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The ‘F’ Words of Doric

An Article About Useful Vocabulary in North-East Scotland

By Jordan Duncan

A landscape with ragged rocks and green fields. In the background there is the sea and black clouds in the sky.
Courtesy of Reuben Teovia Unsplash

Many students that aren’t from the North-East of Scotland may struggle to fully understand what a local is saying when they first meet them. Generally, this can be because it takes time to grow accustomed to a new accent or dialect, but many people, when they first come to the North-East, may also just not be aware of Doric. Doric is a dialect of Scots, which is a West Germanic language closely related to English. As the name implies, Scots evolved in Scotland and has many different dialects, with Doric being the name of the dialect of the North-East. The North-East has been a stronghold for Scots traditionally, and Doric has maintained a large amount of its phonology as well as a great deal of North-Eastern residents understanding the language. Even if locals don’t speak in full Doric, it is likely that they will speak in SSE (Scottish Standard English) with some Doric vocabulary used throughout their speech. Some of the most common words that are used instead of their English equivalent are fit, faan, far, faa and foo. These are all interrogative words - words that  are used to form a question - and because of how commonly used they are in the North-East, it is useful to know the meanings of them. This article will give a brief outline of what they mean and how they are used.

‘Faan’ is the Doric equivalent of the word ‘when’. An example of it being used in a sentence is ‘Faan is yer nixt claiss?’ which would mean ‘When is your next class?’. The word ‘faan’ in place of ‘when’ may sound confusing to people if they are not aware that the person is using a Doric word, rather than referring to an actual ‘fan’. This is an example of a ‘false friend’: when two words in different languages sound the same but have different meaning. ‘Fan’ is also pronounced or written as ‘fin’ depending on the area and speaker.

Far is the Doric equivalent of the English word ‘where’. It can be used in a sentence such as ‘Far aboot is i Library?’ which would mean ‘Where is the library?’. Another example of a ‘false friend’, in Doric ‘far’ is used in a question to find out the location of someone, while the English word ‘far’ is used in relation to distance. They are not the same word, so the listener will have to determine what is being asked

Faa’ is the Doric equivalent of the word ‘who’. An example of it being used in a sentence is ‘Faa his a spare pen?’ which translates to ‘Who has a spare pen?’. ‘Faa’ can also be spelled as ‘Fa’. In Doric the word ‘fall’ doesn’t have any L’s, so it is pronounced and often written the same as ‘Faa/Fa’. This can be confusing, but Scots is not alone in having what we call ‘homonyms’: words that can have the same spelling and same sound, but different meanings (English has plenty!).

Fit’ is Doric for the English word ‘What’. An example of ‘Fit’ in a sentence is ‘Fit dis George Boyne even dee at i University?’ meaning ‘What does George Boyne even do at the University?’.

The word for foot in Doric is also ‘fit’ which means the sentence ‘Fit fit fits fit fit?’ is a possible sentence in Doric and would mean ‘What foot, fits what foot?’. 

A large number of Doric speakers will also use a glottal stop in replacement of the letter ‘t’ in the middle and towards the end of words, which you could expect to hear in words such as ‘fit’. A glottal stop is when a speaker obstructs the airflow before producing a consonant and the airflow continues after producing a weaker sound. This sound can be made  when saying the phrase ‘uh-oh’ with the ending of ‘uh’ cutting the airflow to produce the sound. Scots has multiple dialects and in other places you may be more likely to hear ‘Whit’ rather than ‘fit’. When it comes to writing, speakers tend to write words in their specific dialect because there is no agreed-upon written standard for the whole language.

Foo’ translated from Doric to English is the word ‘how’.  It can be used in a sentence such as ‘Foo did ye dee in yer exam?’ which means ‘How did you do in your exam?’. Out of all the words looked at ‘foo’ seems to be an exception as its English equivalent does not begin with ‘wh’ like the rest. Actually, it is more similar than one might think. ‘How’ is one of the words that changed its spelling from the older English ‘hw’ to the now standard spelling of ‘h’. Other words changed their spelling from ‘hw’ to ‘wh’, unlike ‘how’, which has changed to ‘h’. Other dialects of Scot's use ‘hoo’ instead of ‘foo’ which is closer to English. Doric is similar to English due to their shared evolution, and it is clear how similar they are by looking at the example words given. Change the beginning of these words from ‘f’ to ‘wh’ and  they  begin to be easier to understand for people that may not be familiar with Doric. This switch of the letters at the beginning of these sentences can also be applied to other Doric words. For example, ‘Fyte/Fite’ if translated from Doric into English means ‘white’.

These fit, faan, far, faa and foo words are incredibly common to daily Doric speech and only make up a small portion of the Doric language, which is culturally important to the people of the North-East. 

Currently The University offers a Doric course open to first and second year students called Doric and Scots Language: An Introduction to North-East Scots (EF1005).  Due to its similarity to English most of the population of the North-East will use Doric vocabulary in their speech very regularly with some using the odd word and some speaking full Doric. This means it is useful to learn Doric to communicate easier and be a part of the rich community of the North-East. 




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