By Betty Kirkpatrick
Many of our Scots words stay right at home, but some escape into the wider world. For example, dreich referring to the weather is occasionally used by people south of the border, often in rather a self-conscious way as though they were enclosing it in air quotes. Minging, or mingin as it is often spelt and usually pronounced, is another escapee, but this Scots word is unusual in having found a place in modern slang. It comes from the Scots verb ming, meaning to give off such a strong and unpleasant smell that it makes you want to hold your nose.
In Scots a piece of meat that has long since passed its use-by-date can be mingin, as can an overflowing dustbin urgently in need of emptying or a fridge full of long-forgotten left-overs. If mingin is used of a person in Scots, the person in question is usually badly in need of some soap and water and a change of clothes.
Mingin in English slang is much wider in meaning and there is often no suggestion of having a bad smell. I first encountered this wider meaning in Scotland in the mid-1980s. It was used of a teacher by the friend of one of my children. Since I had met that particular teacher and had not noticed his lack of a strong anti-perspirant, I inquired of the meaning. The answer was that the teacher was simply no good.
In the slang sense mingin can be used to mean, for example, disgusting, of poor quality, unpleasant or unattractive. So, food can be mingin, a pub can be mingin, the weather can be mingin, a member of the opposite sex can be mingin. In fact, people quite often use the word just to indicate their acute dislike or disapproval of someone or something.
Mingin was adopted with great enthusiasm by the “yoof” culture throughout the UK as rather a nasty term of insult and it has shown remarkable staying power. When I come across such expressions as “mingin chav” or, worse, “mingin minger” I cannot help feeling that mingin would have been better to stay at home.
Incidentally, mingin in Scots can also mean drunk. But that’s another story.
Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.