From time to time on Genealogy forums, certain words, phrases and poems appear that echo that dialect peculiar to Glasgow. Whilst these may produce reactions of amusement, nostalgia, or disdain, I suspect many people are simply bewildered.
So I thought, as a native Glaswegian, I might attempt to throw some light on the matter by offering some guidance on one of the most daunting of local dialects ...
      The Glesca Patter.


Many of you researching your Scottish ancestors will have traced them back to 'working class' industrial Glasgow of the 1800s and early 1900s. Places like the Gorbals, Govan, Townhead ( Toonheid Townhead ) and that oldest of industrial Glasgow's tenement settlements, the Garngad (now known as Royston). These were the incubators for what was to become the Patter that still thrives today. Your ancestors would almost certainly have spoken it to some degree.

Generations of Glaswegians have done a real hatchet job on the English language. Sentences, words and letters are compacted down till they scream for mercy. Words, letters and sounds are changed, removed or added, a raw humour is often injected into the mix, then the whole thing is rattled out at a speed that would leave Concorde standing on the runway.
(Come to think of it ... Concorde is standing on the runway!)

The result is a dialect like no other, instantly recognisable all over the world. When standing in Times Square last year, totally confused and frustrated as to how to get to my destination, I lapsed into my native tongue when talking to my wife. An American lady came over.
"I just love that accent!" she cried. "You folks from Glasgow?"
(She pronounced it Glasgouw as in cow!)
She then helped us with directions and got us talking more Patter Patter before going on her way. We made her day! Everybody recognises the Glesca Glasgow accent although not everyone can understand it, or keep up with it.

Given all of the above please appreciate how difficult it is to put the dialect on paper. Saying is much easier than writing, but I'll do my best. So, now for the first lesson. Tighten your seatbelts and listen up because I might ask questions later!

First, let's start with a few Glesca Glasgow phrases;

1 "Away an bile yer heid!" "Go away and boil your head!"
2 "Diz yoor mammy know yer oot?" "Does your mother know you're out by yourself?"
3 "Pick yer windae - yer leavin!" "Pick your window. You are leaving!"

These are classic Glesca pootdoons Glasgow put-downs . For those moments when you've just had enough of some one's behaviour or rantings.


1 "Go away and boil your head!"
Doesn't quite have the same effect in english does it? So don't try it, you'll just get laughed at.
But say it in the Glesca dialect to any Glaswegian and they'll get the message. Don't ask me what it actually means or where it comes from - I haven't a clue.

2 "Does your mother know you're out by yourself?"
Again loses something in the translation but a great one for that irritating sod who's getting on your nerves. Insinuates they are childish and require parental guidance.
This can be a real showstopper at senior management meetings. Not a good career move though, believe me!

3 "Pick your window. You are leaving!"
Subtle threat for use in a pub. It translates quite well into english but make sure you're up to the task before you open your mouth.
Also be prepared to pay 'fur the broken windae' 'for the broken window' .


The Patter : Start wi A

"Twa pints a mulk" "Two pints of milk"

"Ah wiz oot wae Jimmy" "I was out with Jimmy"

am ur
I am
"Yer no gaun!" "You are not going!"
"Aye am ur!" "Yes I am!"

"Pass meh at hammer" "Pass me that hammer"
Now, it needs to be noted that the 't'is most often left out, replaced by a glottal sound, confusing the unfamiliar ear even further!

"At's aw yer gettin aff a me" "That is all you are getting from me"
or it can be substituted for 'as well' as in
"Ah want tae come an aw" "I want to come as well"
Note that the pronunciation of 'want' 'want' is as in 'cant'

First Posted Scotlands People Discussion Group 05 October 2003

"Erritserr!" "There it is!"
Now you come to mention it, that may have been the phrase that attracted the attention of the American lady I spoke of last week.

"Jeely Pieces!" "Slices of bread, spread with jam"
Oh Judy, what memories that stirs up!

