stray beyond limits’. If you have never enjoyed a stravaig around Scotland, we strongly recommend it.