Spaekin’ Orcadian

“You look bonnie”

“Thank you” I replied with a smile.  Orkney Beef is not always hugely forth coming with compliments so I have to grab them when I can. We were having lunch out a couple of years ago and sitting opposite one another.

“You look bonnie” he said again.

“Thank you!” I replied a second time, now slightly mystified as to why he should be so forthcoming with the compliments.

“Do.You.Have.MONEY!” he said now mouthing carefully to me like I was his hard of hearing elderly aunt.

“oh,  I thought you were saying I looked bonnie”

“Beuy Beuy” He said with a shake of the head.

This is how our conversations go on a daily basis.  Orkney Beef will say something and I will reply on a completely different subject as I struggle to understand his strong Orcadian accent.

When I moved to Orkney I had no idea that Orcadian was a different language, I always assumed it was just a different accent apart from a few odd words here and there. In actual fact the language I have grown to love is full of words and expressions and almost 8 years on I am still learning new ones every week.  I remember my first week living in Orkney I was in a shop and two men were standing speaking to each other.  For all I knew they could’ve been planning to rob a bank as I hadn’t a clue what each was saying to the other.

Orkney Beef used to set me a challenge saying an Orkney word and I had to go off and find out what it  meant and come back to him.  I understand many words now but pronouncing them is a different thing as it doesn’t really lend itself to an English accent, especially one that sounds like she’s reading the news. For example ‘Peedie’ is a word used in Orkney on a daily basis and it means small. English people tend to pronounce it peeeeeeeeeeedeeeeeeee but Orcadians would pronounce it more as ‘piddy’.*edit, I’ve just been corrected and told no we don’t say it as piddy but I’m at a loss to how else to write it down, sorry.*  It’s equally funny hearing Orkney Beef accidentally speak English (too much time spent with me)  I always have a little smile when I hear him say to the dog ‘sit dawun’ instead of ‘sit doon’

I’ve come to learn hundreds of Orkney words have and loads of favourites. I love to hear new words and understand their meaning but you need to be careful you’ve got the right meaning before you speak it.  I once heard a story of someone English who worked in care who said it was time to help an elderly man into his goonie.  A goonie is a nightie!

I was once talking with friends and one of them spoke about needing ‘haddion knickers’ I hadn’t a clue what on earth haddion knickers were and thought maybe it was a brand like M&S. Eventually after hearing them referenced a few times more I realised she was saying ‘had ye in’ knickers. ‘Ohhh knickers!!’ I suddenly announced to much laughter.

There are Orkney dictionaries and wordbooks but I usually end up asking for a translation. I once spilt drink down myself and Orkney Beef said ‘whit a slester’  my reply in my best posho accent I could muster was ‘I don’t know what you mean but I don’t think you were paying me a compliment’

I’ll list some of my favourites with hopefully the right translation!

  • Stap, stapped- full
  • Swadge (pictured)- this is what you do after a big meal.  Relax and let your dinner go down!
  • Gabblo- crawling insect
  • Gansy- Jumper, jersey
  • Muckle- much, lots of ‘that’s no muckle use’
  •  Spear- ask
  • Gleckid (not sure how to spell it) ugly *second edit* stupid/simple/thick

I could go on and on but my spell check is close to combustion.  The Orcadian language is meant to be spoken not written.

I would love to hear your comments and stories about Orcadian words and language, please share them.  I’m sure Orkney Beef and I will continue to misunderstand each other for years to come, but never mind.  It seems he can say whatever he likes and I assume he’s paying me a compliment. I may not have money but I sure am bonnie. 😉





2 thoughts on “Spaekin’ Orcadian

  1. My father was Orcadian born and bred so I say this quietly and with due respect – some of the words are Scottish not specific to Orkney. Love your blog.


    1. Hi Sandra, glad you’re loving the blog. You’re quite right some words are not purely Orcadian I’m discovering. My cousin also said she thought ‘gansy’ was a Birmingham word! We live and learn. 🙂


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