"Haw Mammy! Gauny chuck iz doon a piece?" "Mother! Will you throw me down a slice of bread and jam?"
A headscarfed head would appear from the second story tenement window.
"Whit! Anither yin? Dae ye think am made a pieces?" "What! Another one? Do you think that I am made of jam sandwiches?"
"Aw pleeze Mammy. Mah pal hiznae goat wan an eez hungry." "Oh please, mother! My friend does not have one. He is hungry"
"Awrite. Haud oan!" "Oh, very well! Just hold on a moment"
A few minutes later a small package wrapped in newspaper or waxy bread wrapper (Mother's Pride was a common brand.) would come flying out the window and set me and my pal running about like someone on a cricket pitch trying to catch it before it hit the ground. Catching skills were even more important if the wrapper had been omitted or blew off!
I was among the last of the Jeely Piece Jam Sandwich catchers. With the demise of the tenements and the exodus out of the city to the sprawling housing schemes of Easterhouse, Castlemilk and Drumchapel the practice eventually died out. It died out instantly for those who found themselves in the high rise flats!
A song written in the 60s (The Jeely Piece Song) (That is the name of the song! Honest!) captured the essence of all this. More of that later.

The piece sandwich most often launched out the window, was of the jam variety, although lard was seemingly popular as well (yuck!) Incidently, a piece sandwich also referred to your sandwiches/packed lunch that you took to school or work.
"Ah forgot mah playpiece!" "I have forgotten to bring my packed lunch for playtime"

Okay, on to our A-Z. Let's have a look at some 'Bs'.


The Patter : Nixt, the Bs

back court
the back coort back court of the tenement, where most of the piece chuckin sandwich throwing went on.
the period just after the hour on the clock
"Ah'll meet ye at the back a five." "I will meet you sometime after five o'clock"

to let someone ride with you on the back of a bicycle
"Haw Jimmy! Gauny geeza backie?" "I say, James. Would you care to give me transport on your bicycle? Like myself, you appear to be heading in the direction of the Unemployment Centre"

baggie minnies
the little minnows we used to catch in the local streams and keep in jamjars
"Mah baggie minnies ur deed!" The jamjar was not big enough. The fish have expired."

another name for bum or b*m if censorship prevails
"Get yer big bahookie aff mah cher!" "Remove your big backside from my chair"

idiot, nutter or generally stupid person
Often shortened to just bam idiot
"Erz Tam the Bam!" "There is Thomas; the stupid person!"

the famous Glasgow open market
The Barras Barrows , in the east end of the city (Gallowgate).
Takes its name from the barrow stalls that once made up the market. If you want to hear the Patter Patter , the Barras Barrows is the place to go. An hour walking around the stalls listening to the sellers and the Glesca punters Glasgow locals is the best field trip available for students of The Patter Patter! . Also, you can buy anything at the Barras Barrows ...

"Ah goat a telly fae the Barras: only cost meh a tenner!" I bought a television from the Barrows for only £10"
"Ye wir dun! Thers a valve missin!" "You were swindled! It lacks an important component"

And now for 'The Jeely Piece Song' 'The Jam Sandwich Song'

Written in 1967, the dialect is softened somewhat to make it more understandable to a general audience. It remains a classic of Glesca Glasgow dialect, humour and changes of the time. It went to a catchy tune which, if ye haud yer heid close tae the speaker ye'll hear meh hummin Alternatively, try the link at the end to hear some Glesca Glasgow kids sing a bit of it.

The Jeely Piece Song

(Adam McNaughton 1967)

I'm a skyscraper wean; I live on the nineteenth flair,
But I'm no' gaun oot tae play ony mair,
'cause since we moved tae Castlemilk, I'm wastin' away
'cause I'm gettin' wan meal less every day.


     Oh ye cannae fling pieces oot a twenty story flat,
     Seven hundred hungry weans will testify to that.
     If it's butter, cheese or jeely, if the breid is plain or pan,
     The odds against it reaching earth are ninety-nine tae wan.

On the first day ma maw flung oot a daud o' Hovis broon;
It came skytin' oot the windae and went up insteid o' doon.
Noo every twenty-seven hours it comes back intae sight
'cause ma piece went intae orbit and became a satellite.

On the second day ma maw flung me a piece oot wance again.
It went and hut the pilot in a fast low-flying plane.
He scraped it aff his goggles, shouting through the intercom,
"The Clydeside Reds huv goat me wi' a breid-an-jeely bomb!"

On the third day ma maw thought she would try another throw.
The Salvation Army band was staunin' doon below.
"Onward Christian Soldiers" was the piece they should've played
But the oompahman was playing a piece an' marmalade.

We've wrote away to Oxfam to try an' get some aid,
An a' the weans in Castlemilk have formed a 'piece-brigade'.
We're gonnae march to George's Square demanding civil rights
Like nae mair hooses ower piece-flinging height.

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Original postings on Scotlands People Discussion Group © 2003, 2004 Bob Wilson
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016
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