The Work of Scottish Language Dictionaries

Scottish Language Dictionaries researches and preserves written and spoken Scots, making our records available in the form of paper and electronic dictionaries and related publications. We also undertake national and international outreach, including visits to schools, writers' groups, community groups etc., lecturing, giving conference papers and contributing to continuous professional development for teachers. However, our main task remains lexicography, a painstaking process which takes us from our Word Collection through meticulous cycles of editing, with careful consideration of meaning and grammatical usage, pronunciation and etymology to publications which we aim to make scholarly but, at the same time, user-friendly and accessible.

We have a very small staff, with one full-time editor, five part-time editors and a part-time IT officer, but we can also call upon the wide knowledge of our advisory committee and our specialist experts for advice regarding anything from legal and building terms to curling and cookery. We also have a number of regional experts with whom we are able to check the currency of words in various parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We have recently redesigned our Word Collection database and this lies at the heart of our ongoing activities. With the assistance of volunteer readers, we collect Scots words in literary quotations, aiming to cover all regions of Scotland, at all periods of written Scots. This is a very tall order and we are always on the lookout for additional dedicated readers and also for books. It is a great help to us when publishers donate works containing Scots (damaged volumes gratefully received). Their authors may one day be quoted in our dictionaries alongside William Dunbar, Robert Henryson, Robert Fergusson, Robert Burns, Violet Jacob, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, Jackie Kay, James Robertson and other long established authors or rising stars. We also collect examples of spoken Scots. So, if you hear an unfamiliar Scots word or an old word being used in an unfamiliar way, please fill in one of the oral collection forms on our website.

We use the Word Collection to update and improve the lexicographical record. Scots is very fortunate in having a great history of lexicography, including Jamieson, whose Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language, first published in 1808, was an inspiration and methodological guide to Sir James Murray in the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary. The two multi-volume historical dictionaries of Scots begun in the early twentieth century are the Scottish National Dictionary and A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue. Scottish Language Dictionaries was formed in 2002 to further Scottish lexicography, building on these two great achievements. Editors from both projects had often collaborated on related publications such as The Concise Scots Dictionary , and with the completion of editorial work for A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue in 2001, it was decided that staff and resources from the two organisations should be brought together to create a new institution. The major works of the two organisations have since been combined together into the Dictionary of the Scots Language, which is now available, free, at This includes a New Supplement added in 2005 and we have very recently added the History of Scots by Caroline Macafee, incorporating material by the late A. J. Aitken.

The Concise Scots Dictionary is a comprehensive one-volume dictionary of the Scots language from the 12th century onwards. It distils, in a very accessible way, the huge wealth of scholarship contained in the Scottish National Dictionary and A Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue. The Concise Scots Dictionary contains an excellent summary of the history of Scots by A. J. Aitken. There is also a full explanation of how to use the Concise Scots Dictionary, helping the reader to find out about how pronunciation has changed over time, how spellings vary, what the main dialect areas are and so on.

With such authority behind it, this is the Scots dictionary that every serious student of the Scots language should have on their desk. Readers of Older Scots, non-native speakers discovering Scots literature for the first time and native Scots speakers looking for a rare word, or a word from a dialect of Scots other than their own, find the Concise Scots Dictionary invaluable. And like any good dictionary, it is highly entertaining just to dip into.

From the Concise Scots Dictionary, a number of other works have been derived, including the Scots Thesaurus, containing over 20,000 Scots words arranged by subject, with definitions in English. No Scots writer can afford to be without this book. Smaller volumes include the Essential Scots Dictionary with Scots-English and English-Scots sections, the Concise English-Scots Dictionary and the Pocket Scots Dictionary.

Although we are justifiably proud of these publications, nobody knows better than we do that lexicographers cannot be complacent, because, in a living language, words and their meanings refuse to be pinned down. As we read in Calderwood's Historie of the Kirk of Scotland (1610):

"Definitions in general...they are very kittle in their strict lawes...and furnish as oft mater of contentioun as the light they promise".

This kittleness is one of the great challenges of lexicography, which we can best tackle through good data collection and regular staff development to keep up to date with the best lexicographical and linguistic theory and practice.

Scottish Language Dictionaries is a charity, partially funded by the Scottish Arts Council. For further details, see our website at The dictionaries are published by Edinburgh University Press.

  • Cover scan of The Concise English-Scots Dictionary
    The Concise English-Scots Dictionary - Paperback
    This comprehensive dictionary of words and phrases is for all who want to use the Scots language more fully. 15,000 English-Scots entries includes many examples of usage.
  • Cover scan of Concise Scots Dictionary
    Concise Scots Dictionary - Paperback
    This dictionary concentrates on the Scots language of the present day, but it also includes all the more important words current in the last two centuries, giving special attention to the classics of Scottish literature, including the ballads.
  • Cover scan of The Essential Scots Dictionary
    The Essential Scots Dictionary: Scots-English, English-Scots - Paperback
    This dictionary is designed to encourage the use of Scots in schools and to provide support in the classroom. It is also a useful compact reference book for anyone seeking information on Scots.
  • Cover scan of The Pocket Scots Dictionary
    The Pocket Scots Dictionary - Paperback
    This dictionary concentrates on the Scots language of the present day, but it also includes all the more important words current in the last two centuries, giving special attention to the classics of Scottish literature, including the ballads.
  • Cover scan of Scots Thesaurus
    Scots Thesaurus - Paperback
    This guide to over 20,000 Scots words is arranged by subject, giving the definitions in English. An index in English allows instant reference from English to the appropriate Scots words. exclusive!

More on

Scots Dictionary and Thesaurus

The Concise Scots Dictionary

Concise Scots Dictionary

The Scots Thesaurus

Scots Thesaurus

Internet Links